PETER ROBINSON Whenever I think of summer reading, I think of those endless heady summers of adolescence, when the sun always seemed to be shining, the flowers more richly hued and the air heavy with their languid scent. For some reason, though, I associate these images with French summers rather than English or Canadian ones, though I spent only one summer in France. Still, I was 14, and it was the summer of Gauloises, boules, Francoise Hardy ... and Brigitte.
I remember some years later being transported back to that magical world when I read Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes for the first time. Rereading it not so long ago in a new translation, now called The Lost Estate, I was surprised to find that most of it doesn't take place in summer at all. Such are the tricks of memory. But it still remains a powerful and evocative summer read, perched on that wavering borderline between youth and adulthood, full of yearning and mystery, and with a beautiful girl at the centre of it all.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention another book, an English one this time, that also seems to exude summer's heat: L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between. A man in his 60s looks back on a boyhood summer he spent with a school friend's wealthy family at their country house. The boy becomes the unwitting go-between in a secret love affair between his friend's older sister and her farmer lover, carrying messages to arrange assignations and ultimately bringing about their undoing.
It is another story set in that no-man's land of vanishing innocence and burgeoning sexuality that seems so often associated with summer, though this time the narrator has the benefit of hindsight in his exploration of forbidden sex, the class system and the quirks of memory. The opening line - "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there" - remains deservedly famous, and the film version, starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates, scripted by Harold Pinter and directed by Joseph Losey, is a must-see.
Peter Robinson's most recent book is the short-story collectionThe Price of Love.
ANDREW PYPER Most of the time, summer reads are associated with either the past (the moisture-fattened paperback rediscovered on the cottage shelf) or the pulpy present (the Ludlum or Binchy grabbed before piling into the northbound station wagon). My own most memorable summer book, however, involved long page-turning sessions on the dock and by fading flashlight in the buggy evenings, but it was a book that was so new it wasn't even published yet.
I read the galleys for Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections to review for this newspaper, and it was an occasion of real excitement for me: a moving, funny, decidedly contemporary novel of importance that I, kissing beers on the sun-warmed rocks of Georgian Bay, was among the world's first to read. The review was a rave. And I hardly even noticed the horseflies when they landed on my back for lunch.
Andrew Pyper's most recent novel is The Killing Circle.
PETER STOTHARD To be read alongside what we hope are pleasant interruptions, the ideal summer book has to be readable for only a few pages at a time. But it need not be trivial. If you have only one holiday book, you can stick to it, take it slowly, and even make up your mind whether it is really as good as you once thought it was.
Eight years ago, I thought Joseph Brodsky's Collected Poems in English a wonderful thing. Yet distinguished Times Literary Supplement contributors have queried whether this rare master of poetry in two languages was instead merely a Nobel Prize-winner lucky to be a Soviet prisoner and an English hero in the same lifetime.
Was Brodsky a passionate genius whose infelicities in English are as artful as the idiomatic flow of his Russian? Or was he a clumsy surrealist who came too often too close to kitsch? In 1992, he wrote a poem to president-elect Bill Clinton that ended: "Well strike your tent and have your lunch/ Before you stir an avalanche/ Of brand-new taxes whose each cent/ will mark the speed of your descent." An artfully rhyming piece of occasional verse - or the work of a dud? This is the summer to take another look - and anyone who gets to Venice can visit his grave at San Michele too, close to that of Ezra Pound, a fellow poet who still divides us.
Peter Stothard is editor of the Times Literary Supplement.
MICHAEL RUSE I read Dickens at Christmas, but in summer it is Anthony Trollope all the way. And of his many, many novels, my favourite is Barchester Towers. Set in the imaginary English county of Barsetshire, the story revolves around the clash between the Tory Anglican establishment, led by Archdeacon Grantly, son of the just-deceased, much-loved old bishop, and the newly appointed (by the Whigs) interloper, Bishop Proudie, his dominant wife and his greasy scheming assistant, the evangelical Rev. Obadiah Slope.
There are two battles, one over the appointment of the warden of an old men's home, the other for the hand of Mr. Harding's widowed daughter, Eleanor Bold. These battles are played out against wonderful descriptions of the cathedral, its town and the county, and with a terrific sense of the strengths and weaknesses of human nature.
For so many reasons, Barchester Towers is the perfect book for summer: a terrific story, intelligent without being ponderous, and incredibly funny. It is totally compulsive, like eating hot, boiled, salted peanuts. You want to get the barbecue cleared away, the dishes done and the kids in bed, and settle down for another hour in Trollope's world. Best of all, it is one of a series; there await you five more novels about the clerical doings in Barsetshire.
Michael Ruse pretends that he is altogether too busy and serious to read novels, and if he does it is purely for research into the 19th century and Charles Darwin.
MARK KINGWELL In the summer of 1991, having defended my PhD dissertation in the chairman's office one muggy day, I suddenly had mental freedom for the first time in years. I sat on the porch that summer drinking apple cider and reading all of Kingsley Amis's novels in chronological order. Not great literature, but hilarious and bracing. Most people know his first, Lucky Jim, and it may remain his best, especially if you are an academic untermensch just about to look for work. But follow-up satires such as That Uncertain Feeling, which I later learned had been made into a Peter Sellers comedy, Take a Girl Like You, One Fat Englishman,I Want It Now and Girl, 20 are all small comic masterpieces.
Difficulties with Girls, a sequel to Take a Girl Like You, was probably his last really good novel. Other later efforts - Jake's Thing, Ending Up, Stanley and the Women - have their pleasures but are too much given over to trademark Amis crankiness and reactionary venom. The Old Devils, for which he won the Booker, is frankly unpleasant, even if still funny.
My sober friends deprecate it, but I have reread these books, even the subpar ones, many times over the years. I always tell them that, for those hot lazy days, you can't beat a first-rate example of a second-rate writer, especially if he makes you spill your cider laughing.
Philosopher and cultural critic Mark Kingwell's most recent book is Opening Gambits: Essays on Art and Philosophy.
MARGARET CANNON Summer, for me, is lounging in a chair, gin and tonic at hand, and drowsing off into dreams of faraway places. That makes In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin, my perfect summer book. I've read it so many times my copy is in tatters.
In Patagonia has everything: marvellous characters, wonderful descriptions, exotic arcana (Dan Brown should be so good!), gauchos, red meat and a house at the ends of the Earth with china dogs on the mantel. In addition, Chatwin has a wonderfully intimate prose style. It's like being by the fire, listening to his voice.
When I read this book the first time, I dreamed of going to Patagonia, following in his footsteps. Now, I don't think I'll ever make the trip. I'm afraid it won't be as good as the book.
Margaret Cannon writes about crime fiction for The Globe and Mail.
FRASER SUTHERLAND As you sway in your backyard hammock, the lilting leaves of a Manitoba maple shading your transit and doing their best to imitate French impressionism, there can be only one book to read: Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Marcel's waking dream will be yours as both of you sink into a reverie of sun and shadow, time drifting into timelessness.
If you don't plan on spending your entire summer in a hammock, you have recourse to one of the Dortmunder novels - say, What's the Worst That Can Happen? or Don't Ask - by Donald E. Westlake, unmatched master of the comic caper. They star Westlake's sad-sack burglar, John Dortmunder, whose best-laid larcenous schemes inevitably go wrong. The worst that can happen is that you'll fall out of your hammock laughing.
Fraser Sutherland's most recent work is the book of poetry, Manual for Emigrants.
DIANE ACKERMAN Last summer, when I was craving literary snacks, I read a dozen novels in a row by Muriel Spark and grew quite addicted to their subversive charms. Invariably, one first meets a small group of people soon to be invaded by someone hypnotically sinister or disturbing, who will unpack one surprise after another, and tumble the moral physics of their world. These troublemakers are only as bizarre as anyone is when viewed up close, and they remind us how utterly convincing and persuasive romantic figures can be even at their most preposterous.
One of the characters in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a pivotal member of the "Brodie set" of schoolgirls, who ultimately becomes Sister Helena and enters a reclusive convent, publishes a book titled The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. That's it in a nutshell, Spark telling us with a wink that she understands her own magic: the intricate details of speech, bend of hat brim, twitch of hand - small, ordinary details of everyday life that loom, when picked out by wit and steeped in meaning. She's not subtle, but precise, and part of what makes her satire so wicked is how true the details are.
Refreshingly, in her fictions, people rarely get what they deserve, providence is on vacation and she moves characters from page to page on waves of romantic farce and social satire. After so much merriment, I find her gift as a storyteller and creator of mysteries a delicious bonus.
Diane Ackerman's most recent book is The Zookeeper's Wife. Her next, Dawn Light, will be out this fall.
MICHAEL ADAMS My ideal summer book is one that takes me to another time and place. The other seasons are for deep immersion in the here and now: The Globe and Mail, The Economist, Gladwell, de Botton, Facebook, blogs, Twitter and the scores of articles people forward me.
Summer is for fiction, for deeper truths and evocative narratives. Last year, it was Middlemarch, George Eliot's portrait of early 19th-century England, when everyone - no matter how inwardly complex - was ultimately a footnote to his or her gender, birth order and parents' station.
This year, it is Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, in which 21st-century India has striking parallels to Eliot's England, but with a rather intriguing escape from the prisons of race, religion and caste. And when I want to come back home to the western Ontario of my youth, there is always our Alice (Munro) whose stories of the mundane always seem to startle.
Michael Adams is president of the Environics group of companies and the author of four books, including the Donner Prize-winning Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values.
HADANI DITMARS I shall always associate summer reading with travelling. Especially on trains. I blame it on my first Inter-Rail trip through Europe as a backpacking 18-year-old, with a dog-eared copy of Jack Kerouac's Lonesome Traveler as a constant companion. I read it on the floor of the trains when the sleeping compartments were full, and at train stations trying to stay awake for early morning voyages when the hostels were full.
Eventually, the binding came undone and I believe I left bits of it all over Europe. I always wondered who would find the page that read, "Beethoven was a hobo who knelt and listened to the light."
I remember reading William Langewiesche's Sahara Unveiled, which removed me from the confines of a rather placid Vancouver beach one summer when I longed for some place darker, hotter, saltier. His journey across the desert was exquisite escape.
Now, I'm reading Simon Schama's Landscape and Memory as I prepare to write a political travelogue of Lebanon, Israel and Palestine.
Hadani Ditmars is author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and, this year, the Wallpaper City Guide to Vancouver.
REX MURPHY If the ideal summer read combines lightness with worth, then S.J. Perelman is your man. He is one of the most rarefied stylists in U.S. letters. His essays are jewels of wit and intelligence.
If you read enough Perelman (and it is quite impossible to read too much of him), you will be gradually introduced to a portrait of the man in his own sublimely arch words. Parodying the (now archaic) prose of Time magazine, he offered this cameo in an introduction to a collection of his essays: "Button-cute, rapier-keen, wafer-thin and pauper-poor is S.J. Perelman, whose tall, stooping figure is better known to the twilit half-world of five continents than to Publishers' Row. That he possesses the power to become invisible to finance companies; that his laboratory is tooled up to manufacture Frankenstein-type monsters on an incredible scale; and that he owns one of the rare mouths in which butter has never melted are legends treasured by every schoolboy."
In another feuilleton (his own word for the inimitable twist he gave to the humorous essay), he offers a variant: "I guess I'm just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation's laws."
These sprigs should offer the flavour of the Perelman manner, a mandarin command of the English sentence allied with a highly distilled, idiosyncratic range of reference.
Perelman does not stale. He is a hyper-gifted wordsmith with the most extensive and outré vocabulary of any 20th-century essayist. He is also a cunning satirist, a great and early scourge of dimwitted Hollywood. If Nabokov were "atom-smashed" into Wodehouse, Sidney Joseph Perelman might be the outcome.
Chicken Inspector # 23, which occupies my July, is one of his many collections, and an excellent appetizer to the Perelman feast.
Rex Murphy's Canada and Other Matters of Opinion will be published in September.
ANDRÉ ALEXIS For me, a "summer book" is one is I'm reading for diversion, for a break in the serious - and sometimes more deeply pleasurable - reading I do for my work. Here are two books, both read in summer, that have pleased me a great deal: Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses and Dava Sobel's Longitude.
Both are works of non-fiction; my favourite summer fiction would be something by Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or Time Out of Joint, or, maybe, Frank Herbert's very entertaining SF classic Dune, or Confess, Fletch by Gregory Mcdonald.
Sobel's Longitude tells its story without a wasted word. It gives you a sense of the intellectual adventure involved in John Harrison's solution to the problem of determining longitude when one is at sea. Harrison, who lived in the 18th century and was a "mere" clockmaker, had some interesting enemies, among them the almost psychotically proud Isaac Newton, but Harrison's story has a fair ending, and the book is in every way a pleasure.
Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses isn't great by dint of the information it imparts. What held me is its fantastic suggestiveness. It allows, or encourages, the reader to think about the pleasures the senses provide, to imagine what "rough" means, what "sour" is or how sound influences us. It's a guide through one's own sensual life with a docent who is, at times, over-enthusiastic, but always interesting.
André Alexis's most recent novel is Asylum.
DAWN ARNOLD Summer reading must be instantly engrossing and engaging. To me, that means no complicated books in translation, no short stories and no bizarre syntax. I want to be transported and transformed - and I want to care about the characters. Summer reading is also all about pleasure. I think it started when I was a kid, and I spent my carefully accumulated allowance in used bookstores along the way to the beach. I splurged on all kinds of novels, and buried my nose in books I didn't have the chance to read the rest of the year.
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.
Aislinn Hunter's most recent poetry book is Past Perfect.
RAY ROBERTSON I've never been much of a fan of the fiction of Virginia Woolf - too meticulously misty, not everyday earthy enough. But encouraged by A Writer's Life, an absorbing selection of her journals focusing on all aspects of creativity, I spent an entire summer a few years ago reading her complete essays. We had only been in our new house a year or so, and the mud flat that had been our backyard on move-in day was finally beginning to bloom into the garden that my wife had been working so hard to bring to life.
Nearly every afternoon under the thick shade of the maple tree, surrounded by all of the new colours and smells of the garden, I'd read one or two essays and get to know Woolf better. Perhaps because the essay form itself demands a clearly defined beginning, middle and end, the off-putting nebulousness of the novels was replaced by simple appreciation for each piece's substantial wit, sympathy with its subject matter (other books, usually) and pure, penetrating intelligence.
By the end of the summer - the leaves of the maple falling, the flowers already gone - I'd made new a friend. Now, whenever the perennials start to push through the thawing earth and the limbs of the maple begin to bud, I think of her.
Ray Robertson's new novel, David, will be published this fall.
GABOR MATÉ The ideal summer read, for me, is witty and wise, light but not trivial, serious but not ponderous. Two Russians novels meet these criteria: Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls and Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. Written a century apart, both books lampoon the absurdities of their respective societies, expose the hypocrisies of officialdom and, with delightful impertinence, poke human self-importance firmly in the ribs.
Gogol, Bulgakov's literary and spiritual progenitor, creates the unforgettable small nobleman Chichikov, whose very name evokes the frivolity of birds chirping. Plump, affable and conniving, Chichikov buys dead serfs - not their bodies, but their names - in an elaborate scheme to obtain a liquor-manufacturing licence. Banality defines the provincial culture of Czarist Russia in which Chichikov plies his trade, and a heavy, oppressive banality characterizes Stalinist Moscow in which Satan, under the name of Woland, arrives to forge havoc in Bulgakov's masterpiece. A brilliantly written page-turner in which each sentence astonishes, The Master and Margarita is a novel within a novel, an ode to creative chaos, a comic paean to love and a slap in the face of political tyranny and literary pretension.
Both novels have been deftly translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Gabor Maté is the author, most recently, of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction.
ANNA PORTER The other night at dinner in somebody's garden, a guy who loves history asked me what was the best summer read for him. I suggested Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. It is not only a lively, intelligent survey of Europe emerging from the ashes of the First World War, it is a highly personal, brilliantly observed, entertaining book by one of our most accomplished intellectuals.
The fact that Judt does not treat Central and Eastern Europe as if they weren't part of the same continent, as many historians have done, is refreshing. This is a monumental work of more that 800 pages, but every page is a joy.
For the most original mystery I have enjoyed this summer, and a book that would keep anyone cool on the hottest day, I recommend Asa Larsson's The Black Path. A dark, suspenseful drama with well-drawn characters, its setting is Sweden. It will forever change your view of those orderly, clean-living, IKEA-making, well-adjusted Swedes, whose social-support systems used to be the envy of others. Larsson gives you a dark world with dreadful secrets, madness, obsession, murder and magic.
Anna Porter is the author most recently of Kasztner's Train.
ZSUZSI GARTNER I read less in the summer than I do the rest of the year. The boy is off school, there's still work to be done, and there are fewer moonlit hours, which is when I generally read for pleasure. As for reading outside, beachside, lakeside, backyard - no can do. My favourite summer cabin reads the past several years have been communal experiences - the "fat family book."
We save books to read out loud to each other during our week every year at a friend's cabin, and my husband, son and I have had marathon serial reading sessions with the Harry Potter books and various Edge Chronicles novels by the inimitable Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. Think of it as a reading relay - someone has to make up the hobo packs, pass the book; two of us need a chess rematch, pass the book.
However, my most memorable summer reading experience is not a pleasant one, but profound. Two years ago, I made the mistake of taking along Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin as my personal read. This novel, narrated by the mother of a Columbine-style school shooter, is brave, sardonic, infuriating and completely harrowing. There's a scene near the end of the novel set in a floodlit backyard that contains the most horrifying set of images that has ever stayed to haunt me from a novel.
After finishing the book, in the middle of a glorious afternoon sprawled on a bed overlooking the Strait of Georgia, I spent the remaining days almost catatonic, only half present while others exclaimed over the surf and the perfect s'mores. Never have I more wanted to reach out to others who have read the same book with the urge to debrief.
Contributing reviewer Zsuzsi Gartner lives in Vancouver.
RANDY BOYAGODA Long summer days are heavy not just with heat, but also with time and memory. In the years since I decided to pursue literary life seriously, I've felt inspired, not obligated, to fill these days with Eventful Reading, the kind of ambitions I've announced upon arriving at the cottage or starting a road trip or filling the uncertain quiet of a first date: "Oh those boxes? I'm reading the Russians this summer" (1997); "Let me carry that bag, I'm reading Henry James, late period Henry James this summer" (1999, and again in 2006); "Can you fit these Robert Caro biographies under your feet? I'm taking them with me for the summer" (2005); etc.
Hell, I even took Faulkner's Snopes trilogy on our honeymoon (2004). Of course, I've spent more time informing people of my impressive reading plans than actually reading, and as summers pile upon summers, I remember not so much what I've read the year before as what I had planned and mostly failed to read.
This summer was to be no different. My plan was first Updike's Rabbit novels, then it was Marquez, then it was Big Indian Fiction, then it was, again, Robert Caro biographies. Nothing stuck. I was defeated before I could begin by the weight of obligation. Instead, I've decided to dip in and out of books lying about our house: David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas on the front porch; Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing in the study; Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum in the bedroom; and also, here and there, Deuteronomy, Charles Taylor's A Secular Age, Roberto Bolaño's 2666, and Ann Douglas's Terrible Honesty, a cultural history of 1920s Manhattan. I read as much as is enjoyable. Summers, I've come to realize, are too short to make like they're endless occasions for endless reading.
That said, the book that has proved most enjoyable this summer is the least expected: James Jones's 1970 novel The Merry Month of May, which describes the turbulent lives of American expatriates caught up in the passions of 1968 Paris. It's nowhere near Jones's best work, but I have a special feeling for it, nonetheless, when I sit down with it in the living room. This feeling comes of finding it crammed in a corner of a little-used bookshop in Perth, Ont., a few weeks ago, while we were staying at a nearby cottage. It comes from the heavy text, the torn cover, the dense typeface, the smell of age and damp you get when you open it. The physical presence of the book itself, and where and how I found it, bring me back to discoveries and reading sessions of long-ago summers, of novels by Hemingway and Harper Lee, Morley Callaghan and Mordecai Richler - enthusiastic, energetic reading, before the burdens of obligation and eventfulness set in.
Randy Boyagoda, a professor of English at Ryerson University, is author of Governor of the Northern Province, a novel.
SUSAN PERREN My 15th birthday was right in the middle of the summer of 1959. I didn't have a job - perhaps because I was too lazy or unmotivated, but more likely because there wasn't much parental push for me to get one. Indeed, there was probably an unspoken injunction against summer jobs; after all, my English mother's "long vacs," as they were called when she was a student, were for reading, not working.
So, instead of being gainfully employed as a mother's helper or something along those lines, I drifted, boyfriend-less, around our rented cottage on Big Rideau Lake south of Ottawa, staying up much too late playing cards and board games and sleeping in so late I scarcely saw the light of day. I snacked on books, none of which must have passed my mother's test for rigour. All that changed - the summer changed - when my mother said she would give me a dollar if I read War and Peace.
It wasn't the money - at least I don't think it was, although a dollar then was certainly more than a dollar now - that made me pick up the gauntlet, and it wasn't the money that kept me reading. It's a complicated book, one with many narrative threads and more characters than even my then-more-nimble brain could keep track of, and more ideas than I could absorb. Much, if not most, of Tolstoy's genius was wasted on the likes of me, then, but some of it wasn't. I got the grandeur of it, the bigness of it all, the glorious disjunction between St. Petersburg and the Big Rideau. I'd found the place I wanted to be, inside a book, and to some degree that's where I've been ever since.
Susan Perren is The Globe and Mail's children's book columnist.
MOLLY PEACOCK My ideal summer read is a listen - a novel of scope and romance downloaded onto my iPod. In 2008, from the June solstice to the September equinox, I spent 63 hours and 14 minutes with War and Peace, not crunched into a spine-bending camp chair in the woods, but in my happy bed as I went to sleep, being read to by the incomparable Neville Jason, a British actor who developed voices for every single character in Tolstoy's epic. Oh my ear buds! I continued with this novel of grand scale and tender affection when I typically woke up in the middle of the night, too. Sometimes I couldn't resist it at breakfast. I listened in airports. I listened in the supermarket line. I listened walking to the subway station.
But is listening really reading? You wouldn't ask that to a blind person, would you? Three sight-challenged friends urged me to it. (My eyes are okay, but as an insomniac, listening sure beats craning my neck around the Itty Bitty Book Light.) Tolstoy made my summer nights. How I miss Prince Andrei and Natasha! Who will ever replace them? No one that I can imagine, but I can still look for scope and romance - and a marvellous actor reading - so this summer I turned to Anne Michaels's latest, The Winter Vault. It has reach and possibility (ranging from Egypt to the St. Lawrence River, from prehistory to the present), and it's got the necessary magnet of difficult love relationships - all in a mere 91/2 hours, narrated by the urgent-voiced Karen White.
Listening gives the story at its purest. That's how summer reading started for most of us in childhood: lying in the lap of evening, being read to.
Molly Peacock is the author of The Second Blush and the series editor for The Best Canadian Poetry.
HAL WAKE My ideal summer book isn't a book but a concept. Summer is about abundance and devouring: basil, berries and rhubarb. Summer reading is about abundance and devouring as well. And that means mysteries, books that come in series, so that when you discover an author for the first time you can go back and find 10 more and read one a day. This summer I savoured new Donna Leon and Michael Connelly novels. I'm awaiting Evil at Heart, the latest from a writer who was new to me, Chelsea Cain. This will be just the third in a series that focuses on a disturbing relationship between a detective and a serial killer. Not for the faint of heart (surgically removed spleens feature), but for those who like their psychological drives obsessive and oblique.
Hal Wake is artistic director of the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival.
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