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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, June 9, 2002

A Few Good Books To Read This Summer

The perfect summer is comprised of a little of this and a little of that. A little traveling, some heat, a sprinkling of thunder showers, a bit of swimming, several backyard barbecues, and, of course, a few good books.

Here are some reading suggestions to start off your summer.

The Dive from Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002).

On Memorial Day weekend, Carrie Bell's fiancé and childhood love, Mike Mayer, dives off Clausen's Pier near Madison, Wisconsin and breaks his neck.

What follows is enough to challenge the bravest soul, as Carrie struggles with the expectations of the paralyzed Mike's family and friends as well as her own certitude that she was about to break off the eight-year-old relationship before the accident even happened. When she flees to Manhattan to stay with an old high school friend, she gives herself a chance to explore her feelings about her responsibilities to others as well as to herself.

Don't be scared off by the bare bones of the plot summary, as you'll find this to be a dynamite book.

Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan (Grove Press, 2002).

In 500 pages of perfect, lazy summertime reading, we share the lives of 3 generations of the Maxwell family during a late August vacation at their longtime cottage on Lake Chautauqua, N Y.

Following the death of her spouse Henry, Emily Maxwell decides that it is time to sell the cottage. She gathers her sister-in-law, her son and daughter, and her four grandchildren for their last cottage vacation.

Nothing much happens as these nine people, all with their individual needs and preoccupations, come together to try to make their vacation a success. The adults each spend time thinking about the past and the big picture, eventually experiencing that perfect moment of vacation bliss. The kids suspend their worries about the future long enough to enjoy tubing and rainy afternoon board games.

Everyone ultimately looks forward to getting back home and getting caught up in the minutiae of daily living. But then I guess that's how life is - made up of the small details that carry us from moment to moment and ultimately give our lives meaning.

Educating Waverly by Laura Kalpakian (William Morrow, 2002).

Having recently returned from a trip to Seattle, Washington, I was attracted by the Puget Sound setting of this magical novel.

Beginning in the present, Becky Devere, newly arrived and an L.A. native, discovers that her family has hidden roots on Isadora Island when she takes a job as a temp secretary for romance writer and island icon Nona York. We are propelled back to the summer of 1939, when a young girl disembarks as a student at the remote island's eccentric Temple School.

There we find an enchanting, preposterous world inhabited by an unorthodox headmistress who is preparing her girls to be "North American Women of the Future" with a diet of True Foods, Music into Movement, and Double Range Breathing.

This insightful novel is reminiscent of John Irving's works.

The Seal Wife by Kathryn Harrison (Random House, 2002).

Harrison transports us to the year 1915 in Anchorage, Alaska, where a young urban meteorologist named Bigelow has been sent by the U.S. government to establish a weather observatory.

In Alaska he is exposed to deprivation of all kinds, but is claimed by two passions - one for an Aleut woman and the other for a weather balloon that he builds to reach far into the sky. This is a beautifully written, at times graphic, novel that contrasts the cold and harshness of the environment with the intensities of creativity and love.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.