June 18, 2004
It's summer and for some people the time to find the books they were given at Christmas (or was that last Christmas?) and take them to the cottage or some other vacation destination so that they can read and relax. Finally: some time to unwind and absorb some good fiction, history or poetry.
I remember reading War and Peace and Dr. Zhivago many years ago while working in Saskatoon during the summer. I was away from the farm and had my evenings free, long summer evenings that gave me the opportunity to read the books that everyone said I should read.
Woody Allen, in one of his comedy routines, talked about taking a speed reading course, then reading War and Peace in an hour. A friend asked him to explain the book. Allen replied: 'It's about Russia.' For most of us summer reading tends to produce similar results, but it helps us to relax. We may realize that we can take time for reading during the other parts of the year as well. It's a great habit, one that helps us learn and relax at the same time.
Here are my suggestions for summer reading. I have consciously chosen books that I've read over the years, books published by other publishers, rather than ones that we have published (a very non-commercial approach, I agree, but this is summer). Some are Canadian; most are in print.
My Top Six Suggestions for Summer Reading, 2004
No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod. I want to be very clear about this book (or at least my opinion of it) . It's the best work of fiction ever written by a Canadian and if you have not read it, choose it before War and Peace. If you have read it you'll prefer it to War and Peace. It's not a light book: I watched MacLeod bring tears to the eyes of most people attending a Sunday morning reading at a conference in Texas when he read the passage about the dog and the ice. Buy it now and read the rest of this column later.
Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work & Life by David Allen. What? A management book on my summer reading list? Indeed. It's about being organized, both personally and professionally, so that we can enjoy vacations. The 52 items are each about three pages, easy to read and excellent in all respects. Try it. I've read it several times, but, of course, some of us need more help than others.
High Tide in Tucson: Essays From Now or Never by Barbara Kingsolver. One cannot go wrong with anything Kingsolver has written, but this series of essays published in 1995 is particularly appropriate for summer reading. You'll want to read more of her books. Buy some for the long cold winter.
Magpie Rising: Sketches from the Great Plains by Merrill Gillfillan. This is a road book written by Gillfillan as he drove across the American and Canadian Great Plains. He's an award-winning short story writer and poet. You may not find this on the shelf of your local bookstore, but here's a chance to spend time in those used bookstores you'll find on your vacation. My copy was published in 1991, but you can also order a newer edition directly from the publisher, the University of Nebraska Press.
Sarah Binks by Paul Hiebert. Ah, Sarah Binks, the Sweet Songstress of Saskatchewan. This masterpiece of comic satire was published in 1947 and is still read by fans old and new. Do find a copy and read it a safe distance from other vacationers (they may not appreciate your laughter, or they may want you to read Sarah's poetry to them). Be prepared to write a short essay on Sarah, contrasting her work from her pre-Regina and post-Regina periods. Regina, we are reminded by the author, is the Athens of Saskatchewan.
Ulysses by James Joyce. It's about Dublin and language and music and everything else worthwhile. And you'll feel so much better about your punctuation and spelling after reading it. And did I mention that it's not Canadian? Yes, oh yes. Buy a paperback edition for the cottage and the Orchises edition for your desk from poldy.com, the all Ulysses bookstore (It's the only book they sell). Good with Guinness.
I'd be pleased to hear about your summer favourites. Send me an e-mail. I may answer you from a holiday hotel, or perhaps from a coffee shop with a wi-fi connection. But I'll have a summer book with me.
Enjoy the sunshine.
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