The Books of Summer

Karen White, author of Flight Patterns, on what makes a great summer read

Summer Books

Ah, summer. For those who know me and have witnessed firsthand my aversion to any temperature below 75—which I equate to “freezing”—it’s not hard to guess that my favorite season is summer.

As a child I’m sure my love of summer had less to do with the temperature and more to do with those long months of no school, of sleeping late, and hanging out at the pool. At least until I was old enough to work a summer job, but even then I hoarded those leisure hours as if knowing that the real world would one day find me.

To my three brothers those long days of summer were spent swimming, playing baseball in the cul-de-sac, and chasing me with large insects and various reptiles. But for me, summer was a time for binge reading. I could read a book a day, sometimes more. I’d stay up late reading, then wake up late and read some more. I’d read on the way to work, at work, and after work. I’d read at the pool, and the dinner table (until I was caught and told to close the book).

I’d feed my habit at the library and the bookstore, borrowing books from friends and the homes where I babysat. No genre was ignored, no preference made a priority (unless it was part of the John Jakes’ The Bastard series or anything by Victoria Holt). I was a book junkie.

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That was mumble-mumble years ago, and my life has changed drastically since. I still hate the cold, and summer remains my favorite season. But I don’t think I’ve slept late in over two decades, and because I work seven days a week, I’m not quite sure when summer begins and ends except the demarcation of traffic. I can’t even remember the last time I binge-read. And that, as we say here in Georgia, is a crying shame.

My 22nd novel, Flight Patterns, was just released at the end of May, followed six days later by, my birthday on May 30th. My birthday, as it did this year, usually falls in or around Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kick off of summer. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate my priorities. Maybe it’s time to put reading first on my list again. I can easily justify it because reading oils the writing cogs in my overworked brain.

I’ve got towering “to be read” piles of books in just about every room of my house. So how do I decide which one to pick first? What parameters would I make to choose the perfect summer read? Despite the drastic changes in my life over the last unspeakable number of years, I don’t think those parameters have changed very much at all.

A summer read doesn’t have to have a beach scene on the cover, or even be set during the summer or at the shore. But it does need to take me away in my head to another place and time—whether it be eighteenth-century Scotland, Civil Rights-era Mississippi, or to a galaxy far, far away. Even if I am, in fact, sitting at the beach, I no longer want to feel the sand between my toes. That’s for later, when I turn that last page.

When I get to that new and magical place, I need to be a part of the story, feel as if I really know these characters—enough to laugh when they laugh, cry when they cry, fall in love when they do. And when I finish the book, I want to feel as if the characters are in a better place than when we started our journey together, and that they’ve learned, and grown and changed from the first page to the last, and have a sense that I have too. Most of all, when I close the book for the last time, I want to feel as if I’m saying goodbye to good friends.

Flight Patterns is set in Apalachicola, Florida, and is about two estranged sisters, their mother who checked out from reality years before, and their beekeeper grandfather. I love the Gulf Coast of Florida and loved escaping there in my mind as I wrote the book, falling in love with Maisy, Georgia, James, and Birdie. My goal was to write the kind of book I like to read, the kind of summer escape I dream of.

This year, even if I can’t go on vacation, I’m diving into summer reading so that I can imagine I’m in some new and wonderful place, even if I’m sitting on my front porch. Reading is going to the top of my list again. The laundry, errands, and emails can wait. It’s a tough choice, but I believe in making sacrifices for my writing. It’s just what I do.


Featured image: fresher/Shutterstock

Author photo: © Claudio Marinesco

KAREN WHITE is the New York Times bestselling author of eighteen novels including A Long Time Gone, The Time Between, After the Rain, and Sea Change. She grew up in London but now lives with her husband and two children near Atlanta, Georgia.

About Karen White

KAREN WHITE is the New York Times bestselling author of eighteen novels including A Long Time Gone, The Time Between, After the Rain, and Sea Change. She grew up in London but now lives with her husband and two children near Atlanta, Georgia.