Summer Reading, Time Regained

The Guardian today asked some famous writers and poets to name their favourite summer holiday reading from the past.  It was a lovely list, and the anecdotes really caught the best thing about summer reading - the incongruity between sun-kissed or rainy, grotty or exotic, setting, with the novel or book in question (Tolstoy, say, or Proust).  I used to go away for a month or two every summer when I was a teenager, with my mother and brother, to a small log cottage on a private lake in northern Quebec; my father would drive up from Montreal on the weekends.  The nearest town was a good hour walk.  You reached the lake by driving half a mile down a dinky little pebble lane.  Bears were in the woods; beavers slapped on the lake surface at twilight.  The lake was a place of joy for me, prelapsarian, and I loved swimming for hours, and rowing and canoing.  Also, building fires at night.  But mostly, reading books.  I would bring a box of maybe 40 books up with me for the 6 weeks, and polish them off.

They were an eclectic mix of Colin Wilson, Ngaio Marsh, Mimesis, and, most memorably, the most wonderful summer book, I Am Not Stiller, by Max Frisch.  I had a deep woods crush at the time (I was 16) on a Hungarian-British girl from a posh part of Montreal I had met at a debating party, and we wrote letters to each other that summer.  I can still recall how I trembled to kiss her.  She had green eyes.  I wrote her many poems.  But mostly I read Frisch's deeply moving novel about denial and guilt and desire and identity.  I wept when it was over.  I have read other gripping books with joy and total immersion (The Idiot, Fear is The Key, The Secret History, most of Greene, The Road to Wigan Pier, The Good Soldier, A Month In the Country, Nemesis, poetry) but never again more so than then.  Will I ever be so transported again?  I always remain open to the chance I will be.

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