B(u)y the Book, By the Sea, Bipolar

“Summertime and the Livin’ is…”

George Gershwin

A bibliophile, my book stack is always piled high. There are so many reasons why I read but the beauty of a book, no matter what it is about, is that it can be read anywhere. Portable inspiration, intellectual inquiry, history, mystery, biography, theology, romance, and travelogue. Over the past year in quarantine, I have read umpteen titles. What’s exciting this year, with so many vaccinated, is that I can read them not just inside my condo but sunning by the sea. Suddenly my stack is a stack of BEACH BOOKS!

I call this post B(u)y the Book, By the Sea, Bipolar in the spirit of this sunnier season. The titles included are borrowed directly from the mostly unread books on my shelves — constrained only by the limits of my manic book budget.🌞🌞🌞

Joyfully ’tis the reading season again! Everywhere you look there are lists of “Best Beach Books” or “Sumptuous Summer Reads.” And here on Emmanuel Voices, I am all too happy to add my own.

So just why do we read so much pulp fiction (and other stuff!) by the sea? 

Prior to a recent summer solstice, The New Yorker answered this question in this fabulous piece: The Invention of the “Beach Read“. And in it, Katy Waldman reviews a book about books (my favorite kind.)

“”Books for Idle Hours,” a new history by the academic Donna Harrington-Lueker, unpacks both the constructedness of “summer reading” and its gravitational pull. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, urbanization and industrialization gave summertime a new radiance — it offered a chance to escape the sweaty, overcrowded city and reconnect with nature. The steamship and the railroad made vacation getaways more accessible. Periodicals and newspapers began running features on resort towns and advertised summer activities and goods: cruises, camping gear, mineral springs. In the pages of Harper’s, the artist Winslow Homer published chic illustrations of fashionable, sun-dazed women watching horse races or strolling along the ocean. In short, bolstered by the era’s print culture, a new market of pleasure-seeking Americans emerged.

So in the summer, book shops, libraries, book stalls and drug stores all stocked up on beach books. As the reader’s appetite soared so did the publisher’s profits. 

Schools and colleges and universities hijacked the tradition. The “Summer School Reading List” unfortunately turned out to be a bit of a buzz kill. Mandatory reading on holiday is just homework by another name.

But I digress.

Happily my reading is virtually all voluntary. I juggle a few volumes at a time, picking up whichever title matches a particular mood. 

So let me “offer unto thee myself, my soul and my body” in my very own Bipolar Beach Book List. Here are a baker’s dozen of a few read and mostly hope-to-read titles. Fiction and non-fiction, familiar and far-flung. And be forewarned, my reading tastes are a bit eclectic and a lot all over the place! Hopefully there is something here for just about everyone.

Click on the links to learn more about each book on GoodReads. Blurbs are directly lifted from book jackets.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Kim Michelle Richardson

“Emotionally resonant and unforgettable. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a lush love letter to the redemptive power of books. Cussy Mary is an indomitable and valiant heroine, and through her true-blue eyes, 1930’s Kentucky comes to vivid and often harrowing life. Richardson’s dialogue is note-perfect; Cussy Mary’s voice is still ringing in my head, and the sometime dark story she tells highlights such gorgeous, glowing grace notes that I often was moved to hopeful tears.” — Joshyilin Jackson

Paper, Paging through History, Mark Kurlmansky

“An historical journey well worth the ride. The author has a deep instinct for telling detail, which he combines with a disarmingly fun narrative style. Kurlansky makes a compelling case that paper has always been a revolutionary force — a foundation for expression of every sort — and it is certainly not dead yet. ” — Elizabeth Taylor, The National Book Review

The Art of Gathering, How We Meet and Why It Matters, Priya Parker

“Don’t read this book alone. Read it at a gathering of friends, in a book club, with a team of colleagues, or on a family reunion. But read it — for its wisdom, its charm, its insight, and its ability to make every encounter with others more meaningful and enjoyable.” — Bruce Feiler, author of Walking the Bible

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, Malcolm Gladwell

“When it comes to small ideas, Malcolm Gladwell thinks big… It’s evident from reading What the Dog Saw, that Gladwell has never met a straightforward explanation he likes. He revels instead in the contrarian, the counterintuitive. What Gladwell does best is not so much think outside the box as explore its ambiguous edges.” — Joel Yanofsky, Calgary Herald

Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, Zora Neale Hurston

“I recommend reading this work aloud, enjoying the feel of the words in your mouth, and the sound of English tightened and strummed like the strings of a banjo. Laugh when it’s funny. Wipe your eyes when the spirit moves you. Remember Hurston in this way — complicated and brilliant. These pages, like their author, contain multitudes.” — Tayari Jones

Caste, The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson

“Beyond race, class, or other factors, a powerful caste system influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, and stigma. ‘What Wilkerson urges isn’t argument at all; it’s compassion. Hush, and listen.'” — Jill Lepore, The New Yorker

The Haunted Looking Glass, Ghost Stories Chosen by Edward Gorey

The Haunted Looking Glass is the late Edward Gorey’s selection of his favorite tales of ghosts, ghouls, and grisly goings-on. Included are stories by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collin, M.R. James, among other masters of the fine art of making the flesh creep, all accompanied by Gorey’s inimitable illustrations. ‘His works tickle the funny bone as they raise the hair on the back of the neck.’— The New York Times

Poe, Poems & Prose, Edgar Allan Poe

“Edgar Allan Poe staked a large claim in that unmappable interior territory where poetry merges with dream and vision. His exquisitely musical poems provide us with a direct link to our unconscious life. Through his obsessions and by virtue of his uncanny imaginative instincts, he anticipated many of the psychological contexts and concerns that inhabit — and indeed define — twentieth-century literature.” — Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets

An Irish Sketchbook, Brendan Behan, illustrated by Paul Hogarth

“From the snug of ‘Shaky Man’ (probably the nearest pub to Guinness’s Brewery in Dublin) Brendan Behan takes us on a tour of his native country. Not very much topographical information is imparted… Mr. Behan is less interested in things than in people and a galaxy of characters and stories about the inhabitants of that Augustan city who cross his pages.” — book jacket

William Butler Yeats, Selected Poems & Four Plays, ed. M.L. Rosenthal

“William Butler Yeats is the most widely admired, by common reader and sophisticate alike, of all modern poets who have written in English. Early and late, he has the simple, indispensable gift of enchanting the ear: ‘In pools among the rushes, that scarce could bathe a star.’ (“The Stolen Child,” 1886.)” — M.L. Rosenthal

Infinitesimal, How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World, Amil Alexander

“Amil Alexander gives readers insight into a real-world Da Vinci Code-like intrigue with this look at the history of a simple, yet pivotal, mathematical concept…He explores this war of ideas in the context of a world seething with political and social unrest. This in-depth history offers a unique view into the mathematical idea that became the foundation of our open, modern world.” — Publishers Weekly

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, Barbara W. Tuchman

“The fourteenth century reflects two contradictory images: on the one hand, a glittering age of crusades, and chivalry; on the other, a world plunged into chaos and spiritual agony. Barbara Tuchman examines not only the great rhythms of history but the grain and texture of domestic life: what childhood was like; what marriage meant… Tuchman. recreates the lives of proud cardinals, grocers and clerks, saints and mystics, lawyers and mercenaries, and dominating all, the knight.” — book jacket

Isaac’s Storm, A Man, A Time, And the Deadliest Hurricane in History, Erik Larson

“This brilliant exploration of the hurricane’s deadly force is set against the human drama of Isaac Monroe Cline… Long after you lift your eyes from the final page, this book will bring you back to its portraits of a city under siege, the storm’s victims and survivors.” — The Times-Picayune

So pack some sunscreen and a few volumes into your beach bag! And don’t forget to shake the sand out from between the pages.

Happy reading!

Pax vobiscum, Joani

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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