Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Post-Summer Reading

Tomorrow is officially the first day of fall. I wore jeans all weekend, even though it hit 80 degrees both days, and I bought pumpkin at the supermarket because clichés are clichés for a reason and sometimes, I’m happy to take part.

All this to say that we’ve got one more day to talk about summer reading. Not the making lists of vacation reads kind, but the in-summary kind. I read this post awhile back, and I love how they all listed both what they were reading and what they're favorites were. It immediately got me thinking about some of my own favorite books I've read over past summers. Books that, even though they weren't highbrow or by some little-known author, just meant so much to me, especially in retrospect. Especially as September hit and I was back home, or back at school, or back to real life, whatever that entailed at the time.

The Babysitter’s Club series. I don’t think there’s a 90s kid around that didn’t devour these, and I was no exception. I remember, in particular, being 9 years old and going to Italy for the second time with just my grandparents and having maybe 9 or 10 of the books with me. They were stacked high on my white nightstand—one was for sure a “super special”—and even though I loved hanging out with my cousins, and even though I was happy to be there, those books were this small tie to home, which I felt like I had left, for the first time. I think I finished them all about halfway through the 6-week trip, though by that time, I didn’t need them as much. Even now, as an adult, whenever I’m in Italy and go in to that bedroom, I’m convinced one will have been left behind, fallen behind that nightstand or kicked, haphazardly, under the bed for me to find.

On the Road. The timing was so right for me when I read this book. It was the summer after my freshman year of college and I felt so wide open. I was working at Banana Republic, spending afternoons at the beach with my high school friends and going on first-time road trips with my college friends. I would read in the mornings, lying in a bathing suit in my parents’ backyard. It was that one, rare summer before internships and full time jobs, where we were all home and everything felt new and old at the same time. My copy is worn out, with lots of sentences underlined and starred. I was convinced I knew much more than I actually did and that I could do everything, always. Life was free and an adventure and I wanted all of it. It’s all rose-colored now, so many years later, but I think, really, that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

White Teeth. The memories of this book are so specific. I had just finished my study abroad program and picked this up in the English-language section of a bookstore in Padova, where I living, before taking the train to Rome to wrap up my final week of an internship and then ultimately make it down to my grandparents house in Calabria. The whole month of July that I spent there was different that year—things were quieter, slower. I was different. I hadn’t been home in six months and even though I had old boyfriends and future jobs on my mind, time felt suspended. I would flop down on my grandmother’s couch in the living room and read, mostly in the mornings or in the early afternoon. It was cooler there than in any other part of the house. I felt much more sure of myself, much more safe in myself. I got a tattoo and I drank too much wine and I texted on a small grey cell phone with clumsy keys. Sometimes I’d fall asleep reading and sometimes I’d just sit and underline. There's one in particular that stands out, even now: “She was living her young life in capitals.” That’s what it felt like, and I was sure it would never be any different.  

Lean In. Everyone read this book that summer, and so did I. It wound up being the summer before I was pregnant with Luca, though we didn’t know that at the time. I don’t think I’d ever given too much thought to whether I would work or not after I had a baby because I always assumed I would. What I did was so wrapped up in who I was. There were points in the book I agreed with, that I hadn’t really thought about, and points that left me with an “eh, ok, I get it.” kind of feeling—probably like everyone else, too. But I do remember frantically, feverishly almost, explaining it all to John—I could do all of it, and we could do all of it—and just wanting him to get it, to understand. Fast-forward just a year later and everything had changed and a year after that and I’m in it. I don’t go back and reference any particular parts of this book, and maybe more than the actual words, it was just the feeling that I got from it that has stuck with me. That on those days when I go to work with just mascara on, or I can’t find my office key or the baby spends all day in his pajamas, that actually, really, I can—and we can—do all of it.

This summer, while we were on vacation, I read Girl on the Train, which was exactly what I wanted it to be—engrossing, recommended. Maybe 5 or 10 or 15 years from now I’ll remember it, and see myself in the side yard of that first beach house we rented, reading while Luca napped in the stroller next to me. It’ll be in good company, at the very least.

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