My Torrid Weekend with Charlie Manson

Ok, so this title was just a cheap bid for attention. It’s a little warm here and I’m reading Jeff Guinn’s new biography of Charles Manson. I was going to call this “Summer Reading,” but that’s so ordinary and somehow suggests that I read a different type of book in the summer than I do in the other seasons. That’s not true. I got a bad sunburn in my childhood and have ever after avoided lying out in the sun. I have no need for beach books.

There is a book that is utterly unsuited for the summer: Wuthering Heights. One summer I decided I would read all the Bronte novels. I began reading Wuthering Heights on a bright July day. The sun was shining, bird were chirping, the Mister Frostee truck was twittering (in the old fashioned sense of the word). All was right with the world.

“Lighten up, kids!” I wanted to shout at Cathy and Heathcliffe. “Why so glum?”

I don’t want to spoil Wuthering Heights for anyone who hasn’t read it but sweetness and light were not Ms. Bronte’s intent.

So here are a few books I enjoyed this summer:

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger. Frank Drum, the narrator of this novel, looks back at his 13th summer (1962) He is the son of a minister and a woman who doesn’t want to be a minister’s wife. The book is a perfect blend of bildungsroman, domestic disquiet and murder.

The Lairds of Cromarty by Jean Pierre Ohl. A tale of Scotland told by a French writer. Mary Guthrie is a graduate student of literature. Ebenezer Krook is a priest who is defrocked because of certain activities with Ms. Guthrie. Their stories are told in alternating chapters. The book is filled with wonderful observations on academe. Here is Mary Guthrie on the restricted nature of the study of literature: “All of these academics had a vision of literature that was no broader than than that of a mule with blinkers pulling the plow in some Grampian glen would have of the general geography of the United Kingdom. To find equivalents in other disciplines one would have to imagine an accountant who refused to add any numbers other than 4 and 8 and a garage mechanic who would only work on green cars.”

This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral Plus Plenty of Valet Parking In America’s Gilded Capital. by Matt Leibovich. This is a fun book if you’re a political junkie. It’s also one of those “Do I laugh or do I cry?” books The most telling comment about the town’s political residents? “There are no Republicans or Democrats, only millionaires.”

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison. I can’t speak to all the comparisons that have been made to Gone Girl. I haven’t read it. This novel was riveting. Jodi and Todd have a very comfortable life but Jodi is too complacent and Todd is too restless. Harrison carefully creates her characters and their world and just as artfully destroys it. Some fun!

Every summer I read some Anthony Trollope (try The Way We Live Now for a story that will feel very contemporary) and some P. G. Wodehouse (“Uncle Fred Flits By” is a delightful short story and The Code of the Woosters is a hilarious novel). In general I find people love Wodehouse or hate him. If you find you like him you’re in for a treat. He’s written over 90 books.

And as long as I’m on the topic of prolific writers I must mention Barbara Mertz/Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters who died in early August. I am a huge fan of the Amelia Peabody mysteries. I am glad that—according to her website—she was enjoying her old age: “At 85, Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Michaels) is enjoying her cats, her garden, lots of chocolate, and not nearly enough gin.”

Stephanie Patterson