Summer NaNo: In the Good Ole Summertime (Unconventional Beach Books)

In the good ole summertime…

… It’s time to write a novel. That, and to lie around in hammocks reading huge books. My notion of a beach read is somewhat different from the usual: it’s books that require large stretches of time and concentration, such as is not available during the school year. In student days, my summer reads included Galileo’s Dialogue on the Two World Systems, which I read for the same reason as my schoolmates went to minor-league hockey games: for the fights. Another was Bertrand Russell’s Philosophy of Mathematics, which I can tell you should not be read while sitting out in the Texas noonday sun, even with sunglasses. (There’s probably a reason few philosophers hail from Texas–the sun is too bright.) And, during graduate school, by way of light reading, the Annals of Tacitus (in translation) and a stack of books on medicine in Nazi Germany. Once I was out of graduate school, I got caught up on my reading, which included one memorable summer reading the English translation of excerpts from Pierre Duhem’s Le Systeme du Monde, showing how medieval debates about infinity, eternity and the powers of God played out centuries later in the mathematics of transfinite numbers. (The bridge? The divinity-student-turned-mathematician, Georg Cantor, among others.)

Summer is also the time for leisurely travel to other worlds. During the summers of the late 70s, I read many of the New Wave science fiction novelists, particularly Ursula LeGuin and Joanna Russ, whom I count among my teachers. (The short-story Bodies, in Russ’s Extra(ordinary) People, was one of many fictional sources for Necromancer and Barbarian,with its setup of far-future civilizations re-animating people from our time. I replayed the scenario, with a near-future Germany and Iron Age Jutland.) The last few years, I’ve spent in the distinguished company of Octavia Butler, Salman Rushdie, and Jeanette Winterson. Some weeks of five different summers of my reading life were spent in the world of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

This last summer, I read the entire Dresden Files series (all twelve or thirteen books of it, one after the other) as well as the urban fantasy of C. E. Murphy and Tananarive Due. Oh yes, and then there’s Jacqueline Carey, of whom more in another post. My Brain Sister keeps me well-supplied with contemporary reading material, so that I may parse the mysteries of genre and figure out where I fit in the big picture.

The other magical time of the year for reading is the dark interval between Halloween and New Year’s and in particular December break. Even now, that’s when I catch up on fiction reading; in December 2008, the second month of my sabbatical year, I read or re-read: Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, the entire Harry Potter series, the novels of A. S. Byatt, George Sand’s Elle et Lui, and several Jeanette Winterson novels.

OK, so my taste is eclectic, and I was forever marked by my time as a student. But weren’t we all.

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