Thursday, June 20, 2013

Redefining the "Summer Read"

I don’t know about you, but at my house, summertime is high season for pleasure reading. From time immemorial, summer has meant one thing to me—devouring stacks of books, preferably sprawled out in a shady spot with something cool to drink close by in a frost-beaded glass. Summer books don’t need to sound impressive when you talk about them at dinner parties, or make you look smart when you take them out to read on the bus. To me, summer reading is all about enjoyment.

So when someone recently recommended Willa Cather’s My Ántonia to me as a great summer read, I was skeptical. Willa Cather’s name conjured no frivolity! The book was published in 1918! It sounded suspiciously like A Serious Classic, and I wasn’t sure that that would fit the bill for hammock reading. Still, I decided to give My Ántonia a shot.

Having swallowed the book whole in two short days, all I can say is: wow. A vividly-rendered story of love and loss along the road to adulthood, this title provides plenty of that other quality necessary for a truly fine summer read: escapism. My Ántonia is the story of a boy named Jim, who moves to Nebraska to live on his grandparents’ farm after being orphaned. The Bohemian girl living on the farm next door happens to be Ántonia Shimerda, a girl with sparks in her eyes and a talent for living. Jim and Ántonia grow up and toward each other. But life creates complications and problems, and what transpires between Jim and Antonia is anything but simple.

I’ll be perfectly forthright: this book will smash your heart into tiny smithereens and make you cry. But it won't just be because of the things that happen. The unbelievable, aching beauty of Cather’s prose and the love letter she has written to the wild prairies, mirroring Jim’s vision of Ántonia, will transport you to another place entirely. Although My Ántonia is nearly one hundred years old now, it will grip you as if it had been published yesterday. So, you see, this is the perfect summer read after all. Find that hammock, get your cold drink, and prepare to disappear for a few hours. (Just consider bringing a box of tissues along for the ride.)

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