Books, Books, Books

By the Beach or In the Mountains

. 5 min read . Written by Russell Smith
By the Beach or In the Mountains

Perfect books for summer

Summer frees us. We open up as nature opens and warms up. We feel the flow of possibility, energy and vibrancy that this season brings.. This season allows us to let our guard down. After long, strenuous months of seeming to inhale only – our chests like the hard shells of the creatures we see on the beach – we can exhale and become soft again.

Freeness and possibility permeate our reading experiences too in these summer months. We can enjoy – simply. Even if we tackle that difficult book from high school, the one we’ve suspected held some unique message for us all these years, we can explore in a spirit of wonder without a trace of necessity.

Reading a great, even a good, book lounging by the sea or after a hike up a now-verdant mountain may not be the pinnacle of human life, but it’s pretty darn close to heaven.


Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

I read Walden almost every year, usually during the summer, when Thoreau first went to Walden Pond. Thoreau originally gave it the subtitle, “Or, Life in the Woods.” Don’t be fooled. It’s not about life in the woods. It is about life.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

I don’t read much fantasy. In May, I began Brandon Sanderson’s mammoth trilogy, The Stormlight Archive. I got 450 pages into the first volume, The Way of Kings. It was good. Maybe I will finish it sometime. But after 450 pages, I thought: if I don’t read much fantasy, shouldn’t the tiny bit I do read be not merely good but excellent? I’ve read The Lord of the Rings half a dozen times now, almost all in summer. Including in 2013 while recovering from E. coli poisoning on a fishing trip to Belize. But that’s a story for a different time.

The Lightkeeper, by Sherry Shenoda

A beautiful tale by a wonderful writer. I was spellbound and you will be too.

Poems by Walt Whitman

In May, I came to the sad realization that no matter how many years I have left on this green jewel in space, I will get to the end of my days and know barely anything about poetry. Often, I don’t even know what I like. At the same time, I read Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life. In it, he tells the story of Whitman finding his calling – a new calling – supporting injured Union troops during the Civil War. Prompted by Cope, I picked up a volume of Whitman’s poems to read on vacation. I read "Song of the Open Road" and "Song of Myself." I liked them a lot. I mentioned it to my great friend JG, who writes the superb Daymaker newsletter. He replied, “I have often thought that if I could be any other man, I would be Walt Whitman.” That’s enough to spur me to dig deeper into Whitman – much deeper.

The Optimist, by David Coggins

My favorite book about fly fishing.

The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron, by Howard Bryant

If anything, amazingly, Hank Aaron remains underrated as a baseball player. Joe Posnanski rates Aaron only the fourth best baseball player in his otherwise glorious ranking of the top 100 players of all time. That rating is ludicrous and to quote Super 70s Sports, that’s a hill I’ll die on. Beyond his excellence as a ballplayer, Bryant tells the story of Aaron the man – a man above all others who lived during my life who I wish I could have met.

Rock Springs, by Richard Ford

If Jack London relays the woes of the mundane in nature, Richard Ford warns of the hurt and danger in the mundane in people. This collection of short stories calls out to me every few years – usually, strangely, at the same time I’m reading The Lord of the Rings. That has created a strange oasis in life  – something in life begging me to find a connection, a meaning, where the bond is simply an illusion, a coincidence of delightful readings in a few summers of my life.

Here’s a taste for you. In “Great Falls,” the storyteller, a boy, looks at his father.

“He smiled at me, and it was not the worried, nervous smile from before, but a smile that meant he was pleased. And I don’t remember him ever smiling at me that way again.”

Or another snippet: Ford begins the story, “Optimists,”

“All of this that I am about to tell happened when I was only fifteen years old, in 1959, the year my parents were divorced, the year when my father killed a man and went to prison for it, the year I left home and school, told a lie about my age to fool the Army, and then did not come back. The year, in other words, when life changed for all of us and forever—ended, really, in a way none of us could ever have imagined in our most brilliant dreams of life.”

How can you stop reading? You can’t.

Hard Country, by Michael McGarrity

In the first volume in McGarrity’s American West trilogy about the Kerney family, McGarrity will entertain and thrill you. A perfect page-turner for summer!

Thanks to Amna Faiq Ali and Elizabeth Michael of Foster for reading and editing this piece.

Images by Midjourney.