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Illustrations by Ana Porta.
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and usually, I fall in line. Except this time.
A few summers ago, on a whim, I popped into an independent bookshop in Chicago and spotted a staff pick with an abstract cover that made me stop in my tracks.
The author’s name stretched across the bottom in black print: Lesley Nneka Arimah. She had me at Nneka. Unlike Sarahs and Jessicas and Amandas far and wide, I rarely come across others who share my name. It’s highly unusual to meet another Nneka in America. (Though, over the years, multiple acquaintances and one exceptionally chatty cable guy have reiterated that the name is quite common in Nigeria.)
As a woman who wants to see her own name bedecking a book cover one day, I saw the experience as a good omen. Straight away, I scooped up the short story collection — titled “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky” — purchased it and packed it in my carry-on for a family vacation to South Carolina. Unfortunately for my loved ones, I wasn’t good company. I spent the bulk of the trip devouring Arimah’s arresting, transporting language — at lunch, at the pool, on the beach and even at a ziplining course (I was shameless).
“Light,” the fourth story in the book, begins with these poignant lines: “When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not know what the world did to daughters. He did not know how quickly it would wick the dew off her, how she would be returned to him hollowed out, relieved of her better parts.”
The surreal “Who Will Greet You At Home,” first published in the New Yorker, starts with an unusual infant: “The yarn baby lasted a good month, emitting dry, cotton-soft gurgles and pooping little balls of lint, before Ogechi snagged its thigh on a nail and it unraveled as she continued walking, mistaking the little huffs for the beginnings of hunger, not the cries of an infant being undone.”
I look back on that vacation fondly, because it was filled with breezy, warm days and an undeniably good read. We asked you to share the books that remind you of summer. From autobiographical essays to children’s literature, these are the texts that Lily readers, and a couple staffers, associate with summertime.
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
From Lena Felton, 24, Washington, D.C., Lily multiplatform editor:
The book: “A Field Guide to Getting Lost,” by Rebecca Solnit
A quick description: A series of memoiristic essays knit around the theme of getting lost.
Why it reminds her of summer: “Exactly three years ago, I spent a hot, cramped, glorious summer living in a tiny Brooklyn apartment with my best friend from college. We subletted the sparse, sixth-story place from an artist; we shared a bed, which was really just a mattress on the floor. Early on, we made a trek to the Strand, where I picked up Rebecca Solnit’s ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost.’ I’d always thought Solnit’s writing was so smart — the way it tied together disparate subjects and genres, all to paint a picture of the author herself. This book, though, became my favorite of hers. I read its first few pages lying on that shared bed, the open window letting in a slightly smelly, slightly warm, distinctly New York breeze.
At the edge of adulthood, reading those words, I felt the sense of possibility well within me: ‘For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away,’ Solnit writes. ‘The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.’”
From Jennifer Covell, 55, New York:
The book: “Forever ...” by Judy Blume
A quick description: A novel about teen sexuality that was groundbreaking, and frequently banned, upon its release in 1975.
Why it reminds her of summer: “My mom sent it to me in a care package in the summer of 1977. I think every girl in my bunk devoured it.”
From Caroline Kitchener, 27, Washington, D.C., Lily staff writer:
The book: “Here Comes the Sun,” by Nicole Dennis-Benn
A quick description: In this novel, a Jamaican family struggles to survive amidst a burgeoning tourist industry that threatens their home.
Why it reminds her of summer: “I’ve never been to Jamaica, but for the two days straight I spent devouring ‘Here Comes the Sun,’ I felt like I was there. In this masterpiece of a debut novel, Dennis-Benn — a Jamaica native who now lives in Brooklyn — introduces readers to the Jamaica that exists beyond the beaches and resorts: the poor towns on the fringes of the country’s massive tourism industry. We see Jamaica through the eyes of 30-year-old Margot, who works at a hotel, having sex with guests on the side to make money for her little sister’s education. ‘Here Comes the Sun’ is not a typical ‘beach read,’ but I still associate it with summer. Maybe that’s because I read it on a hot middle-of-June weekend. Maybe it’s because summer always makes me want to see new places — and experience, for a few days, a home entirely different from my own.”
From Katie Corwin, 25, Washington, D.C.:
The book: “Gone with the Wind,” by Margaret Mitchell
A quick description: The privileged daughter of a rich plantation owner finds her way of life fundamentally altered by the Civil War in this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, originally published in 1936.
Why it reminds her of summer: “I read this book one summer in high school. It took the whole summer, since it’s so long, and I loved every bit of it. Since then, it’s always reminded me of the summer and the leisurely time I had to read when I had the summers off from school.”
From Lindsy Lawrence, 42, Texas:
The book: “Jane of Lantern Hill,” by L. M. Montgomery
A quick description: A young heroine who lives with her controlling grandmother spends a summer with her estranged father on Prince Edward Island, where she finds freedom, friendship and fatherly love.
Why it reminds her of summer: “One of Montgomery’s stand-alone books, ‘Jane of Lantern Hill’ is the story of a lonely, isolated child brimming with love. Jane finds it during the summers she spends with her father, after she learns he’s still living. Her domineering grandmother has such an icy hand over her life in Toronto that Jane is barely allowed to see her own mother, Robin. Grandmother disapproved of Robin’s marriage, and it’s clear that anyone who takes Robin’s gaze from her is a threat. Jane’s very existence must be squashed as a result. Yet, summers on Prince Edward Island with her dad give Jane space to breath, to love, to play. In the process, she learns how to be a compassionate and capable adult. While her parents unrealistically make their way back to each other at the end — with Jane even more improbably helping to keep their relationship functioning — the bulk of the novel is about Jane’s journey to selfhood in the two summers the novel covers. It’s a delightful children’s book that doesn’t lose its charms for adults. I reread it most summers.”
From Maureen Haley, 65, Iowa:
The book: “Faking It,” by Jennifer Crusie
A quick description: A woman with a secret, who’s from a family that runs an art gallery, and a former con man, who has recently been swindled, grudgingly team up to fight a common enemy.
Why it reminds her of summer: “It’s a great beach read. It’s reminiscent of old romantic comedy movies (you can just about see Cary Grant in the character of Davy). It also makes me laugh out loud. It’s very enjoyable.”
From Kathy Clark, 63, Pennsylvania:
The book: “Prodigal Summer,” by Barbara Kingsolver
A quick description: Three stories are woven together in this novel, set in southern Appalachia, in which characters are connected to — and by — the land.
Why it reminds her of summer: “Lush descriptions of nature and a brief affair with a stranger: Both capture the fecundity of the forest, and a woman, in all its summer glory. It’s a book about love, women, family and growth. I reread it every summer.”
From Robin Magee, 56, North Carolina:
The book: “The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy,” (actually every single Penderwicks novel) by Jeanne Birdsall
A quick description: The Penderwick sisters spend a summer vacation on a beautiful estate, where they become pals with the estate owner’s son, who joins them on their adventures.
Why it reminds her of summer: “It reminds me of childhood summers of reading books upon books, dreaming about the future and having adventures with my friends and family. These books capture so many memories and the joy of reading. When I was raising my boys, they loved the Penderwicks books as well.”
From Alice Reid-Oates, 65, Illinois:
The book: “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,” by Rebecca Wells
A quick description: Four Southern women who are longtime friends are the center of this novel, which also explores strained ties between moms and daughters.
Why it reminds her of summer: “It reminds me of the great times my friends and I had and the memories of youthful loves back when summers weren’t so organized and scheduled.”
From Tracie Dawson, 31, South Carolina:
The book: “Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A.,” by Eve Babitz
A quick description: In this diary-like book that seems to live in between fiction and memoir, the author details romantic flings, friendships and the rhythms of Los Angeles in the 1970s.
Why it reminds her of summer: “Simmering with insight despite languid, effortless prose, Eve Babitz’s writing delivers the best of what summer promises: a cold dive into a deep pool, late nights and wasted days and endlessly good fun.”
The Washington Post book editors highlighted 20 books to read this summer. Here are a few of their picks penned by women.
“The Bride Test,” by Helen Hoang In this romance novel, Hoang follows a man who struggles to make romantic connections — good thing his mother’s a matchmaker.
“City of Girls,” by Elizabeth Gilbert You’ve heard of “Eat Pray Love,” Gilbert’s much-discussed 2006 memoir. But with this novel, Gilbert returns to fiction, telling the story of a 19-year-old woman in the 1940s who works in her aunt’s New York theater.
“Patsy,” by Nicole Dennis-Benn In this novel, a single mother leaves her 5-year-old daughter in Jamaica, with her religious mother, to move to New York in pursuit of the woman she loves.
Read more of the Post editors’ picks here. And if you’re interested, grab a copy of Lily Lit Club’s June book pick, “The Spectators.”