Beach Reading Without The Beach

Our columnist shares her insight on what (and where) to read.

It’s summer! ’Tis the season for beach reading, except here in Pasadena where we have no beach. Between us and the shore, there’s a whole lotta 10 Freeway and a million reasons to stay east of downtown L.A. on the weekends.

Where does that leave us in terms of summer reading? All sunscreened up and no place to go. But we can still enjoy a delightful book in air-conditioned splendor. (As if being the setting for one of the greatest films ever made—Legally Blond—isn’t enough, have you ever experienced the A/C in August at the Pasadena Central Library? Glorious.) Because we’re not schlepping across the hot sand in Crocs and a giant floppy hat, it means that we can choose books with a little more heft, both physically and intellectually. That’s how we do beach reading here in Pasadena: inside, fully clothed, and aiming high.

I took about a decade off the beach bag books circuit because I had to oversee my children’s required summer reading. And by oversee, I mean beg, plead, yell, scream, and then, eventually, coerce them into listening to the audiobook on our annual road trip to Oregon. Over the decade, I listened to plenty of books I never would have picked up myself if my sons had read their own damn books. But I was happy to listen to classics, old and new, like The Things They Carried (mesmerizing), Unbroken (unrelenting), and The Grapes of Wrath (as depressing as I remembered it to be).

Whatever I want during the summer, including Anna Karenina, the Tolstoy classic I attempted in 1981 while babysitting on the beach but never quite finished because of my massive crush on the lifeguard.

So, my 2019 list starts with Anna Karenina. Add to that Daisy Jones & The Six, a rock ’n’ roll novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It’s a fictionalized version of the music, drama, and heartbreak surrounding Fleetwood Mac and the creation of the Rumours album. Set in 1970s Los Angeles with flowing skirts and tour bus shenanigans, it sounds perfect for a lazy afternoon, accompanied by a refreshing beverage.

Also on my list, Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev, a “Bollywood meets Austin” gender-bender tale in which an Indian American surgeon falls for a biracial British chef. I’m a few pages in and the writing is sharp and original.

To fill out my choices, I turn to the experts. Allison Hill, the CEO of Vroman’s and a noted book reviewer, says she’s looking forward to reading Lights All Night Long, a debut literary mystery by L.A. writer Lydia Fitzpatrick about two Russian brothers in two different countries. Hill also notes that the new wine bar at the main store on Colorado opens in July. Wait, do we get extra credit for reading books and drinking wine simultaneously?

At Whitmore Rare Books, a delightful new shop on Union that features literary first editions and other volumes of merit, the focus this summer is on books written by notable female activists, educators, scientists, artists, and educators. The showcase is called “By Her Own Hand.” Do stop in and see the impressive manuscripts in cool climate-controlled surroundings.

If you’re looking to enhance your summer reading with a rare first edition, curator Miranda Garno Nesler points to a memoir by Edith Wharton written in 1908 that details a classic summer road trip, possibly the first ever, called A Motor-Flight Through France. Do you think she stayed in an Airbnb called The House of Mirth? You’ll have to buy the book to find out. Nesler is rereading a couple of personal favorites including Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Dog-eared copies of both are available at your local library.

One more note on your summer plans. Should they include digging out your millennials’ rooms now that they’ve moved out, be on the lookout for a first-edition Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. No, not the humdrum American edition, but the coveted U.K. edition published by Bloomsbury in a small run of 500. Maybe you picked one up for the kids at Heathrow in 1997? According to Daniel Whitmore of Whitmore Rare Books, it’s now worth more than $100,000. So, you might not want to put Harry in the “donate” pile, unless you do, which is very lovely because our glorious Pasadena libraries could use the cash to pay for the A/C.

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