It is 108 degrees outside my front door. That’s hot. But it is a dry heat, shorthand for the moment you walk into an air-conditioned room, you sweat like a stevedore. It also brings on combers of nostalgia for Michigan, feet dangling off a tethered raft in Gull, Gun, or any lake, including Michigan, waves nibbling at my toes, reading summer books that widened my horizons.
Edna Ferber was from Kalamazoo, Michigan, once known as the celery capital of the world and a place dear to my heart. I whipped through Cimarron, adored Saratoga Trunk, and still love Giant, one of the ultimate summer books filled with indelible, strong, resilient, tough female characters. I often think of Vashti and wonder what the heck was going on in Luz’s mind. Edna Ferber told big stories about big people, personal growth, and bigotry. That’s a lot to deal with at sixteen years old wearing a bikini on a raft in a lake with boys waterskiing close enough to splash your pages and rock your raft. I also devoured Michener’s Hawaii and Leon Uris’s Exodus and Jessamyn West’s Friendly Persuasion while sashaying about in my favorite madras two-piece.
In between big beach books, I delighted in Dauphine du Maurier. My Cousin Rachel, Rebecca, and Jamaica Inn. Slathered with Coppertone, I adored the dashing Jem Merlyn. I re-read Jamaica Inn recently and wondered at my choice. I suspect it was that Jem was a bad boy, not good, not unredeemable, but a bit sexy and more than a tad sullen. I had the same crazy adoration for ‘Wild Whip’ Hoxworth (Hawaii), Ari Ben Canaan (Exodus), and Jess Birdwell (Friendly Persuasion). What teenage girl wouldn’t love him or them? Or Daphne du Maurier with her brooding houses and equally brooding men, slightly overwhelmed heroines, and crazy housekeepers. She introduced me to a tightly controlled world of threat, romance, and creepy moors.
This brings me to the best read while babysitting during a thunderstorm. The only book I ever threw at a ceiling was Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart. I was babysitting, the kids were all in bed, their parents late, thunder roared, rain rasped against the windows. I kept watch in the living room, shades drawn, listening to the night rumble and whack. I turned the page; the heroine sees a shadow gyrating in front of a burning funeral pyre. A window shade snapped open. The book hit the ceiling at about ten miles an hour. The joy of it is that Mary Stewart’s booksare as fresh as ever with their strong female leads, engaging, slightly sexy male protagonists, and intriguing travelogue plots.
I still have the paperbacks of each of these books, some with water spots on them. My copy of Giant made an appearance on the cover of a magazine, red-checkered tablecloth, paper plates, sunglasses, and Giant open spine up. Most of the books have a price of $.75 or less printed on the cover. Giant, because it was giant, cost $1.25.
Those hot, humid, muggy Michigan summer days, replete with gigantic mosquitos and buzzing cicada, sit on my shoulder as I write. In particular, my book Booth Island captures the essence of being a teen vacationing on a lake when anything is possible, including love, death, and Tiger Tail ice cream.
For fun, try this summer book quiz. MATCH THE BOOK TITLE with the book’s first line and marvel at the few words used to set the scene. Answers will be in next month’s blog. To get you started, the first one is a gimme:
|First Line of Book||Title of Book and Author|
|Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.||Saratoge Trunk – Edna Ferber|
|All the Venables sat at Sunday dinner.||Madam, Will You Talk? – Mary Stewart|
|Nothing ever happens to me.||My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier|
|They were interviewing Clint Maroon.||Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier|
|The whole affair began very quietly.||Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier|
|It was a cold gray day in late November.||My Brother Michael – Mary Stewart|
|They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days.||Cimmaron – Edna Ferber|