Donna Whitehead: Savor the books of summer

Donna Whitehead

Books are as much a part of summer as beaches, watermelon and fresh farm stand corn. Bookstores highlight beach reads. Libraries pull out all the stops promoting summer reading programs and activities for kids. Students procrastinate over the classic titles on their required summer reading list. Bent, sun-faded paperbacks can be seen gripped in the hands of vacationers on beach blankets along the shore and rocking chairs on the porches of lakefront cottages.

Both avid and occasional readers find summer a great time to explore a new book or revisit an old favorite. Vacation time and trips to tranquil locations conspire to tempt the most unlikely reader to open a book.

But true summer reading can take the season a step further. Rather than simply pluck the latest bestseller from the bookracks, choose a story set in the summer time or a tale set in a land baked in sunshine.

“The Great Gatsby” unfolds over a summer set among the wealthy Americans in a Long Island seashore community. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, the narrator, Nick, meets the charismatic and mysterious Jay Gatsby while renting a house on Long Island. The tale unfolds in the 1920s, along the Atlantic shore, in New York City and in the glittering parties held on breathtaking estates. When the characters, Daisy, Tom, Nick, Jordan and Gatsby, flee to the city on an oppressively hot day to an expensive hotel room, the ever-present heat is as much a character as the people in the climatic scene that follows.

You can also spend your summer in the Alabama town of Maycomb during the Great Depression experiencing the wonderful prose and story telling of Lee Harper in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Mockingbird turned 50 this year, inspiring a new generation to rediscover this magnificently crafted book, its unforgettable characters from Scout Finch and her father, Atticus, to Tom Robinson and “Boo” Radley and its poignant message.

Discover the Maine vacation community created by Anne River Siddons in “Colony” where the same privileged families gather year after year for their summers.

Chris Bohjalian, the author of more well know, “Midwives,” crafted a wonderful novel, “Water Witches” set in Vermont during a dry summer. Here the development of a ski resort, the protection of a species, and the story of a family of dowsers all intertwine.

Immerse yourself in a tale set in South Carolina low country in Pat Conroy’s “Prince of Tides. Travel to Syria to solve a mystery with Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie’s “Appointment with Death.”

And before it was ever a movie by then a little known, but up-and-coming director named Steven Spielberg, “Jaws” was the number 1 paperback at beaches from sea to shining sea, keeping even the most dedicated swimmers out of the water.

The website offers many more suggestions of summer-themed books, including “The Last Summer” and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” by Ann Brashare, “Prodigal Summer,” by Barbara Kingsolver, “Summer by Edith Wharton,” “Firefly Summer,” by Maeve Binchy, and “Light in August,” by William Faulkner.

Summer’s waning, but there’s still time to get away in a great summer read and enjoy the trip.

Donna Whitehead is editor of the Mansfield News, Norton Mirror and Easton Journal in Massachusetts. You can send her your summer-reading finds at