Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Gifts of Late Summer

I spent today at the beach and was reminded how many and wonderful are the gifts of the final days of summer. The shadows are getting longer, the other beach-goers more scarce--it's part of the fun of the change of seasons. The baseball season is winding to a close and giving way to football. The Bruins poured the ice last week (ice that, some great deity willing, will still be hosting games into June 2010) at The Garden. Even horse racing has decamped from The Spa and moved back to the urban landscape of Belmont Park. And the newly released books that are filling shelves are taking on a decidedly more serious tone. Beach reads are being replaced with biographies, more serious fiction and of course, That Book. (You know who I mean--Robert Langdon returns to play lost and found with masonic symbology in Washington, D.C.!) Take heart, though, this does NOT mean the fun is over!

As I've grown older my reading interests and expectations have changed dramatically. I still like really good fiction--or what appeals to me as good fiction--as opposed to chick-lit, thrillers, or breezier novels. Of course I like the occasional mind-candy, but I'm increasingly interested in learning more about other people, how they've managed to be successful or how they've overcome the odds. It's more important to me at this stage of my life that I can understand where the characters are coming from, what motivates and moves them. How did they (real "they" or fictional "they") get from point A to point B? While I know that it's both impossible and inadvisable to map your path by way of someone else's landmarks, I also know that there's a lot to be learned via the written word. I'm not convinced it matters whether it's a fictional character that readers really connect with or the biography of a high-powered individual, there are things we can pick up to help us on the journey. And especially as a writer, it's beneficial to read other writers to see how they get the job done. It can be great inspiration and help to power through some nasty blocks, I've found.

So what have I been reading? What's up next on the reading list? (Part of that decision is dependent on my local public library!) Richard Russo is a huge favorite of mine and I'm going to be finishing Bridge of Sighs before moving on to anything else new. I read Straight Man (an absolute masterpiece), Empire Falls and That Old Cape Magic in the past few months so I've been on a sort of Russo marathon. I've also been reading the wonderful Eiffel's Tower, by Jill Jonnes. I'm a sucker for anything and everything Parisian, and she's done a marvelous job of not only giving a solid history, but making it lively and relevant, too. No easy task. Since I've already admitted to my weakness for all things Paris (actually it's all things French, but that's not the point here) I've also got a few Chanel related books waiting in the wings. Chanel: A Woman of Her Own looks quite interesting as does a smaller and cuter volume, The Gospel According to Coco Chanel. There's a pile of equestrian books--from tips on riding to a fantastic old history of The Great Dan Patch (the greatest harness-racing horse of all time, in my opinion) and a book on handicapping, too. I consider horse-related books to be my comfort food, my creamy mac and cheese, if you will. With the new Amelia Earhart movie scheduled for this autumn, there's sure to be both new books on the aviatrix as well as re-releases. Judith Thurman's excellent article in this week's New Yorker really made me want to know more about Earhart, so I'll be looking for those books in the coming weeks, too. I have a fondness for complicated characters--T.E. Lawrence, the Mitford Sisters, Wallis Simpson, and surely Earhart is in that group as well. All that said, though, the book I'm most looking forward to, though, is Ted Kennedy's recently released memoir. I'm in the queue for it at the library, but it's what I'm most jonesed about reading. I've got my highlighter and copper bookmark clips all ready!! And yes, I will be reading Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, but I'm much farther down in the queue for that, so I'll be avoiding the spoilers online.

On the days when I've had trouble deciding what I wanted to post here or if I even had anything to post at all, I've pored over photography or art books. I love grabbing the Taschen book on Atget or Brassai and immersing myself in Paris; or leafing through a William Morris print book to be inspired by nature. And let's not forget, the amazing equine art of George Stubbs or Alfred Munnings. (My little profile avatar is from a Munnings print.) I'm lucky to have a large selection of these wonderful art-filled volumes, carefully collected and curated over the years. Whether it's a book of English Cathedrals or a volume on Hermes scarves, inspiration and wonder are definitely to be found in beautiful art, architecture or nature. Who can say what will spark an idea or inspire a rant?

I've loved the summer (what summer we actually had in the Northeast) but I'm really looking ahead to autumn. To darker colors and flame colored landscapes; to the earlier setting of the sun and the longer shadows. I'm ready for comfort fare and slow cooked dinners with hearty wines.

With Bridge of Sighs as my companion for the evening, I'm going to have a nice glass of wine and offer up thanks for the inspiring and comforting bounty of late summer.

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