Book, Book, Books of Summer

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One of the things I miss most about teaching is having a captive audience for my lame jokes. There’s really nothing like watching thirty fourteen-year-olds groan and roll their eyes at the same time. It’s most satisfying. My best worst jokes were usually about something literary. For instance: Why did the literary chicken cross the road? Because he forgot his book, book, book. Sigh. I love that joke. If I’ve told you that before, I apologize. Another good thing about teaching is that the kids changed every year, and I could repeat all my jokes. Ha. So let’s talk about book, book, books, shall we? The book, book, books of summer. There’s nothing better.

"Robin in her Zone" a painting by Laura Lee Zanghetti
Robin in Her Zone” by Laura Lee Zanghetti
Used with permission from the artist.

I love paintings that depict people reading. And in my search for images of paintings to use on the blog, and the subsequent search for attributions, sources, copyright information and permissions, I always find art that I love and artists with whom I am unfamiliar. Like the painting “Robin in Her Zone” by Laura Lee Zanghetti above. Laura says this is a painting of her friend Robin on a trip to St. Martin years ago. I love the bold colours in this painting. Or “Girl Reading” by Clay Olmstead, which makes me think of rolling around into all kinds of positions when I’m in the throws of a good book. Plus I love the wash of gold in that one. And then there’s “No Place to Sit” by Darren Thompson, of a girl standing reading on the subway. Thompson has a whole series of work depicting people reading in odd and uncomfortable places. I love these paintings. Because who among avid readers has not perched or leaned somewhere unlikely and precarious while lost in a book?

For most of today I’ve been scrolling through paintings when I should have been writing about books. But that’s the nature of blogging, my friends. At least for me. I fall down a rabbit hole easily. And when I was exploring, I ran across this article on the Royal Academy of Art website. Ten Novels About Art You Won’t Put Down by Connie Sjödin. Favourite fiction about art recommended by art experts, there must be something on that list that we want to read.

In fact, I just ordered the Katie Ward book called Girl Reading, the “intimate tales behind the creation of seven portraits.” Portraits which depict, you guessed it, women reading. Ward’s book was recommended by Hilary Mantel. And both reviews I read of the novel said it wasn’t a perfect book, but well worth reading. So I’m going to give it a try.

I thought I might also read The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier. But just now while looking up Chevalier’s book, I found a new one of hers which appeals to me more. A Single Thread is set in 1932 in Winchester, UK where Violet Speedwell becomes part of a society of “broderers,” women who embroider the kneelers for the cathedral in Winchester. I love a book about craft. I’ve just ordered this one. And hopefully I’ll get back to the other Chevalier book soon. But as Robert Frost said in “The Road Not Taken” … “knowing how way leads on to way,” there’s a good chance I won’t.

And speaking of falling down rabbit holes with recommendations and links and more links, I’ve just read this article in The Guardian on summer reads, as suggested by some of the best writers working today. Like Hilary Mantel and Maggie O’Farrell. Lots of ideas for our summer reading here, my friends. And might I just add if you haven’t read O’Farrell’s Hamnet… what are you waiting for? It’s an amazing book.

Sigh, My ‘books of summer’ pile grows, even as I write.

“Girl Reading” by Clay Olmstead
Used with permission from the artist.

I’m about to start reading A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr. Recommended on a Slightly Foxed podcast, this classic novel deals with a man who has been damaged by war and a failed marriage, who finds healing when he spends time restoring a medieval mural in small Yorkshire village in 1920. This book sounded like it was right up my alley. I’m looking forward to reading it.

I’m also looking forward to reading the novel Crow Winter by Karen McBride. McBride is an Algonquin Anishinaabe writer from the Timiskaming First Nation in Quebec. Crow Winter is the story of “a young Indigenous woman named Hazel Ellis, who has the magical power to cross between the spiritual and material worlds. Following the loss of her father, Hazel returns to Spirit Bear Point First Nation reserve to be with her mother and to reconcile her grief.” You can read the rest of the article about McBride’s novel here, and listen to her chat with Shelagh Rogers from CBC radio.

Now in case you thought I was veering into a season of purely literary novels and abandoning my love of murder and mayhem, you’d better think again. Ha. Hubby and I have been indulging these past couple of weeks in a murder mystery series that we have rediscovered lately. Sally Spencer’s early books used to sit mostly unread on the shelves at Manotick library. Or at least that’s how it seemed to us. Whenever Hubby had nothing to read he’d decamp to the library and come back with a Sally Spencer. He always liked them.

Only lately when I was searching on Libby for something to read did I discover the wealth of books this writer has produced. Sally Spencer is a pseudonym, by the way, for husband and wife writing team Alan and Lanna Rustage. So Hubby and I have embarked on the second series of mystery crime novels by Sally Spencer, namely the DCI Monika Paniatowski series, set in Lancashire. We’ve both read several in the past two weeks: The Ring of Death, Echoes of the Dead, and Backlash. Hubby is pressing on with Lambs to the Slaughter. But I’m taking a break to revel in some gentle reading and my J.L. Carr book.

The Sally Spencer books are competently written. I like the characters and the plots. They are a fun read, which sounds a bit macabre to anyone but a murder mystery lover. Plus I love a series with a continuing back story. Similar to how we watch the lives of D.C. Smith in the Peter Grainger books or Ruth Galloway in the Elly Griffiths novels unfold, the mystery in each individual Sally Spencer book overlays a developing life for the main characters. This gives a mystery novel depth and richness, in my opinion. As my friend Susan and I were discussing the other day, these are books that you should read in order to really enjoy.

So that’s my tale of the books of summer, from my lounge chair anyway. I’ll report back on those books I have yet to read. I still haven’t started my new Paula McLain book. I seem to want to save it for a delicious treat. Maybe when Hubby goes on his fishing trip in September and I am all alone in splendid isolation Ha.

I’ve been loving all the artwork I found today in my travels across the net. How many beautiful paintings over the years have been made of women reading! What is it about that act of reading that inspires a painter, do you think? Is it the fact that behind the reader’s stillness, and their downcast eyes, they could be anywhere, experiencing anything, on some secret adventure that the observer cannot know? I like that idea.

"Summer" by Donald Moodie reminds me of the books of summer that I love.
“Summer” (c.1958) by Donald Moodie
source

I love the painting above by Scottish artist Donald Moodie. The gorgeous colours. How the woman is engrossed in her book despite being at the beach. How she’s at the beach in her pearls. The kerchief around her hair, love that especially. And despite the fact that the painting was done when I was two years old, I’d probably wear that outfit now. Minus the pearls.

Ah. Some things are predictable aren’t they? Here I am talking about books and high culture and somehow outfits have to come into it. That reminds me of my friend Wendy from York’s comment a week or so ago on the post Getting Patio Ready. Avid gardener Wendy said she thought from the post title that I was going to write a gardening post. But she should have known better. That’s right my friend. You should have known better. 🙂

Over to you now, fellow readers. Tell us about your books of summer.

P.S. The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a commission. All the other links are just for fun and further exploration.

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51 thoughts on “Book, Book, Books of Summer”

  1. I have read A Month in the Country and found it enjoyable. There is also a movie adaptation starring Colin Frith and Kenneth Branagh that it worth a look. Currently in locked down Sydney I have just finished a fascinating book by Sian Evans called Queen Bees about 6 society hostess between the wars. She brought these women to life and highlights the power they had and, sometimes, the power they only thought they had. Also I am still diving into Golden Age mysteries by authors such as John Rhodes, George Bellairs and Moray Dalton.

  2. Wendy in York

    Oh good , book post time . I read ‘A Month in The Country’ years ago & enjoyed it . As you say , a gentle read . Also enjoyed ‘Queen Bees’ recommended by Maryann . It’s that Mitford world again , pretty decadent but fascinating. I agree with you about books with a continuing back story . It’s great to see characters develop over time , like old friends but it’s a skill not all writers have & some seem to fizzle out . I’ll go look for Sally Spencer. My recent reading included the new Laura Lippman ‘Dream Girl’ but I didn’t like it & gave up . That’s a first for her . It’s one of those psychological ‘am I going crazy ‘ thrillers that are not my thing though other people love them . My best read recently was ‘Troubled Blood’ by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling ) – the latest Cormoran Strike . Very long , nearly 1000 pages but I loved it all . I can’t think how they’ll cram it into a TV adaptation . Another good read was Grace Dent’s memoir ‘ Hunger’ . She’s a food journalist with the Guardian & her memoir is loosely connected to food . Dotteressa reminded me of Peter Lovesey who has written lots more books since I read my last one years ago . So now I’m only half way through them all . Thanks D .
    You’ve found some lovely illustrations – I’m off down that book art rabbit hole now .

    1. Oh… the Mitford world… I’m in. Hubby and I read Peter Lovesey as well. I like his Peter Diamond character. He’s a bit like Andy Dalziel, in a way

  3. Your post reminded me that a friend (whose tastes generally jibe with mine) had recommended the Elly Griffiths books (there’s a piece of paper moving from place to place here with her name scribbled on it after our last call!) so I just went and snagged the first one. I too am an “in order” reader, and it’s always a delight to start a new-to-me series.

    For some reason, I’d never read the Donna Leon series, so I’ve been traveling to Venice on the regular, thanks to a mention from Frances of Materfamilias. Just finished the latest Kate Burkholder by Linda Castillo, and enjoyed that as well, if you like murderous Amish.

  4. ‘A Single Thread,’ read it this past year because I like to sew but because of the covid lockdowns just could not sew! Now I have fallen down the Ann Cleeves rabbit hole. Vera, of course is a favorite, but I love all her Inspectors. Read something the other day about having more books than one could read in their lifetime…that scared me. I want to live long enough to read all the books on my TBR pile. Happy reading all.

  5. Gail in Ireland

    I like to re-read old favourites and am currently working my way through my collection of Dick Francis books (all about horses and as he was Champion jockey and rode for the Queen Mother, he knew a thing or two about horses). I have every book he’s written and love them all. Great stories with a plot that keeps you thinking and so much more interesting than ‘psychological thrillers’ which become, eventually, same old, same old. I also like Donna Leon and enjoy wandering around Venice with her re-visiting favourite places in my favourite beautiful city.

  6. Great suggestions! I forwarded this post to my sisters who are great readers too. My one sister has been doing a series of watercolors of family members reading. I am the lucky owner of one of me that she did. In the portrait I’m reading while sitting on my couch wearing my apron with my dog nearby. It’s a treasure!

  7. I read “So Hubby and I have embarked on the second series of mystery crime novels” and thought for one moment how annoyed I was that I had not read your first series. But, it is a thought, isn’t it?

    I finished “A Single Thread” earlier today. My notes to self ran: “Rats! I have finished it. What research! Loved the detail about cathedrals, needlepoint, campanology and love in its many splendoured forms. Ok, the ending was a tad sentimental, but why not?”

    Stay happy & healthy.

  8. Not to forget the incredible Louise Penny’s Gamache series and Martin Walker’s Bruno series which are full of backstory and culinary enticement.

  9. You would love “Women Who Read Are Dangerous”, a treasure of a book I own filled with famous paintings of women reading. A historical look into our secret lives throughout history.

  10. I always love your book posts. I am taking notes on your suggestions–never heard of the Sally Spencer novels and now they are on my list! You are reminding me to read the Paula McLain novel, Circling the Sun, which I picked up thrifting (another favorite pastime and I always head right for the books). She is from my suburb in Cleveland, though I have never met her. I will have to watch if now that places are opening up the local bookstore might have a book signing. I loved loved The Paris Wife.

    I just finished A Gentleman in Moscow and I simply LOVED it. Could there be a better character than the Count? and all the others in the Metropol. I heard the author has a new book coming out.

    I look forward to reading the comments for more inspiration.

    1. I enjoyed Circling the Sun. I tried to read Beryl Markham’s own memoir afterwards but I found it almost unreadable. Too bad, because I loved reading A Paris Wife and then rereading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast afterwards.

  11. i recently watched a movie version of A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY. it was made in 1987 and starred colin firth and kenneth brannaugh. both were in their 20’s and were ridiculously young and handsome in this film. it was a well made movie and very enjoyable. i’ll have to read the book to see if i like it as much.

  12. Your book posts are the best (except for your travel and fashion posts)! You might consider Compartment C by Edward Hopper for your people reading collection. I love Hopper and had a postcard-sized print made to use as a bookmark.

  13. Currently doing a book juggle. Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford – she may not have been a totally reliable historian but it is well researched and a total joy, like being at a mad cocktail party. Just started Pine by Francine Toon (spooky and set in Halloween) which is lodged in the downstairs loo. Very different.

  14. Except for Gamache ( and that’s because I love North Hatley,QC) I am not nor ever have been a mystery reader. I will watch Brit Mysteries on TV though. My reading is usually based on food and reality so I am re reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain before turning to his last collaboration’World Travel’. It was a book he started on just prior to his untimely death and was a compilation of reviews and studies of his favourite places and restaurants. There are several essays in it contributed by people who met him and his travelling television crews. Bourdain was not everybody’s cup of tea but if one has ever worked in the food industry you’ve met someone like him and maybe if you were very blessed, almost as brilliant.
    Anyway after a winter of reading and isolation I am ready to shut the books and hit the patios, restos and back roads of Eastern Canada. FINALLY in mid August, settling in on a blue Muskoka chair watching the sunset from our deck in PEI. We have our clearance to enter NB and PEI passes are approved because we own a place there. The Island looks like a NO GO zone for tourists ( ie non residents permanent or seasonal) until maybe September. Hopefully you can put the books down and get back to NB this August.

  15. There is something captivating in paintings that depict people reading,both for those that understand fascination of books,as well as for the others who want to decipher the secret!

    I’ve added a couple of books from your list….Sally Spencer seems promising!

    Lucky me,I have a lot of Reginald Hill’s books to read this summer (yes,I like to follow lives of people in series,too…),new Paula McLain…….

    Beside reading through Peter Lovesay’s mysteries,I’ve read The Farm by Joanne Ramos,Filipino-American writer-dystopian (or maybe, somewhere,not so dystopian…) novel about “baby farm” and surogat mothers,about exploitation….it opens a lot of questions about american dream, poverty,fertility (or just convenience),motherhood….and a lot of others,with a lot of characters who are not always as they seem….

    It is her debut novel, it reads well…and one’ll have more questions than answers during the reading

    Dottoressa

    1. You ARE lucky, if you’re new to Reginald Hill’s mysteries. One of these days, I’m going to have to reread them from the start — I miss those characters, maybe “Wieldy” most of hall. . .

  16. Did you know A Month in the Country was made into a film in 1987 with a very young Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh? And no, I haven’t seen it yet OR read the book. Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions. I think I’ll spend the first few years of my retirement reading my way through your lists. And reading a book at the same time as your husband sounds like bliss!

  17. From one English teacher to another, who also likes murder and mayhem, can I recommend my favorite series by Alan Bradley – the Flavia de Luce mysteries. You won’t find a more unique and wonderful heroine. The first book in the series is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

  18. I agree with you about Sally Spencer books, they are well crafted and good reading. I also agree that it is best to read them in order if you can. It’s a while since I read them and I borrowed them from the library and read them out of sequence.

    I find I am re reading old favourites at the moment: Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, Peter Lovesey, Hazel Holt and so on.

    Loved the reader’s comment about like being at a mad cocktail party (re Nancy Mitford’s book) I will never tire of any book by or about the Mitfords.

  19. Chuckling at your Book Book joke and loving the paintings of women reading — I also keep an eye out for these at any exhibitions I get to (and also for paintings of women knitting). Trying to organize my own report on books I’ve read recently and rather despairing that writing about reading takes time away from the reading 😉

  20. Let me know what you think of Chevalier’s “A Single Thread”. I really thought I would like it. I was well into it when it took a few weird turns and I haven’t been able to make myself finish it. Maybe it ends better after all?

  21. I’m providing another vote for A Single Thread. I love how Tracy Chevalier’s research brings such detail to her books. I recommend reading The Lady and the Unicorn before going to Paris and visiting the tapestries (in the Cluny museum) … I could gaze at those for hours! Girl with a Pearl Earring was similarly engrossing and illuminated the artwork for me (as I’m otherwise not at all art-literate).
    This now-Nova Scotian is finally getting back to New Brunswick for a family visit next week. I hope you enjoy yours in August!

  22. I love to hear what you’re reading! I am having a wonderful summer in Scotland…all the gentle reads I’ve chosen recently seem to be set there. I particularly enjoyed Apricot Sky by Ruby Ferguson. It was a perfect summer escape, so much better than what passes for beach reads these days!

  23. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t visited your blog for a while and I am delighted to be reading your post about books. I’m going to put some of the books on my list, although summer is rushing by.
    I read Sula by Toni Morrison in June, then I read several light books (that I won’t remember). Then I read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. What a powerful book! It was interesting that Vuong writes about Sula in his book.
    I’m now reading Clementine in the Kitchen. (If only I had access to truffles, so that I could give one of the recipes a try.)
    I am interested in the Sally Spencer and Nancy Mitford books to start.
    Thanks for the suggestions.

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