Where in the world does one find the time and space to read a book from cover to cover in under forty-eight hours? For me, that place is Lake Temagami, specifically Sharp Rock Inlet, an hour’s boat ride from anything that resembles civilization. The urgent distractions are modest: Have we boiled enough drinking water to get through the day? Do we have enough kindling to light the morning’s fire? Should we tie up the canoes for the night or flip them on shore?
But getting there is a challenge. The shopping and organization to prepare for a week (or two) without access to stores would make the heart of any Six Sigma practitioner skip a beat. If it’s not on the water taxi when we leave the dock at the end of the mining road, we do without. (Forget about borrowing from a neighbour; the closest one is twenty-minutes away by canoe.) The possibility of deprivation focuses the mind.
Once the menu has been planned and the grocery list constructed, the next hurdle is selecting the books. Space is always at a premium in both the car and the water taxi; I need enough books, but not too many. The message in my mind is “Choose well, or else!”
Once I’ve arrived and settled in, the reading takes place in mid-century modern chairs. (See image). When they were hauled to Temagami by my parents, it was because they were no longer fashionable. They were just old and saggy. Twenty years ago, my sister, nieces, and I rectified the dippy seats with cushions we fashioned from foam and homemade slipcovers. If you hold your head just right and squint, you might think Martha Stewart dropped by to tart up a fishing cabin, just enough to make the women happy and not so much to make the men cranky. When the windows are flung open, and the breezes blow straight through the cabin, you would be hard-pressed to find a more comfortable, cooler spot to read. Factor in the scent of pine resin and the sound of waves lapping at the rocky shoreline, and it’s sublime. Time and space expand.
But back to books.
This year I selected three. I could not have been more pleased. The first to be consumed was The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (1987). It had been on my bookshelf for years, but not for thirty-five years! My copy has come from a second-hand bookstore (Pickwick Books in Waterdown? Books and Company in Picton?). I discovered this when I realized the loose endpaper had been cut away. (If it was a gift, the previous owner and its giver will remain a mystery.) Bonfire was an incredible dive into the heart of New York. I couldn’t help but wonder if Wolfe had his finger in the air testing the winds that would blow two decades later. He captured populism, racism, capitalism, entitlement, and disadvantage, skewering each in the process. I was enthralled. The characters and the plot were strong. And yes, just like my copy, there was an element of mystery.
The next book was The Town That Forgot How to Breathe by Kenneth Harvey (2003). The version I have is autographed, and it was given to me in Newfoundland in 2005 when we attended a Screech-In. But who gave it to me? The book has been on my shelf for seventeen years, waiting for the right time to be read. This year was it. I was immediately drawn into the mesmerizing world of Bareneed, on the northwest shore of Conception Bay, Newfoundland. Sure, there are physical similarities between Temagami and Bareneed; we pump water, light the hearth, read by gas light, and always have an eye to the wind and waves, but the similarities end there. Harvey weaves a tight tale of Newfoundland lore that he spins into the current time, and he does it through a strong narrative with more than a dash of magical realism. I marvelled at his ability to keep a complex plot clean and clear. I’ll be searching out his other books over the next while.
The third book was one I had opened before we departed for the wilderness, This is Your Mind On Plants, and I had finished the Opium section. As we waited for the Loon Lodge water taxi to collect us from the island, I started Caffeine. Next up is Mescaline. Michael Pollan never fails to engage me. However, unlike The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which led me to small food producers, I suspect the only behaviour change might be an attempt to grow poppies for their colour, not for their sap.
That’s almost it for my summer reading. The next book up is Amor Towles A Gentleman in Moscow. I’m re-reading it for a book club and enjoying it again. But a chapter a night is not the same experience as a novel a day. Another book by Towles that I’d recommend is Rules of Civility. It, too, is a pleasure.
And now, dear reader, I want to know what was on your summer reading list. And where in the world is your favourite spot to read a novel in a day or two? Do tell!
Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humour despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend.