Reading L'Étranger, by Albert Camus, during my 16th summer changed my life. It awakened in me a respect for and an appreciation of great literature. As Northrop Frye wrote: "Literature does not reflect life, but it doesn't escape or withdraw from life either. It swallows it. And the imagination won't stop until it's swallowed everything." That summer, under the sun, I realized that great books could open up a whole new world, a world I couldn't experience any other way.
From September to April, most of my page-turning is devoted to reading something from every invited Frye Festival author. It is both a luxury and an obligation. For summer reading, I follow my own rules, share reading lists with friends and attack the accumulated pile on the bedside table. And often, this casual path also leads to inspiration and to discovery of great new authors to invite to the festival.
Dawn Arnold chairs the Frye Festival in Moncton.
SUSAN SWAN I feel most Canadian sitting on a slab of granite, staring at Georgian Bay. So this July, my ideal summer book is True Patriot Love, by Michael Ignatieff. Why? Ignatieff's modest, elegant book sums up the experience of contemplating this vast mystic place, what it means and where we're going.
In five short chapters, Ignatieff tells the story of four generations of men in his mother's family who went in search of Canada.
His great-grandfather, George Monro Grant, made a Canadian odyssey in the summer of 1872, travelling from ocean to ocean with railway engineer Sandford Fleming to see if a railway could unite Canadians. They decided it could.
Following in their footsteps, Ignatieff's grandfather, Choppy Grant, experienced Canada's growth from a British colony to a nation whose soldiers won us world respect during the First World War. Ignatieff's uncle, George Grant, who wrote the pessimistic Lament for a Nation, turned his back on his ancestors and said Canada was being subsumed by the United States and couldn't survive as an independent country. His uncle has been proved wrong, Ignatieff writes, but each man on his mother's side of the family struggled to figure out what Canada was and what our country could be.
Ignatieff's thoughtful take on Canada has us nailed. Behind our skeptical, cautious exteriors, he says, we are incorrigible romantics who (even with our enormous differences) are still good at imagining ourselves anew. This is thoughtful, dreamy summer reading. All the people who believe the Harper attack ads claiming Ignatieff isn't a real Canadian should read True Patriot Love and rethink their position. "Loving a country is an act of the imagination," is its beautiful opening sentence, and many more follow, inviting us to kick back on our summer lily pads and daydream a new future for ourselves.
Susan Swan's most recent novel is What Casanova Told Me.
AISLINN HUNTER Letters! It doesn't matter by whom, as long as they are languid and beautiful and reflect the slow drowsy turn of the summer days you read them in. If winter is a dark evening reading Russian literature with a mug of hot chocolate, then summer is sitting in the park in a big hat under the sun, eavesdropping on what was once a private and intimate conversation.
My favourite books of letters are Letters: Summer 1926, by Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva and Rainer Maria Rilke; Paula Modersohn-Becker: The Letters and Journals, by German Expressionist Modersohn-Becker, edited by Günter Busch and Liselotte Von Reinken; The Gonne-Yeats Letters, 1893-1938, by Maud Gonne and William Butler Yeats, edited by Anna MacBride White; and the three-volume (epic!) set of Charlotte Brontë's correspondence, which brings Haworth and the family's day-to-day habits to life.
But there's no shortage of other collections. I've just read the lovely Elizabeth Barrett-Robert Browning letters and the Love Letters of William and Mary Wordsworth, and I have Letters: 1925-1975, by Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt on order. If none of those suits your fancy, there are letters by Darwin, Virginia Woolf and Dickinson, there's the famous exchange between Héloïse and Abelard, the letters of Isaiah Berlin and scads of others. All you need is a warm, breezy day and a perfect spot in the green grass to read them in.