Summer Reading: Under a Tree With a Book

Summer has come with hot, steamy breath in Washington this year—already days nearing 100°. Even with the sudden flash of thunderstorms, the air clears only to steam up again. So much for my assurance to a newcomer that summer wasn’t so bad here, though maybe we will pay our dues in June and be rewarded with the summer breezes and cool evenings in July. August, we know, will be hot.

In the dog days it is a time to be indoors, or at least in the shade—biking along the Potomac or sculling on the river only early in the morning or as the sun is setting. Indoors or under the shade of a tree, it is a time to read.

Summer reading—the term brings back delicious childhood memories even of hot Texas summers where I would find a patch of shade in the back yard and lose myself in a book, or bike to a nearby pool and sit reading between laps, or curl up in a chair under the fan on the screened porch. I can still smell the mowed grass and the sweet fragrance of white gardenias on the bushes just outside.

As a departure for this blog, I thought I’d share my summer reading list and ask to know what you’re reading. I usually read before and after work, mainly on the back porch in the evening where it is light till nine and beyond. I know the sun is setting not only from the fading pink sky through the flowering apple trees but also from the bugle playing somewhere in the distance….perhaps at the Naval Observatory. I don’t know who faithfully heralds this rising and setting of the sun each day, but in the early morning if I’m in my rocker on the back porch, I can also hear a distant bugle welcoming the day.

My list this summer are books by friends and acquaintances—a list mostly of contemporary American women writers. In listing these, I am leaving out so many other strong voices of American women novelists, but these particular books have been stacked for a while on a shelf overflowing with books I’ve bought and wanted to read, many recently published, a few I’ve started, but reading was interrupted by other assignments. Even as I write these names, I’m thinking of the other friends and writers I’d like to list whose books I’ve read and whose next books I look forward to reading. But that is for another blog post. In the hope of finishing those I’ve started and starting and finishing the rest, and enjoying all, here is my summer list:

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna
Claire Messud’s Emperor’s Children
Roxana Robinson’s Cost
Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come
Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress
C. M.  Mayo’s The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire
Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Katharine Davis’ East Hope
Sarah Pekkanen’s The Opposite of Me

(The last five are recent books by Washington area novelists, a vibrant group of women.)

I would love to hear what you’re reading and recommending and to hear comments on any of these titles you’ve already read.

Finally I’d like to share a gift subscription to Poets and Writers Magazine if you are not already a subscriber. If you don’t know the publication, it is the magazine for poets, fiction writers and creative nonfiction writers, relied on by most writers I know as a valuable information source for the business of being a writer as well as for substantive articles on literature. The first 20 people who respond will get a free introductory subscription. Just click below with your comments and with a Yes to PW.

Happy summer reading!


  1. marian botsford fraser on June 27, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    What a great idea, Joanne, and leads me to suggest some novels by Canadian women writers:
    The Ghost Brush, Katherine Govier (brand new)
    The Lizard’s Cage, Karen Connelly (2005)
    Room, Emma Donoghue (brand new)
    Camilla Gibb, Sweetness in the Belly (2005)
    Have a wonderful summer, Marian

  2. Katherine Stephen on June 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    I can’t wait to see Writers and Poets Magazine.
    Thanks for the introduction.
    All best,

  3. jill scharff on June 27, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Summer reading, summer not! You obviously are, and thanks for the list, nice to hear of Washington area writers too. I’d like to recommend a book I’ve just received. “Eye of my Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother” I started with the chapter by Anne Roiphe. This is going to be good. This is one to consult, enjoy, and pass on to my pregnant daughter’s mother-in-law, Jill
    ps yes to PW

  4. Krishen Mehta on June 27, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Joanne, two books that I am reading this summer, which you may like also if you have time, are:
    More money than God, by Sebastion Mallaby, and
    Things I have been silent about, by Azar Nafisi.
    I would be interested in the Poets and Writers magazine. Just saw their website, looks very interesting.
    Best regards, Krishen.

  5. Julia Malone on June 28, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Hi Joanne,
    Your post makes me want to curl up with one of those books! I think will start with Major Pettigrew!
    Thanks for the offer of PW! I accept.

  6. Dale Lenzner on June 28, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing Poets and Writers with us. Can’t wait for my first copy.

  7. mary locke on June 28, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    I would highly recommend The Lacuna by Kingsolver. It’s an effort to write big — across continents, cultures and political persuasions, while still focusing on the plight and resilience of individuals. What did his cook think of Trotsky? Was Frida Kahlo really so promiscuous? And why might that have been? I’m only halfway through, but can tell you that it’s working so far. I’m trying to read slowly so it doesn’t end too soon.

  8. Maryann Macdonald on June 28, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Tears in my eyes recently finishing BAMBOO PEOPLE by Mitali Perkins. A page-turner about two boys in modern-day Burma and tne role of courage and compassion in overcoming violence.
    Loved TINKERS by Paul Harding. A well-deserved Pulitzer for this beautiful book.
    BONHOEFFER by Eric Metaxas. Great new (but really long…) bio about a radical WWII hero.
    WISHFUL THINKING by Frederick Buechner.
    ALL THE LIVING by C.E. Morgan
    ANNEXED by Sharon Dogar.
    THE ATTACK by Yasmina Khadra.
    I’ve always wanted a subscription to Poets and Writers!

  9. Leslie Pietrzyk on June 28, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    I am loving American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell, a collection of short stories that was nominated for the National Book Award. And my summer’s goal is to finally read Moby Dick.
    I already get P&W, which is an excellent resource–good for you for spreading the word about it.

  10. chiara macconi on June 29, 2010 at 1:59 am

    lovely idea to share summer reading…and commenting…it’s rather difficult for me to get the whole bunch of books but I will let you have the list of my books and the reason why. One thing I’ve always been interested about is women’s writing across countries, although globalisation makes it somewhat general.
    Let’s make it that at the end of your reading you tell me the three books I should not miss.
    all the best Joanne

  11. chiara on June 29, 2010 at 2:00 am

    dear Joanne,
    I hope I can get the magazine!

  12. Brendan Hurley on July 19, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    I merely found your blog page and wanted to express that I have definitely enjoyed reading your website posts.Appreciate your sharing this details ,I must say i get pleasure from reading it.

  13. Gail Osherenko on July 26, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Congratulations on becoming a Grand Mom.
    So wonderful.
    I read this June blog at the same time. Thanks for the good list to add to our Kindles.
    I read and thoroughly enjoyed LACUNA – whle in Huatulco, Mexico this spring – so I could be even more present with Frieda and Diego’s story.
    Now I’m reading the newest novel by Howard Norman, WHAT IS LEFT THE DAUGHTER? set in Nova Scotia. So many of his novels are set in the Maritimes of Canada though he lives in Vermont in the summer. He told us at a recent reading that he did start a novel once with his main character in California but the character quickly moved to the Maritimes. His books have an odd darkness, but also light, and are set in a part of the world while life is harder, slower and maybe more meaningful. There’s a review in latest NYT from Sunday 7/25 which I haven’t yet seen but have heard exists.
    And next on my summer list is THE TOWN THAT FOOD SAVED which is about how the hardscrabble town of Hardwick, VT (and environs which includes Wolcott where we are) is having a revival based on sustainable food (organic farming and seed growing, cheese making, locovore restaurants,
    and the like).
    And YES to PW if you haven’t already gotten 20 responses.

Leave a Comment