During the summer, I enjoy historical novels and short stories as well as historical non-fiction set in summer locations, specifically the seaside or the English countryside. (Come to think of it, I enjoy these types of books year round because I love summer so much!). These are a few of the titles that evoke (for me) quiet summer days when all you want to do is read, daydream, and escape.
Summer by Edith Wharton. This little-known but exquisite novella published in 1917 tells the story of Charity Royall’s forbidden affair with an engaged man. Unlike many of Wharton’s other novels which have city society settings (say that three times quickly), this is set in the New England countryside, which is richly evoked in its descriptions of nature.
The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt. I so wish my family had a summer cottage or house (preferably on the Big Water somewhere in Michigan, my home state) but I can dream about it with this wonderful story. Colt traces the history of his family’s house, from its humble beginnings through the twentieth century, to its present condition. Woven together are descriptions of the development and history of the Cape Cod area and his personal family history.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Chopin’s 1899 masterpiece (another novella) caused such a sensation that it devastated Chopin’s career. Edna Pontellier is summering in Grand Isle with her husband and children, when she falls in love with Robert LeBrun. Her “awakening” to a realization of what she believes she wants is in direct conflict with her status as an upper class married mother in the Victorian era.
The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway. Many are not aware that Ernest Hemingway spent almost every summer of his life until he was eighteen in northern Michigan; the family still owns property on Walloon Lake. These stories, linked chronologically in the life of Nick Adams, are based on his experiences and memories there.
The Alchemist’s Daughter by Katherine McMahon. In early eighteenth century England, Emilie Selden lives a life of seclusion and protection with her widowed father, an alchemist, whom she helps in his laboratory at their country estate, Selden Manor. Under the influences of Sir Isaac Newton, they conduct experiments in alchemy, a combination of the study of chemistry with philosophy. But their world is turned upside down when Emilie falls for sophisticated city merchant, Robert Aislabie, who threatens to disturb their quiet, untraditional life.
Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 by Michael Capuzzo. In New Jersey, vacationers are terrorized by the first documented attacks by sharks. Fascinating, well-written account, reads just like a thriller.
Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve. In 1899 New England, precocious teenager Olympia Biddeford embarks on a romantic affair with a married man nearly three times her age, threatening her lifestyle, her class status (and his), and her future. One of Shreve’s little-known gems.