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Stories, Sunscreen and Sandwiches

Cover image from Terry McMillan's <i>Waiting to Exhale</i>.
Cover image from Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale.

Whether it's the indulgent hours or lighter genres, summer reading is characterized by its reverie. In My Summer Books, NPR hosts and reporters share their memories of summer reading and books. Today, All Things Considered host Michele Norris.

Do you have a favorite memory of summer reading?

We go to Martha's Vineyard every summer and several years ago I remember pulling my nose out of a book at the beach to stretch my neck. As I looked around, to the right, to the left, a few feet in front of me, I noticed several women were engrossed in the same book with the colorful Synthia St. James portrait of three ladies in hats. That book was Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan. As we began to notice each other, we began to talk, soon strangers no more, sharing stories and laughter, sunscreen and sandwiches and eventually swapping phone numbers. We were laughing and cackling so loud they must have heard us all the way down the beach.

I still keep in touch with some of these women. Our children now frolic on that same beach, and I often think of that summer day when a book created a bridge between so many strangers.

What makes a good summer read for you?

Since I associate summer with travel, I love atmospheric books that transport me to another place or era -- for instance, A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid. It's the author's remembrance of her native island of Antigua. The book had such a strong impact on me that I often give it to friends before they travel to the Caribbean.

Is there a genre or author you reserve for summer?

My mother, Elizabeth Norris, is a voracious reader of mysteries and since she often travels with us in the summer, I usually join in reading one or two of the mysteries on her list.

It sounds like summer reading is a bit more indulgent, more frivolous for you.

I do indulge myself a bit more during the summer, largely because of a stretch of vacation and extended car rides... but I have broad tastes throughout the year.

Though I must be honest -- I am just as likely to dive into a cookbook at the end of the day as a good novel. I have habit of creating fantasy menus from an ever-rotating stack of cookbooks before I drift off to sleep.

Do you have an all-time favorite summer book?

I do: Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut. And there are many other books from other summers that have stayed with me: Damage by Josephine Hart, a small book that packed a BIG wallop; The Obscene Bird of Night by Jose Donoso, a haunting story of role reversal; Clockers, by Richard Price; The Speckled Monster, A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox by Jennifer Carrell and from many, many, many years ago, The Pigman by Paul Zindel.

Is there a book on your shelf just waiting for this summer?

72 Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell and On Beauty by Zadie Smith are next on my list.

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