Reviews & Interviews Editor Jackie Hedeman on reading (so, so many) books outside this summer.
My approach to summer reading is best described as Catholic Guilt meets All You Can Eat Buffet. I attempt to make up for the disappointing trickle of mid-semester pleasure reading by going on a rampage. Do I distinguish between fried chicken, broccoli, and chocolate-dipped strawberries? Only in terms of whether they fit on my plate, by which I mean: in my tote bag for a walk, in my carryon for a flight, on my Kindle as one of the ten checkouts permitted by the Columbus Public Library. So I’ve been reading YA. Middle-grade. Essays. Comics. Memoir. Plays. Excruciatingly realist fiction. Horror.
Here are the books I’ve read so far this summer:
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
The Hot l Baltimore by Lanford Wilson
George by Alex Gin
The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson
Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles Blow
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Carry On by Rainbow Rowel
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
The Quick by Lauren Owen
A Meeting by the River by Christopher Isherwood
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Irritable Hearts by Mac McClelland
Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
I read nearly every book outside. Reading outside is what elevates summer reading from summer pleasure to summer joy. (In my case, this involves nail polish-stripping sunscreen and a mental list of shady benches.) I read outside in Columbus: on the OSU oval, in tiny Miller Park in Upper Arlington, at outdoor tables at Stauf’s and Starbucks, in the arboretum. I also read outside in Paris: in the Jardin des Tuileries, in the Place des Vosges, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, in the Luxembourg Gardens, at Versailles, and in the Jardin du Palais Royal, which happens to be my favorite place on earth.
Let me take you there. You’re reading The Quick and you’re breathless. Or you’re reading Let the Right One In and you just caught a whiff of someone’s BO and all of a sudden the whole thing is happening to you in Smell-O-Vision and you feel a little ill. Or, let’s be real, you’re reading that damn A Little Life and you don’t know whether you’re going to yell or cry or puke. You could have sworn that you made an intentional shift to literary fiction, but you’re still reading horror, even if it’s dressed up as something slightly different. (When you get back from the park and turn on the news, your suspicions are confirmed: people are violent and predictable. You start to consider the possibility that horror and dystopian fiction are actually realist forms. You didn’t have a summer reading project, but it’s starting to feel like blood is the theme.)
But you’re committed to reading outside (and to finishing what you start), so the next day you take this dreadful, genius book and you go back outside with it and this is what greets you:
Here’s why the Palais Royal is my favorite place on earth: balance and harmony. There’s the crunchy gravel and the regimented shade trees and the sky. Every time I visit, there are the same green metal chairs and the same workers taking lunch. It’s a historical attraction in the center of tourist Paris, but it’s quiet. You can’t stay forever—there’s nowhere to buy cheap food, nowhere to pee—but you can stay long enough.