Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Reading at the Cottage

Book stores, along with tables at Walmart and Costco, are filling up with what the publishing industry calls, 'the beach book.' Summer reading for many, involves diving into a page turner, a thriller, or a compelling romance that will enthrall, entertain, but not necessarily edify.
My idea of summer reading is at odds with this marketing ploy.
In my youth, everyone in sundry left the hot city for what we lovingly referred to as cottage country. Summer homes ranged from island abodes, complete with boathouses and servants quarters, to very simple cabins in the bush. Most of these dwellings were either on or near water, where old photographs of forebears lined the walls, all having one aspect in common, that being pictures of  men holding strings of fish. Fresh corn and tomatoes graced every table while the Dad's fired up charcoal grills. As we swam, sailed, rowed and canoed through the blissful warm days, we also read, and read and read. Every cottage had bookshelves stuffed to bursting, featuring paper backs, hard covers, old classics, and everything in between. Hammocks strung between trees and screened in porches with an old day bed in the corner, a quiet spot in the woods, or lying in bed on a rainy day, we all curled up with a good book.
In my case, I reveled in the classics and immersed myself in Shakespeare and Tolstoy. To have hours to read without interruption, is to me, the greatest pleasure known to man. Lucky to be enrolled in a school with a recommended summer reading list, along with required books, I could always be engaged in both something I loved, and something I had to do. During my twelfth summer, I read Jane Eyre for the first time. My hair stood on end from start to finish. The copy had been my mother's, sat on a book shelf beside a north facing window, and was old enough to have engraved illustrations, peppered throughout. The story became even more present to my imagination, as I poured over the pictures.
When we gathered with friends in the evenings, and the barbeque would be going full blast, conversation amongst the 'grown ups' would always involve current books. Guests, coming up for the weekend,  brought a selection, often leaving them for us to enjoy.  A crackling fire in the fire place, and everyone lounging in a comfortable chair, made rainy summer days the best reading climate of all.
Sandra Martin, of Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper, wrote about her ideas on the subject. She said that in the winter, she reads a lot of non fiction, and tackles books regarding subjects she feels she should know more about. In the summer, she reads the books she wanted to have the time for in the winter. She likes to take on the challenge of reading the very best published the year before. To this end, she mentioned one of the best books I have ever read, namely Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. It was during one of those summers up at the lake in my teens, that I first discovered the intrigue of the Tudor years, reading Anne of a Thousand Days.  Mantel, in her Booker prize winning novel, makes you feel as if you are in the story. It pleased me to no end to see readers send word to the newspaper, via the comments, that they too, loved Wolf Hall. I am thrilled to report that a sequel is due out this summer, topping my list, entitled:  Bringing up the Bodies
 Life in North Idaho is cottage country for many and we are always happy to see the return of the snow birds. For those of us lucky to live here year round, we too, see photographs of what the catch of the day looked like in 1910. We too, revel in the waters of lake Coeur d' Alene, and we too, often see people by the water's edge, sitting in a beach chair, reading.
My wish to all in sundry this summer, is to take some time to pick up a never to be forgotten book. Discuss it at dinner parties, at your book club, or with your neighbor over your garden fence. Summer was meant for reading. Enjoy.

Links: The top picture is from Cottage Life Magazine. 140 Year old Cottage is the feature.

The last picture is an island boat house on Lake Joseph, Muskoka.



Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Oh! So charming , a summer cottage filled with bookshelves lined with favorite authors for our reading pleasure.... Thanks, Liz for giving us another view of your literary life growing up in Canada

elizabethbrinton said...

North Idaho fits the bill too. It is raining cats and dogs today and if the thunder and lightning continue, I will have to turn off the computer. Oh gee.

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

Lovely! Reminds me of this snippet from a 1991 essay by Catherine Calvert, on the topic of summer houses:

"Books mounted on every surface. My favorites were the long-forgotten lode in every bookcase, the frothy reading of previous generations, school stories and adventure tales, courtly romances and memoirs of the Spanish American War--all to be gobbled, as they had been originally, while we were ensconced in the porch swing."

elizabethbrinton said...

Thank you for the wise words of Catherine Calvert. Most summer homes had no t.v. and very few could even get a radio station. The house would be full of kids, aunts, grandmother's and their sisters. You had to have something for everyone. When it rained for a solid week, sometimes we would organize a book exchange.

Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Beautifully put, Liz. Oh to have such long hours of uninterrupted reading. I long for the day. I was also totally absorbed by Jane Eyre as a young girl. It still remains one of my favorites. Love the cottage photos!

elizabethbrinton said...

There are a few old cottages on this lake and I would love to see inside them. Any house that is shut up all winter and opened for summer has a familiar feel. The places in Idaho, like Bayview, that have patchy cell phone coverage and really fit the bill in terms of a place where reading is the order of the day, are right up my alley. There are some cabins on this lake that have boat access only. Oh the peace...