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(Pat Wellenbach)
(Pat Wellenbach)

A Globe Books special

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

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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