Some Summer Reading Recommendations
Plus: "In Praise of Good Bookstores," a new C.S. Lewis edition, and more
Happy Monday friends!
The school year is almost over, vacations are drawing nigh, pools are opening, sweet tea season has officially arrived in the South, baseball season is in full swing, and the tomatoes are planted. So you know what this means, right? It’s time to talk summer books! Who doesn’t love a good summer books list? So I’ve recruited my colleagues here at Close Reads, including Karen Swallow Prior, who is joining us for our discussions of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, to share some of their favorite books to read this time of the year. But first, I want to tell you about a new book I really love . . .
In Praise of Good Bookstores
As a bookshop owner I read about the industry pretty regularly. I usually have a bookseller’s memoir in my currently-reading stack and I read about the trade side of things as much as I can. But I don’t think I have encountered a book on the topic as thoughtful, eloquent, and inspiring as Jeff Deutsch’s new book, In Praise of Good Bookstores.
On the one hand, it’s a book to motivate and guide those of us who own or work in bookstores—after all, it’s about what makes a great bookstore great. But it’s also about the art of browsing, the myriad ways the economy-at-large is built to ignore endeavors like bookselling, and the cultural necessity of rumination and contemplation.
Some chapters read like a fairly poetic handbook to being a good bookseller, but even these chapters will probably prove interesting to anyone who cares about books and bookstores, and who wants to understand the kinds of problems and situations we run into as shop curators. But the essence of the book, and the reason all book-lovers should read it, is in its defense of the book as an artifact and reading as an ultimate cultural good.
“The rhythm of the [good] bookstore,” Deutsch writes, “is conducive to what Italo Calvino calls ‘the spaciousness of humanistic leisure.’”
“The bookstore compresses time,” Deutsch claims, “taking us to a dimension where the ancient languages are once again spoken” and where the reader can expend “the slow time of the browse . . . [quieting] the ephemeral concerns carried across the threshold of the shop.”
“Deep in the browse, many of us move through the space [of the shop] as thought we were in the mind itself.” (Like many of the writers he quotes through the book, Deutsch is himself a fairly gifted aphorist.)
The problem, of course, is that our economic models have decided that such things don’t matter and so we’re okay with the notion that something as profoundly Good (yes, capital “G” good) as books are nothing more than loss-leaders. Deutsch believes we have accepted this cancerous idea because “we have as yet no scale for measuring meaning, knowledge, hope, pleasure, reverence, curiosity, beauty, kindness, awe, justice, wisdom, and love. Not everything needs to be quantified,” he insists. Good taste cannot be mass-produced.
The life of a book ought to be determined not by an algorithm but by the judgment of time, the articulation of silence and contemplation, and the scattered method of nature—after all, books offer a “more capacious vision of the possible.” And anything so spiritual as that simply can’t be limited to a single economic unit, let alone a single meaning.
So, yes, I might be high atop a personal soap box in recommending this book so vociferously, but I suspect you’re with me, at least if you’ve ever discovered that “nothing can replace the work of browsing to help us discover who we are and who we might become,” as Deustch describes it.
You can snag a copy here via our Bookshop.org page if you’re so inclined. (And please be sure to check in with your local shop soon!)
Summer Reading Recommendations
Okay, let’s talk summer books.
No three books are more ideal for summer reading than The Great Gatsby, Lonesome Dove, and A Month in the Country, books that shimmer with a sense of languid longing (if you’ll pardon the irony of the phrase). Try it: Set aside an hour or two, pour yourself a drink, turn on some Miles Davis, and sit on the porch one warm evening and knock out a good portion of one. You won’t be sorry. That said, we have read, or are about to read, both books on the show, so I will recommend three others:
The Moving Toyshop, Edmund Crispin — I like Crispin so much I am going to be writing about him in this space, but this magnificent book is an Oxfordian murder mystery that is one part Josephine Tey, one part P.G. Wodehouse, with a dash or two of Evelyn Waugh to balance the whole thing out.
Mrs. Palphrey at the Claremont, Elizabeth Taylor — A truly good summer book should make a cocktail of melancholy and humor (this is why mysteries work so well), and Taylor’s novel about an elderly woman who moves into a London-based hotel filled with a coterie of aging eccentrics is a masterclass at balancing the two.
A Man with a Rake, Ted Kooser — Ted Kooser is one of my favorite living poets and his new collection is full of the ruminative, quiet poems that he’s made his name on—poems that seem simple but are far from it. I share his work fairly often on The Daily Poem so you’ll be at least somewhat familiar if you listen. Kooser is a treasure and his work is perfect for hot summer days.
Of course, reading is a personal thing, so maybe a recommendation by Tim, Heidi, or Karen is more your pace. Here’s what they suggest.
The Secret History, Donna Tartt — What could be more appropriate for Close Readers than a thrilling murder mystery among budding classical students?
Earth Abides, George R. Stewart — The story of one survivor of a worldwide epidemic who ventures into a world without humanity. Strangely heartening.
The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx — At the beginning of this novel, things couldn’t go worse for Quoyle. But do you believe in redemption? Yes, we do.
Phantastes, George MacDonald — This classic, haunting tale of how fairyland is more immanent and impactful than we realize deserves to be read when the earth is in bloom.
The Summer Book, Tove Jansson — A brief, rich, nuanced novel about six-year-old Sophia’s summer in Finland with her aging grandmother. Warning: will awaken your innate longing for an eternal union of innocence, experience, and unpressured time.
A Poem for Every Summer Day, edited by Allie Esiri — A beautiful, thoughtful collection of poetry curated for a lush and lingering summer. Wonderful for family readalouds and solitary afternoons on the porch.
Karen Swallow Prior
Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe — Adventure and edification. What could be better?
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston — Heavy but full of poetry and humanity.
Two Funerals, Then Easter, Rachel Joy Welcher — A collection of poems that walks through stages of a young life marked by grief, hope, and joy.
We hope these lists give you some ideas as you hit the road, enjoy some downtime, or de-stress. Happy reading!
News from BookLand
A few notes from around the world of books and publishing
Before I let you go, I wanted to mention that the 2022 Pulitzer Prizes were announced last week and, much to my surprise and delight, my favorite novel of 2021 won for fiction. Joshua Cohen’s The Netanyahus is a bizarre but wonderful book that takes place in 1969 and is about a history professor named Ruben Blum who is tasked with hosting Benzion Netanyahu, an academic and the father of the future Israeli Prime Minister, as he interviews for a teaching gig at Blum’s school. This might not sound like the most engrossing of set-ups, but Cohen is so good at getting to the essence of what motivates and defines his characters that the whole affair turns out to be quite invigorating. And while it does include long stretches of contemplation about the nature of history and Diaspora, it also features one of the funniest scenes I have read lately. I laughed out loud, then re-read the scene and laughed some more. It’s just so sad! I assumed no one else was reading this book. It turns out I was wrong, and I’m pleased to see it.
Ada Ferrar’s book on Cuba, which won in the history category, is quite good, too, and worth a read. You can read about the rest of the winners (and finalists) here.
There are two new-ish editions of some classics that are absolutely worth grabbing: Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, which came out late in 2021 with this great new cover:
And C. S. Lewis’ A Preface to Paradise Lost, which finally has a cover that isn’t, well, bad:
Both are essential, brilliant books that are worth reading fairly regularly, and both editions are really nicely put together: good covers, proper margins, contemplative typeface, etc.
Well, that’s it for now, but thanks so much for reading. And, of course, thanks for listening to Close Reads, Withywindle, and Bibliography. Your support makes it all possible.
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I read earth abides a loooooong time ago and really liked it! I’m so glad to know someone else who read it! I didn’t think it was that popular haha!
What a rich list! Happy to have more books I've not known about to work through. It's delightful to hear The Moving Toyshop and Phantastes talked about. I rarely hear about the latter (It was imaginatively formative for me, pushed me across a threshold.) and have never heard the former recommended till now. So much fun. That chase scene! Looking forward to hearing more about Edmund Crispin. After Toyshop, I plunged into several others of his that I enjoyed, and then one or two more that were disappointingly . . . boring.