There is something about the long, languid days of summer that begs for a particular flavor of reading, in my mind. I have said this before, but books have their own season for me as definitely as my clothes. I’d no more pull on my cabled wool ‘barn sweater’–so de rigueur for frosty winter mornings–in the middle of July, than I’d consider dipping into the pages of such familiar friends as Anna Karenina or Great Expectations when the temperature outside nudges above eighty degrees. And the hotter it gets, the lighter the fare that’s desired. In the dog days of summer, I eat salads and wear sundresses almost exclusively. And while I disdain ‘fluff’ in reading as in everything else, my summer book choices tend to lean decidedly on the frothier side.
Charlotte Mason warned wisely and famously against ‘twaddle’, and I consider it my duty, as writer and bookseller, never to misguide anyone along that line. But permit me to highlight a few volumes and authors which, if not particularly freighted with great moral themes and deathless prose, will at the least prove gentle companions for a slower, lazier time of year. Perfect for reading in a hammock, or tucked in a cool windowseat…
D.E. Stevenson is a gem. My book club calls her “Elizabeth-Goudge-Lite”, and she’s who we turn to at least once a year between weighty tomes like Eliot and Gaskell. She was a Scottish writer of the last century and a descendant of the great Robert Louis. And her books are simply charming. She writes of houses that remember their past and women who understand the art of being womanly. In D.E. Stevenson, you will find well-laid tea tables and rambles over the Scottish hillsides, not to mention engaging plots which are usually fashioned upon a frame of revered domesticity. And another joy of Stevenson is that once she takes the time to create a character, she doesn’t seem to want to put them to rest at the end of a book, or even a series. She wrote over forty novels, and the people you love in one book have a way of cropping up again in another character’s story, with a delightful sense of friendly recognition.
Celia’s House is the tale of a young woman who surprisingly inherits her family manor and endeavors to make it her own in the stern face of tradition and under the somber cloud of war.
Amberwell is about a manorial family in the Scottish Lowlands and how they and the community surrounding them both survive and overcome the devastations of WWII.
The English Air is a collectible volume that tells the WWII-era love story of a young German man and an English girl.
Music in the Hills is the sequel to the beloved Vittoria Cottage, but like her other sequels, stands on its own as the charming story of a young man who returns to Scotland and settles down to farming after his service in the army.
The Marriage of Katherine wraps up the story begun in Katherine Wentworth and tells of her new life as wife to a hard-nosed but tender-hearted solicitor and mother to three children.
The beloved English author, Miss Read, received a marked revival of popularity after Jan Karon confessed her a favorite and an inspiration. I love Miss Read’s books, not only because they are light and touching—and yet have a penetrating insight into human nature and manners that’s almost Austen-ish in it’s flavor—but because they were much-loved by my Anglophile grandmother. Most of her books are centered in the fictional Cotswold villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green, and tell the day-to-day stories of people who seem like real-life friends and acquaintances. Like Jan Karon, Miss Read wrote of the life she knew first-hand, and let the rest of the world see how charming it was without faltering into clichés or idealism. And as in D.E. Stevenson, the reader gets the chance to encounter beloved characters again and again.
In Village Affairs, Fairacre’s schoolmistress has to face the challenges of running her school under the terrible rumor that it is going to be closed.
Changes at Fairacre chronicles the encroaching effects of modern life on the village and its inhabitants, and celebrates the staunch fact that some things will never change.
The Battles at Thrush Green are over such matters of consequence as the management of the school and the plan for the neglected churchyard. Not to mention the return of an inhabitant that’s been gone for half a century…
Return to Thrush Green chronicles one family’s upheavals and another’s desire to settle down, all against the backdrop of a finely-rendered English spring.
No Holly for Miss Quinn is the story of a mysterious spinster and the interrupted Christmas that impacted the rest of her life.
In Village Centenary the one hundredth anniversary of the village school is celebrated with all due honors amid the usual turmoils and joys of Fairacre life.
So, I’m curious—how many of you have heard of Grace Livingston Hill? She was another author that I first discovered on my grandmother’s shelves. I used to come home from her house on summer afternoons with my arms loaded, only to return them the next week for a fresh batch. They were my great-grandmother’s copies mostly, with the dates of her readings penciled carefully inside the front cover—many of them with second and third notations. From 1887 to 1948, Grace Livingston Hill was the author of over 100 books, most of which were written to keep the wolf from the door. Nevertheless, her stories are all different, even though each of them bears certain hallmarks that her readers came to trust and expect: every story highlights the constant, daily reality of good and evil, and every single of one them carries a message of grace. Her books are endearingly old-fashioned and romantic—chivalrously so!—and she delights with an immersion in period detail, from the cut of a dainty 1930’s frock to the setting of an elegant table on limited means. I still remember being enchanted with the account of a character whipping up a batch of fresh mayonnaise to garnish a salad for a special luncheon! And if Hill’s heroines are a bit idealized, they are absolutely lovely girls and a joy to keep company with throughout the duration of the book. Modern readers, accustomed to the requisite subtlety of our age, may smile over the overt Christian themes of Hill’s books. But I, for one, am an unabashed admirer, in great measure for the quiet delights I received at her hands as a girl and the sweetest dreams which they inspired. I really could (and perhaps will) write an entire post about Grace, but for now, I’ll reign myself in by saying that I may not have read every single one of her 100+ books, but I’ve definitely read enough to vouch for her. Grace Livingston Hill is light reading at its most decent and fine.
The 1916 story, A Voice in the Wilderness, has a young woman stranded in the Arizona desert with no one to help her but a stranger.
Bright Arrows is the sweet story of a girl fighting to preserve her inheritance from scheming relatives, only to find an inheritance that is even more valuable.
Happiness Hill sheds a gentle light on how one can be selfish without even realizing it. This is one of those “what do you really want” stories.
Spice Box is a doctor’s search for the identity of a young patient he saves in a snowstorm.
In Silver Wings 1930’s sophistication meets tragedy when a young pilot goes missing.
The Search is a WWI love story that crosses the class divide.
In the 1920’s, Temple Bailey was one of the highest-paid writers in America. Yet another discovery among my great-grandmother’s books, I actually didn’t read any of Bailey’s books until fairly recently. But I do love her style. She has a voice that is completely unique, almost fable-like at times, and she manages to write on some very sentimental themes without sounding corny or hackneyed. Reading a Temple Bailey book is like watching a magic lantern show of the twenties and thirties—there is a certain gorgeousness that is never too much. She writes with a lighter hand than many popular novelists of her day, and manages to pull off some worthy morals without ever lapsing into preaching.
From the dust jacket of the 1928 Silver Slippers: “a dance in the moonlight, days of delight and disillusionment, and a day when Joan threw her silver slippers into the sea…”
In Little Girl Lost, a girl of 19 takes a year to make up her mind just which man she wants to marry…
The Gay Cockade is the 1921 collection of 14 of Temple Bailey’s enchanting short stories.
Well, there’s a start, at least, and a peek at four writers with whom one can while a gentle hour or two. (Or more!)
So, what are you reading this summer? I’d love to know.