THE BOOKS OF SUMMER
Carolyn J. Rose
Recently I read Pecos Valley Diamond, a mystery set 90 years ago in southern New Mexico and told from the point of view of a nineteen-year-old young woman. The character’s voice and the gentle tone of the book took me back to the summers of my early teens when I had hours to myself, when I could stretch out in the shade of a maple and sink into a story. Within moments I would be in another place, another age, with real people or fictional characters. All of them were braver, smarter, and had more interesting lives than I did, but they all seemed willing to share their experiences, to confide their thoughts.
I had the ability back then to set reality aside, to let the words wash over me, to submerge as if into a warm lake. I would go so deep that all sound was muffled, even my mother’s call to dinner or my father’s shout that my chores hadn’t been completed. Sometimes I wouldn’t note the chill of evening, a rising wind, or the first drops of rain.
I read accounts of exploration and travel to far lands—Kon Tiki and Aku-Aku. I read the “traditional” books for girls—Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie and the adventures of Nancy Drew. I read tales of the detecting Hardy boys and the westerns my father enjoyed—stories by Zane Grey and Max Brand and Louis L’Amour. I read the books I found on my grandmother’s shelves, classics by Hawthorne, Melville, and Cooper. I read The Egg and I, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
I didn’t always understand the themes and deeper meanings, but I connected with the characters, the settings, and the feel of those books. I lived inside the covers until I read the final words. Often, I read the books again the next summer.
Now I tend to read with one eye on the clock—Is it time to check that pie, meet that friend, turn out the light and go to sleep?—and one ear on the sounds of my surroundings—the dogs, the washer, the mail truck. Most of the books I read are as “busy” as I am, but Pecos Valley Diamond lulled my multi-tasking mind.
Was that due to Alice Duncan’s skill at creating her world, her characters, and the tone of her story? Or was that due to my unconscious desire to revisit and reclaim the reading experience of my youth while walking the sun-blistered roads of fictional Rosedale, New Mexico?
Even the most skillful writer can’t capture a reader who doesn’t want to be caught, so my conclusion is that it was a bit of both and Alice Duncan and I met each other halfway.
Comments? I love comments, especially about your reading experiences and the books of your summers.