Summer Guide: Good Reads in All the Right Places

What to read and where—mostly outdoors.

Have you ever noticed that often the beauty of a restaurant seems to enhance the flavor of its food, or that a car invariably runs with a bit more giddy-up after a good scrubbing? Similarly, with a book, the physical setting one chooses in which to savor the rich pleasures of an engaging read should not be underestimated. Being stretched out by a trout stream, for example, may enhance the raw power and brilliant simplicity of a Hemingway novel, just as sipping a mint julep on a sun-washed deck can surely augment the literary bliss of following the high-spirited Scarlett O’Hara and the roguish Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. You get the idea.

In hopes of raising to new heights the sheer enjoyment of your summer reading, we have paired some great books with suggested places to best experience them.

One must absorb the sights and sounds of Pioneer Square’s Occidental Park in all its madcap splendor to fully appreciate Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the irrepressible mental-hospital inmate Randle McMurphy doing battle with power-crazed Nurse Ratched. Big Nurse: “Mister McMurphy, the purpose of this meeting is therapy. Group therapy.” McMurphy: “Yeah, yeah, the hell with that crap. The World Series is goin’ on right now and that’s therapy also!”

If you find yourself heading for Deception Pass, make sure to tuck a copy of Lord of the Flies into your picnic basket. This is the place—this gorgeous, unworldly strait that separates Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island—to focus one’s full attention on the planeload of young boys marooned on a tropical island, who, when forced to fend for themselves, became two warring tribes. Poor Piggy.

Closer to home, Queen Anne Avenue—pick a coffee house of your choosing—is where you want to be to read Maria Semple’s darkly comedic put-down of Seattle and its denizens. You see, the Bernadette in Where’d You Go, Bernadette? lives in a humongous, moldy Queen Anne craftsman. Our favorite laugh-out-loud line, on Seattle drivers: “If someone is at a five-way stoplight and, growing old while they’re waiting for the lights to cycle through, and finally, finally it’s time to go, you know what they do? They start, then put on their brakes in the middle of the intersection. You’re hoping they lost a half a sandwich under their seat and are digging for it, but no. They’re just slowing down because, hey, it is an intersection.” Don’t spill your latte.

Lay yourself down in a strawberry field in the Skagit Valley and settle into The Grapes of Wrath’s saga of the Joad family, poor tenant farmers driven from their home in the Depression-era Oklahoma Dust Bowl, moving west on Route 66 toward more broken dreams in California.

Like the deep blue Lake Crescent that shimmers beneath the majestic Olympic mountains, James Salter’s Light Years casts a spell. It is a hypnotic read, a moving reflection on marriage and parenthood, solitude, and the beauty that surrounds us. And a cabin on Lake Crescent is the place to spend a languorous day or two inhaling Salter’s magic.

While the epic tale of Captain Ahab’s voyage in pursuit of a whale he calls Moby Dick is your literary ticket to a long ferry ride to the San Juans, consider a park bench under a shady tree outside the King County Courthouse to celebrate that heroic pillar of righteousness, the immortal attorney Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

A leisurely sun-swept afternoon on a beach at Alki Point, a bucket of pink champagne on ice at the ready, is how we recommend you take in the sprawling house on prosperous Long Island, the endless party, and the big shot that is Roaring Twenties millionaire Jay Gatsby, whom we know, of course, as The Great Gatsby. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

There are a number of no-brainers on our list as well. For instance, there are few better ways to appreciate The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn than in the back of a rowboat taking a slow float down the Ship Canal while your partner does the paddling, just as The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is best served at Snoqualmie Falls, the Woodland Park Zoo is the appropriate venue for Orwell’s Animal Farm, and Seattle Center’s International Fountain makes an ideal backdrop for Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

As for Jack Kerouac’s culture-changing On the Road, a book that Time magazine editor-at-large Richard Lacayo once called “the book that launched a thousand trips,” gas up the jalopy, round up some buddies, and hit the road. Jack. And with your dog-eared copy of this hyperkinetic tapestry of a novel, starring Benzedrine-fueled Dean Moriarty, head on up to the North Cascade Highway and follow it all the way, 435 scenic miles, from Discovery Bay to Newport, Washington, just a few hundred feet shy of the Idaho state line.

Just don’t read and drive at the same time.

econklin@seattleweekly.com

 
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