In an earlier moment of embarrassment, I tripped over a friendly, shaggy dog lying on the beach. As I brushed off sand, I apologized to the dog’s owner. I was not paying attention to my steps, I confessed, because I was squinting to see the name of the novel he was reading.
There is an unseen connection among readers. When my husband was in airports — traveling, business-class — the first Scott Turow mystery, "Presumed Innocent," was a runaway bestseller.
As he read, complete strangers would drop their bags, fall into a seat beside him and ask, “So, do you think she is the killer?”
Today, it would not be surprising to hear a conversation between delvers into The Mueller Report. It is No. 1 and No. 2 on the nonfiction list of best sellers.
Apparently, we are creatures of habit. In the list of best-selling fiction books, there are six novels written as part of an ongoing effort, one pegged as part of the "Moonlight and Motor Oil Series."
We once depended on scholarly criticism to lead us to summer novels, but today, we take book recommendations from social media to heart.
Reese Witherspoon, an actress with a Southern lilt in her voice, has an online book club. Since 2017, her influence has drawn readers into a circle, picking best sellers. Her September 2018, selection helped to move a writer’s debut novel into a favorite choice of book clubs. "Where the Crawdads Sing" is a summer read being stashed in vacation tote bags.
Not all social media notables opining on books are women. In a surprise twist, Andrew Luck reports his book club is reading "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Luck has a fall and winter job as quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts!
Once, at a gathering of a couples’ book club, I waxed poetic over Charles Frazier’s first novel, "Cold Mountain." When I paused to catch my breath, a male reader in the group spoke up. “Exactly how many paragraphs does it take to describe a field of goldenrod?” he asked.
It was a perfectly fair question, but I felt the criticism of Charles Frazier like a personal blow. “As many as he needs,” I shot back before I considered my idea of a lyrical passage was someone else’s experience of boring, flowery prose.
I never thumb through a book on politics, when I do not smile, remembering this newspaper’s longtime editorial page editor, Joe Kirby. He was a student of history and an avid reader.
Between us, we once hatched a plan to approach the editor of the Homes section of the newspaper. We intended to suggest a listing of times and dates of book club meetings, running a list of bestselling books and perhaps asking readers to review novels.
Joe gave a measured presentation. As he sat down, he asked the editor of the Homes section for her thoughts. Well,” she laughed, “we have a book page.” “We do?” Joe and I asked at the same time.
She handed us a copy and sent us on our way. Sure enough, there was a half-page listing of bestsellers and a short book review. We collapsed in chairs in Joe’s office, laughing at our feeble attempt to reform pages we had not read.
From sheer embarrassment, we avoided the editor of the Homes section for days!
At a bricks and mortar bookstore of today, the summer reading lists from schools are scattered on tables. In small-town bookstores, libraries and in English classes, our lives as beginning readers often took shape during summer vacations.
In a school year, we had sat quietly in old wooden desks, listening as a teacher read "Charlotte’s Web."
Then in the heat of a later July, a kindly librarian handed over a copy of "To Kill A Mockingbird" and we met Scout, Atticus Finch’s daughter. Later, we would stumble, but find our way through the teenage years along with Holden Caulfield in "The Catcher in the Rye."
In the BBC’s list of “100 Books To Read Before You Die,” the Harry Potter series has survived as well as the Bible and Winnie the Pooh.
Yet on this Sunday, only six days shy of World War II airplanes flying across the English Channel to Normandy to commemorate the June armada of 1944, D-Day, we might consider a fresh look at Ian McEwan’s "Atonement," a novel of England in wartime and of a family torn by untruths.
Novels of loss, of war, should come with disclaimers. Even with a backdrop of beach sunsets, once lost in the plot, a bucket of boiled shrimp will not save us. The tears will come.
If the BBC’s list of the 100 Books You Need to Read Before You Die sounds intriguing, go to www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/books to wax nostalgic over books read and to see which novels await your attention.
I do think it’s fair to assume if we waded through "Crime and Punishment" in a college literature class, we can accept it as a classic, but be excused from including it as a "beach read." Happy summer reading, everyone!