One of the great joys of living without television is the amount of time it frees up for reading: 2.8 hours a day on average, according to last month’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
To clarify, I have a TV set, but no TV service. I occasionally watch DVDs from the Johnson County Library, but in summer the screen stays dark for days on end.
Instead I spend 11/2 or two hours a day on my gazebo with a stack of books, usually early in the morning when I let the chickens out of their coop or in the evening’s last light.
I tend to read several books at a time, dipping in and out of them like different flavors of ice cream, depending on my mood.
For some, “beach reads” are synonymous with light, popular fare. But I’m not big on books where the author’s name takes up half the book jacket.
I want beautiful writing and complex characters, always. But there are differences in what I want to read in winter and summer.
For me, summer reading is about escapism, books that transport me to a different time, place or way of living. I like a faster pace and a page-turning urgency, quite different from the dense tales I like to sink into and linger over in winter.
Here are my favorite gazebo reads so far:
“Dead Wake” by Erik Larson (Crown): It doesn’t get much better than a disaster on a cruise liner for a summertime yarn. This riveting nonfiction account of the intentional sinking of the Lusitania reads like a novel, remarkable considering how much technical and historical information is freighted beneath the narrative of the ill-fated captain and passengers. This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the attack, which pushed a reluctant President Woodrow Wilson closer to entering World War I.
“The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster): An absorbing look at the bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio, who changed history forever. Two-time Pulitzer winner McCullough conjures beautifully the era, little more than 100 years ago, when manned flight was considered scientifically impossible, a lunatic dream of madmen. In fact, just getting to the Outer Banks, where the brothers set up camp at Kitty Hawk, required a dangerous passage on roiling seas in a leaky fishing vessel.
“The Dirty Dust” by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, translated by Alan Titley (Yale Margellos): Originally published in 1949 in modern Irish, this rollicking romp is set in a graveyard and all the characters are dead. But being six feet under doesn’t stop them from chattering constantly about current and past goings-on in a small community. Shocking, uproarious and heartrendingly tender by turns.
“Our Souls at Night” by Kent Haruf (Knopf): This sweet, short novel by the recently deceased author of “Plainsong” tells the story of a widow who calls on her neighbor, a man she has known forever who is also widowed, with a proposition: “I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me.” She means it innocently, he accepts, and the fictional town of Holt, Colo., is scandalized.
“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead Books): Like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” you don’t know whom to believe in this thriller set in London. The perspective is constantly shifting between a trio of unreliable female narrators whose lives intersect. And there’s a delicious idleness, appropriate in summer, in the main character’s habit of wasting time riding the train and drinking gin and tonics out of cans.