summer reading lists cover

In last week’s column, I recalled the reading life of former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who died recently at 77. Roemer loved books, and having leaders who champion reading is an especially good thing in this state, where illiteracy runs high. Anything we can do to elevate reading as a priority will make Louisiana better civically and economically.

Danny Heitman's 'At Random': Remembering Buddy Roemer, a champion reader

But summer is a time to celebrate reading just for fun, and a local culture that excels at pleasure, including the joys of food and music, should have no trouble finding pleasure in the written word, too.

That’s why I offer an annual summer reading column. It’s just a mention of a few books on my nightstand, not a definitive list of the season’s best new titles. The fun of summer reading comes in serendipity, letting your interests lead you without too much of a plan.

It’s how I’ve ended up with Kate Summerscale’s “The Haunting of Alma Fielding,” the real story of a Depression-era housewife outside London who might — or might not — have been plagued by a poltergeist. I’m liking the book as an escape from the news cycle, although Summerscale’s tale is a reminder that then, as now, there were lots of people who chose to believe what they wanted regardless of the facts.

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In “Cold Moon,” a small memoir just right for a beach bag, journalist Roger Rosenblatt reviews his years and decides three things: “I believe in life. I believe in love. I believe we are responsible for each other.” Boy, do we need that message now.

There have been lots of books lately about the value of walking, but one I’ve especially liked is “The Stranger I Become,” a small reflection by Katharine Coles about how her daily strolls have nourished her spiritual and emotional life. It’s another book that seems perfect for these addled times.

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In “The Bomber Mafia,” Malcolm Gladwell chronicles how warriors in World War II navigated the relatively new — and sobering — science of aerial warfare. It’s yet another reminder of the grave demands placed on The Greatest Generation.

Danny Heitman's 'At Random': Weekend break from cable and internet proved a blessing

“Fortunate Son” by Rick Bass collects his best essays about Texas, a state that’s deeply shaped his writing. His beautiful essay about Toledo Bend, the lake that straddles Texas and Louisiana, brings the collection close to home.

Speaking of essays, “The Glorious American Essay,” a new anthology edited by Phillip Lopate, features prose from Benjamin Franklin to Eudora Welty to Norman Mailer, along with many others. It’s a great book to dip into for a swim among silver sentences from the past few centuries.

In “All the Beauty Still Left,” Spencer Reese, an Episcopal priest, alternates inspirational quotes with his soothing watercolors.

He quotes poet James Merrill: “Let the mind be, along with countless other things, a landing strip for sacred visitations.”

A good enough reason, I suppose, to read this summer — and in any season of the year.


Email Danny Heitman at danny@dannyheitman.com.