There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs. ~Henry Ward Beecher
I don’t know if there is a more satisfying journey than drifting away on a good story. It is rare find for me to tumble so deeply into a fictional landscape that is so engaging and where the characters’ choices feel more real and compelling than my own. As much as I love to learn through non-fiction, any good writer and committed reader will tell you that it is story that reshapes us from the inside out.
Masterful storytelling captures us through the creation of real characters that face universal dilemmas of defining themselves within the history, geography and relationships of their time. A good book can take place any time or anywhere because through the good friends you are traveling with you are there, too. This explains the remarkable reproduction of Hogwarts for the masses at the new Universal theme park. There are so many millions of readers in Harry’s world, we all want to be able to walk in.
What is sweeter than a lazy warm afternoon within the landscape of another world, which is wrapped around you as real as the warm summer breeze? I am lost in Isabelle Allende’s recent release Island Beneath the Sea. Set in the historic barbaric time of slavery and revolt in the Antilles, the obvious separations of race, class, and violence are experienced through characters within all cross sections of the moment. Sexual archetypes and stereotypes traverse the lines in this both erasing and enlightening the firm borders that separate the people who share the land.
I have read about slavery and revolt before, but have never so deeply felt the impact of both sides of that drama as I have in this story. I would echo Jessamyn West’s belief that “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.” We can’t really understand what is happening in the world around us, be it historic or contemporary, without hearing the experience through a human life that elicits in us a whole range of human emotions. Falling into the carefully crafted pages of a master story teller is like sitting with the closest of friends, one who has the wisdom to counsel us with us knowing it and the patience of the best teachers, who let us figure out what it means by ourselves.
Find a book that will change you this summer because as Oscar Wilde once wrote: “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”