Summer Reading: Kids, vacations, musicals

One of the best parts of summer is having more time to read. It’s never enough time, but it’s something.  Here, in no particular order, are some of my summer book highlights.

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy is an utter delight for anyone who loves kids’ books. Goodnight, Moon, Charlotte’s Web, Dr. Seuss, the Beverly Clearly classics: all of them are discussed with wit and soul. I learned a great deal about these books and their authors, but what I loved most was the chance to revisit these great stories from a new perspective. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in places, too, such as when Handy writes about the absentee mom in The Cat and the Hat (who, you might recall, goes out and leaves her kids ALONE for hours) and observes that her house will likely be the one that all of the high school kids go to to smoke pot someday.

Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery. I re-read the Emily of New Moon books recently, and ensuing conversations with a friend (thank you, Viki!) made me think that I just might give this one a try, too, even though I haven’t read most of the Anne books that precede it. It was so enjoyable: the setting was lovely (as expected with Prince Edward Island!) and Rilla is a charming heroine who goes on a believable journey of maturation over the course of the book. What was most fascinating was reading about World War I from the perspective of the families waiting at home. There are a lot of “home front” books about WWII, but not about the Great War, so that was a valuable perspective and one I won’t forget.

The Fortnight in September by R. C. Sheriff is British novel from the thirties about a family vacation to the seaside. It’s one of those books that is impossible to summarize because “nothing happens” — it’s not a plot-driven story, but a character-driven one, and yet somehow it was unputdownable. I love it when authors can recreate the little details of daily life so faithfully and insightfully.  And the family in the book are at their core such empathetic people that I ended up loving them. There are so many moments in life when we can choose selfishness or kindness, and this family chooses kindness; it was very moving, and inspiring.

Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw is not a recent read, but I haven’t yet blogged about it, so here we go. I was familiar with the author from her historical classic Mara, Daughter of the Nile, which I’ve read I don’t know how many times since I was a tween (and if you’ve never read it, GO READ IT NOW).  Greensleeves, written in 1968, is technically a young adult novel — it’s about a young girl after high school, trying to figure out who she is while assuming another identity for purposes of exploring what might be a con game — but it’s sophisticated, nuanced, and so well-written. It’s also one of the first young adult novels I’ve read to address the fact that you can be totally physically attracted to someone who you don’t even like, which is a pretty confusing thing to navigate when you’re eighteen. But the book is lots more besides: funny, insightful, moving.

Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution by Todd S. Purdum. I’m a major R & H junkie, so I  picked this up thinking it would be a great way to revisit some of my all-time favorite musicals. And it was that, but it was more besides. I was utterly fascinated to read about the process of crafting these shows.  We see them in their finished glory, but the author talks about the creative process that went into making these shows — sometimes R &H had to scrap entire musical numbers that just didn’t end up working, or had to restructure acts or scenes for maximum impact. It’s a helpful reminder that creativity is messy. But wow: it can sure result in something wonderful.

Oh, and bonus anecdote: in July we were going through some of my late mother-in-law’s things. We found piles of Broadway playbills from shows she saw in the fifties and sixties. She saw the original casts of R &H shows like Flower Drum Song and Pipe Dream (their only real flop), along with Bye Bye Birdie, The Pajama Game, and others!  How I wish I’d had the chance to ask her about those experiences.

What have you been reading (and loving) lately?

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