As well as purchasing as many of Michael Dirda’s collections as I can find, I’ve also started to follow his articles in The Washington Post and his latest column in Dirda’s Reading Room is entitled the Books of Summer. He begins by suggesting that for him summer is dated from the day after Memorial Day. ‘Now’, he says, ‘it’s time to think about slowing down, relaxing…and planning our vacations and summer reading.’
I have to say that for me summer starts rather later. I have always dated it from the Friday evening in July when the Proms begin. I have this blissful image in my mind of long summer evenings with the late sun pouring through the open French windows and wonderful music played by the world’s greatest orchestra drifting out into a honeysuckle scented garden.
There are several things wrong with this vision. Firstly, if I’m not going to start my summer until the middle of July, it does make it a very short season, especially as there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that summer ends on the last night of the Proms. Secondly, at least in the last several years, there have been very few evenings when it’s been warm enough to sit with the French Windows open. And, as they face East, there’s not much likelihood of evening sun anyway. The fantasy is always so much better than the reality.
But surely, the planning of summer reading is something that I can do and then have a real chance of bringing to fruition? Actually, you know, it isn’t.
Dirda is very honest about this and so I must be as well. He writes of all the reading he would like to do – catching up with back issues of periodicals, reading new books and discovering new authors, exploring in greater depths writers from earlier periods only touched on in the past – and then acknowledges that if he gets through one or two books and five issues of the TLS he will have done better than usual. And the same is true for me. As long as I can remember I have made plans for what I was going to read as soon as school was out and my time was my own and yet every year I reach the Last Night of the Proms, and find myself singing Jerusalem surrounded by the unopened books that constitute this year’s good intentions.
What goes wrong? I’m not certain. Maybe it is not having to read for a deadline. Perhaps it is because there is suddenly time to wander further afield, visiting book shops I haven’t been into since last summer where new and unexpected siren voices call out to me to be bought and read instead of those titles so carefully hoarded for the holiday hours.
So, I haven’t yet started to construct a list of titles for this summer. Can I break the habit of a lifetime and just ‘go with the flow’? Probably not. If the truth be told, I like lists too much. Perhaps it is the making of the list rather then the reading of the books that I really enjoy. Anyway, my summer doesn’t start for another six weeks, so I’ve got time to decide, time to make half a dozen lists if I really want to.