Summer Reading

In an effort to make time for one of my favorite activities, I’ve challenged myself to read 50 books in 2016. I’m keeping track of my progress on Goodreads, and sneakily picking up recommendations from my friends’ shelves, too. Before the start of my summer break, I had read 37 books. Thanks to a few languid afternoons with a porch cocktail in hand, I’m now at 40. I hope to meet my goal by the end of the summer, and maybe even increase my goal for the rest of the year. I have no idea what my first semester in vet school will do to my free time, though, so maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

What was it then? What did it mean? Could things thrust their hands up and grip one; could the blade cut; the fist grasp? Was there no safety? No learning by heart of the ways of the world? No guide, no shelter, but all was miracle, and leaping from the pinnacle of a tower into the air? Could it be, even for elderly people, that this was life?—startling, unexpected, unknown?Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

First on my summer reading list, thanks to this article, was a re-read of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. It would have been a good idea to wait until my mind wasn’t so intensely occupied with other things before I dove in, but this book was my saving grace when I needed to escape from the craziness that consumed me in June. I breathed a sigh of relief every time I picked up the book—the Kindle I won at a school-sponsored graduation party, actually—because Woolf’s prose is so absorbing that everything else falls away. That also meant I had to allow everything else to slip from my mind before I could really appreciate what was going on beneath the surface. In classic Virginia Woolf fashion, that was where I found everything that mattered. This novel is a beautiful meditation on love, relationships and the human heart.

I needed something light after reading Virginia Woolf, so my next pick was short and sweet. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was just what the doctor ordered. My favorite edition includes the original Sidney Paget illustrations that ran alongside the stories in the Strand, although I did most of my reading on my Kindle. I never tire of the characters of Holmes and Watson. Their beauty lies in their simplicity. In my opinion, the best Sherlock stories feature Holmes’ ingenious ability to uncover what motivates human actions, while an astonished Watson recounts the adventures with careful attention to detail. Favorite cases from this collection include “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” and “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.”

I know that this new Susannah is a lot like the old Susannah. There are changes, but it’s more like a step to the left than an overhaul of my being. I talk fast again, can do my job with ease, feel comfortable in my own skin, and recognize myself in pictures. However, when I look at photographs taken of me “post,” versus pictures of me “pre,” there is something altered, something lost—or gained, I can’t tell—when I look into my eyes.Susannah Cahalan, Brain on Fire

With my mind cleared and my short attention span appeased, I reached for some nonfiction. Brain on Fire has been on my bookshelf for a few years, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. It ticks all of my boxes: precise, descriptive language that grapples with the nature of the human condition; a compelling, suspenseful narrative involving a mysterious medical case; and a thorough, even-handed exploration of the ethical implications of medical practice. I spent a really enjoyable day between its covers, and didn’t put it down for more than a few minutes at a time. It was a quick, but very engrossing read.

What have you been reading lately? Share your suggestions in the comments! And check back here throughout the summer for more in my porch reads series or my porch cocktails series.

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