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(Pat Wellenbach)
(Pat Wellenbach)

A Globe Books special

It's summer, not dumber Add to ...

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."

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