GRAB A TALL GLASS of iced tea (or your favorite wine) and head for your lounge chair! Let’s talk about our favorite dreamy summer reads, the books we return to again and again because they give us that indefinable feeling of summer. Not too surprisingly, given my Anglophilic leanings, many of my favorite summer books are set in England.
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
A big, luxurious book (and world) to get lost in, with plenty of my favorite homey details—what people eat, drink, wear, and grow in their gardens; essentially, how they live. Now in her 60s, Penelope Keeling looks back over her life, remembering her youth in Cornwall during World War II, her “thoughtless marriage,” and the great love of her life. She considers her three adult children objectively, what she tried to give them, and how they turned out. I love that it’s about a woman having a good life even though things haven’t always turned out the way she’d hoped.
Besides being a satisfying multi-generational saga, I think what seals it as a summer book for me is Olivia’s idyll with Cosmo in Ibiza—which leads her to take a year off from her high-powered job in London to live in paradise with a wonderful man, while eating fabulous food and catching up on all the great classics she’s somehow missed reading. What a dream.
The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart
I’ve been reading Mary Stewart since I was a teenager; she has that amazing gift of being able to instantly pull you in to a story. I don’t know if I’ve ever read anyone who writes about the English countryside more lyrically or evocatively than she does: This turf, this sky, the heartsease in the grass; the old lines of ridge and furrow, and the still older ghosts of Roman road and Wall; the ordered, spare beauty of the northern fells; this, in front of me now, was England.
On an estate deep in the Northumberland countryside, a young woman steps into a web of old family secrets when she’s persuaded to impersonate a long-lost heiress. But the heiress, Annabel Winslow, had more secrets than anyone around her ever knew, and the feeling of growing danger against the backdrop of conflicting loyalties, unexpected love, a mystery involving Roman remains, and the decline of the irascible family patriarch over the course of a long, hot June is incredibly compelling.
Just try to resist this delicious first line:
I might have been alone in a painted landscape.
Ah, but she isn’t . . .
A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr
A young man, wounded in body and soul by the horrors of World War I, is hired to restore a fresco on the walls of an ancient church in a Yorkshire village. As a languorous late summer drifts into fall, Tom Birkin lives the simplest of lives in the church belfry, interacting with the quirky villagers and learning to reengage in life, all while feeling the pull of forbidden love and making startling discoveries about the fresco’s original artist. Though Tom’s experience of human community is important, what I really love about this book is the deep sense of healing that comes from just breathing in the peaceful air of the English countryside.
Here’s an early excerpt:
And then, God help me, on my first morning . . . I felt that this alien northern countryside was friendly, that I’d turned a corner and that this summer of 1920, which was to smolder on until the first leaves fell, was to be a propitious season of living, a blessed time.
Well, that’s a start—three of my most beloved summer classics. I have to admit that here in the Northwest, the weather hasn’t been very summery so far, but maybe these books will help put you in the mood. I’d love to hear about your summer classics—and, of course, I’m hoping you’ll add The Walled Garden to your list of summer favorites!