Sigh. Remember when it was Memorial Day and the whole summer stretched out before us like a shimmering infinity pool, ready to be filled with vacations, sun-bathing, concerts and street festivals, patio drinking and more? Where did all that time go? While summer is still fighting the good fight around the country, there's no denying that back-to-school sale, last-minute getaway, and pumpkin-spice latte season is descending rapidly upon us. (OK, we're sort of fine with that last one.)
As a Californian stuck in a Pennsylvanian's body who is constantly cold from November until May, and remembers all too well what this was like, the end of summer is always a traumatic experience for me. Even though my skin is fried to a crisp from too much sun and all my clothes are perspiration-stained, I'm not happy to see autumn begin. The days get shorter, the temps get colder, and my sun-soaked, happy heart shrivels into a tiny hard nugget of misery that would put the pre-reformed Grinch to shame.
How lucky for me and my ilk, then, that we live in an era of mass-market publication and free speech, when extending summer's sweet, sweaty embrace is as easy as cracking open or downloading a book. It seems there are just as many authors out there who love writing about summer as much I love reading about it, so here are some reading list suggestions to make your summer (sort of) last forever.
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
Any time a fall chill starts to creep in, turn to Blume's steamy 1996 adult novel, and you'll feel your blood heat up right quick. With most of the action taking place on idyllic Martha's Vineyard off mainland Massachusetts, Summer Sisters has all the makings for a perfect summer-story cocktail — secluded beaches, fresh pine air, tumultuous friendships, and life-changing romance. It's no challenge at all to picture yourself paddling around Tashmoo Pond with the titular "sisters," Caitlin and Vix.
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
So you didn't get to spend your summer traipsing around the South of France with exotic ex-pats? Never fear, F. Scott is here, with his last completed novel. Tender is the Night, first published in 1934, and re-published as a revised version in 1948, opens in the sun-drenched French Riviera, and follows Fitzgerald's favorite kind of characters — young, glamorous, reckless, blasé and burying some deep, dark secrets. Amid all the intrigue and romance, Tender is the Night reads like a how-to guide for epic summer bashes: flowing Champagne, movie stars, and decadent jazz. Hey, if you can't party like a baller in real life, reading about it is the next best thing, right?
Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
Crashing waves, hidden beaches, aimless wandering — isn't that the stuff of which summer adventures are made? If you weren't able to fit "visit to secluded cabin on California's central coast to sleep under the stars" into your summer schedule, Kerouac, here masquerading as Jack Duluoz, has captured the experience in his celebrated spontaneous, stream-of-conscious style. The tales of drunken revelry in San Francisco that intercut his moments of solitude in Big Sur may also help you recall your own rowdy summer nights.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
Although the action of Divine Secrets isn't solely set in the summer (or in one time period, for that matter), the novel's dominant locale is sultry central Louisiana. Several of the story's major scenes take place in the summer, including the Ya-Yas' late-night skinny-dipping excursion in the city's water tower, which instantly evokes the spontaneity and indestructibility that characterizes so many summer adventures (as opposed to winter when you can't do jack because you have to put on too many layers of clothing and you'll probably slip and injure yourself on your way to your frozen car anyway). And Sidda's recollections of summers at the family's lake house will definitely make you feel like you're floating in a cool, dark swimming hole on a blazing summer day in the Deep South.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
England probably isn't the first place to come to mind when thinking of an endless summer, but that doesn't mean Great Britain is gloomy 24/7, 365 days a year. Its countryside can be downright lovely, if I Capture the Castle's narrator, Cassandra, is to be believed. Smith's 1949 novel tells of an eventful summer in the lives of Cassandra, her older sister and their family and friends in a beautiful but crumbling castle in the Suffolk countryside. From swimming in moats to scribbling journal entries in sweet-smelling meadows, I Capture the Castle reminds us that summer delights can be found in the most unexpected places.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Admit it, this book still makes you nostalgic for a time when you thought it was possible for a single pair of pants to fit you and all your best friends, despite the fact that you all were completely different heights, weights, and body types. It's not just the magic of Levi's, but the magic of summer, right? Anything can happen — you can have a fleeting friendship that changes you forever, reconcile old familial wounds, or have a gorgeous Greek boy fall for you (still waiting for that one, but I remain hopeful). At any rate, Brashares' charming 2001 YA novel can help you keep that "anything is possible" vibe alive all year long.
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
OK, so it's not a book, but as one of Shakespeare's most popular and enduring plays, Midsummer is definitely worth the read. Shakespeare may have been one of the first writers to fully understand and exploit the intoxicating power a moonlit summer evening can have on young lovers, as his characters jockey for one another's affections, and skip across the boundaries between reality and fantasy. While modern-day summertime adventures in the woods are more apt to include camping or hiking than fairies and potions, Midsummer is a reminder that escaping into the seclusion and quiet of a forest at the height of summer is one of life's simple pleasures.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
What does summer mean to you? Floating on the open sea in a raft, perhaps with rum-ham? The Old Man and the Sea is sort of like that, except with clean, spare prose; a Sisyphean struggle between man and nature, and the clout of being written by Papa himself. While it's not exactly a lighthearted summer read, this 1951 classic is full of imagery of tropical flora and fauna that will instantly spirit you away from whatever colder clime you're inhabiting to the balmy Caribbean.