Where Sea Foam Meets My Toes

This week we wrap up our Summer Reading blog series with Debbie Hampton, Blair’s director of design and production, and her plan for the perfect beach reading.

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me

I dream all year about doing this—340 more days to go . . .

beachThere is undoubtedly no better place to read than where sea foam meets my toes–the place I always dream of being. For someone with little time to ever sit down, not to mention sit down and read, reading comes in spurts during the year until I go to that favorite place and I grab from the “I sooooo want to read this” pile while packing my bags. Before heading that way a few weeks ago, I took with me the three I have been whittling away at–two similar subjects, one completely different, and two others for which I had a plan.GandDBonhoefferBonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
Since reading Dietrich Bonheoffer’s Cost of Discipleship, I wanted to know more about this theologian and anti-Nazi activist, who thought it the duty of the Christian, and the privilege and honor, to suffer with those who suffered. He did exactly that, even when given an opportunity to escape, he died totally submissive to the will of God. Though only a third of the way into this 600 page masterpiece, I already feel so unworthy of any of God’s grace.

GERDAAll But My Life by Gerda Weissman Klein
Klein documents her ordeal as a six-year old victim of Nazi cruelty who miraculously survived and was freed by American troops in 1945. How terrifying from the very beginning–I can’t imagine being forced out of my home at any age, or living in fear every single day that another member of my family would be forced out never to be seen or heard from again. What a terrible thing for any child, or person, to experience.

Avas_ManAva’s Man by Rick Bragg.
Bragg is one of my all-time favorite writers. I took this along with me to be the main read-by-the-sea. Sometimes when I want a good laugh, I just grab this book and read the first chapter, which is brilliant: Ava bolts upright in the cotton field upon suddenly being told that black silk stockings were hanging on her clothesline. The upright bolt sent her straight to the source to take care of things, if you know what I mean.

If that’s not bait to get you to read the whole thing, well then I don’t know what is. And that sets the tone for the journey of discovering with Bragg what made the grandfather he never knew tick.

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Reading Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse to my nieces Kenzie and Corinna on the beach – Photo by Kristin Turner

My Plan
Knowing there would be certain little family members on our upcoming beach trip, my daughter and I grabbed our all-time favorite children’s books to read to them seaside.

LillyLilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Lilly, a mouse, is given a special gift by her grandmother of a purple plastic purse that plays a jaunty tune and is “complete with shiny quarters that were very jingly.” In her excitement, she decides to take it to school for sharing time. The purse, in all its glory, is a complete distraction and it is all Lilly can do to contain her eagerness and wait to share. Her excitement bursts prematurely and she is punished but learns her lesson. The recurring phrase, “and that’s about all she could say, ‘WOW,’ ” was repeated long and drawn-out by my nieces (with giggles) and is something I will always remember.

MissFannieMiss Fannie’s Hat by Jan Karon
Miss Fannie is a tiny 89 year-old woman who has a huge collection of colorful hats, each with a specific story. She is asked to give one up to go in an auction for her church and struggles to pick the right one. Counting hats and picking colors and favorites became a fun game when relaxing after a long day of fun and sun in our own beach hats. And I must say, “our” own beach hat was something we were quite proud of!

My daughter Allison helping Corinna and Kenzie find Miss Fannie’s hats

My daughter Allison helping Corinna and Kenzie find Miss Fannie’s hats

My niece, Corinna in her own straw hat at Ocean Isle Beach

My niece, Corinna in her own straw hat at Ocean Isle Beach – Photo by Kristin Turner

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That concludes our Summer Reading blog series. Check back next week as we delve into more fun topics for the fall. Happy Reading!

In Defense of Ice Cream

This week in our Summer Reading Blog Series we hear (again) from Shannon Pierce, Blair’s sales and marketing assistant, on why you should eat at least a little ice cream every day.

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9780895875938-cov2.inddFull disclosure, I actually read Long Gone Daddies by David Wesley Williams in the spring, but I have been thinking about its prevalent themes recently, so let’s let that slide. In Long Gone Daddies Luther Gaunt is a traveling musician seeking to understand the two generations of male musicians who came before him. He knows pieces of their stories, but spends much of the book contemplating the motivations underlying the lives they led.

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With my grandmother before a party

My grandfather, Dr. Thomas F. Clauss, “Doc”, Tucker, Grandpop, passed away earlier this week and, while, like the Gaunts, he lived near Scranton, the similarities between him and the absentee Gaunt fathers end there. If pressed to make a literary parallel I would paint him more as the Atticus Finch of small-town doctors. He led an impressive life and maintained a strong reputation for being fair and kind. He let his patients pay him in produce, gave his kids stitches on the kitchen table, played football in the front yard, and was well known for his loud bow ties. Like the effect of the absentee Gaunts on Luther, however, my grandfather’s death leaves me thinking of all the ways that I did not know him. As Luther imagines the reasons why his ancestors skipped town or missed auditions, I find myself imagining the complexities behind my own grandfather’s, albeit more honorable, decisions and passions.

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Celebrating his 90th birthday party with his family in July 2013

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Giving my mother away

Of my grandfather’s 10 surviving children and 39 grandchildren, there are no doubt many who were much closer to the man than I was, and would have much less room for conjecture, but the understanding of earlier generations is always glossed over with an anachronistic haze and it is hard to construct a fully fledged rendering of our role models at younger ages. As Luther Gaunt searches for answers from those who knew his predecessors, a part of me is looking forward to listening to stories about my grandfather at his upcoming funeral. Until then, I find comfort in remembering the tangible connections that I have to him. Besides seeing the reflections of his generous character enacted daily through my mother, and forever wondering about the culprit responsible for the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder (Bing Crosby has got nothing on Thomas Clauss), the most personally engrained link that I have to my grandfather is ice cream.

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They were always suckers for babies.

During our childhood visits we would inevitably be treated to ice cream after dinner. “The calcium is good for them,” my grandfather would say to any of our skeptical parents as he added an extra scoop to our bowls, and I took that statement as pure, delicious, fact.

Grandpop babyIt’s not so much that I consciously plan to have ice cream every day, but no day feels complete unless I do, and I owe that to my grandfather. Each chilly bite reminds me a little of the amazing man behind the tradition, and it’s a legacy that I will be proud to pass on. Therefore, eat ice cream, it’s good for you. A doctor told me so.

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Check back next week for the final installment of our Summer Reading Series. Happy Reading!

Guest Author and Blair Progeny on Her Summer Reading

This week in our Summer Reading Blog Series we pull in a pinch-hitter and hear from Corinne Serfass, the daughter of Blair’s Margaret Couch.

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The idyllic summers of my childhood and adolescence are tied tightly in my mind to being barefoot in the tall grass of the Appalachian Mountains with blackberries crushed in my hand. I had the never ending afternoons of summer break to spend with all manner of books, starfish-ed on the sofa at home or sequestered in a copse of trees at camp.  As I grow into adulthood I find that I want my summer reads to retain that hazy pleasure where the real world is magnified in a way that transcends my day-to-day experience.trees Like the John Prine song Paradise, whose words I remember from those self-same summers, my summer reading pick for this year lies in “a backwards old town that’s often remembered so many times that my memories were worn,” and the town is Stay More, Arkansas, the fictional setting of Donald Harrington’s With.

Corinne cover imageWith is nestled in the wilderness of the Arkansas Ozarks with tangential appearances by Stay More, both locations emitting the Southern Gothic ennui of settlements slowly fading into obscurity. Inhabiting these towns are humans, just as bleak and beat-down as their surroundings, trying, as many of us do, to lose themselves in a dream of something better. Following such a dream is what finds Robin Kerr abducted and forced to live in a remote cabin in the Ozarks. The story follows Robin after her abductor dies and she is forced to fend for herself, paired with an unusual cast of supporting characters including a dog, a bobcat, and an in-habit (a spirit or haunting).

With reads like a grown-up retelling of Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family with a hefty dose of Michael Chabon’s magical realism thrown in. Harrington’s narrative style adheres directly to the way Robin experiences her new world, helpful spirits and talking dogs alike, and requires very little suspension of disbelief for readers to find themselves in that cabin in the Ozarks. Corinne1

Harington’s language grounds the book firmly in the Southern Gothic tradition and the sense that this young girl sits, physically and metaphorically, on top of hundreds of years of tradition and custom. The juxtaposing of Robin’s modern, pre-adbuction, life with the way she struggles to survive off the land when fending for herself highlights the nostalgia which colors our view of days long past. The sweat-soaked, dirt-scuffed nature of the narrative is what makes this a perfect summer reading book, even if you don’t have first-hand access to the humidity and late-afternoon sun of the American South.

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Check back next week for another post in our Summer Reading Series!

You’re Good With Me, Crows

This week in our Summer Reading Series Heath Simpson, Blair’s warehouse manager, talks about the bird life outside his window at work.

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IMG_1180This summer I read Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt about how the author enjoys watching urban wildlife in Seattle. Even in urban Winston-Salem, wild creatures are making lives for themselves. The crows outside my workplace know my name (in crow) and my face. Yesterday as I walked out to my car they had a lot to say and it was not happy talk. I wish I could say to them, “You’re good with me, crows.”

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The branches outside my window where the baby birds hang out.

 

But not when my other bird friends are raising their children nearby. Parent birds teach their babies to munch on berries right outside my window and two years ago I watched in horror as a crow almost snatched a young bird out of midair.

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The tree tops where the crows perch and scout out their prey.

So when baby birds and adult crows are visiting I might step outside (with attitude). I might stand in the middle of the road and glare at a crow at the top of a tree. I might take a yard stick outside. Crows notice odd activity. Crows get uncomfortable when humans take an interest in their snack choices. They aren’t happy but they move along…

…Maybe for a leftover chicken biscuit down the street at Bojangles.

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Check back next week for another entry in our Summer Reading Series and happy reading!

Being Best Friends with Brine Shrimp

This week in our Summer Reading Series, Trisina, Blair’s publicist, talks about her summers in Utah and the memorable scene in a book that finally brought her to tears.

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I imagine most teenagers spend the summer at the beach, frolicking in bathing suits, playing volleyball in the sand, and watching the sunset. My image of a typical teenage summer is very cliche.

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But not my summers. I grew up in Utah very pale and very . . .

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So the beach was off limits to me.

And I know what you’re thinking: I don’t know what she’s complaining about. Why didn’t she just swim in the Great Salt Lake? Right?

Uh, WRONG. I don’t know about you, but I think being intimate friends with brine shrimp is overrated. I’ll take the mountains over shrimp, seagulls, and salt water any day.

brine vs mtns

That meant I spent a lot of summers camping, hiking, and generally raising a ridge-line ruckus. It was great. But more than that, it was also a great place to catch up on some light summer reading, like Crime and Punishment.

51y0rkji55l-_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa300_sh20_ou01_I know, I know, I KNOW. If I had just read the stupid thing when I was supposed to, at the beginning of the summer, I could have spent the rest of the summer reading fun and whimsical things like Bridget Jones’s Diary. But I’m a procrastinator. I’ve accepted it. You should, too.

So. Crime and Punishment. Random House calls it the story of “an impoverished student living in a garret in the gloomy slums of St. Petersburg, [who] carries out his grotesque scheme [of murder] and plunges into a hell of persecution, madness and terror.” Not usually what you would think of as summer reading, but truth be told, I wasn’t that upset about it, even if I did procrastinate. That’s the glory of being a book nerd; you don’t really mind catching up on reading. 

Now, hand in hand with being a book nerd is crying. Book nerds love to talk about all the books that have made them cry, like somehow you really love books only if they make you sob.

And if you know me, you know that I’m a crier. A straight-up, soggy-eyed mess. The number of things that make me cry are endless: Sarah McLachlaninfused animal cruelty commercials, A River Runs Through It (obviously), marriage proposals, other people crying in front of me, King Kong (yes, the one with Jack Black), and hunger (so help you God if you stand between me and food).

Things that Make Me Cry

But here’s the thing. I don’t cry at books. I don’t know why. It’s not like I’m emotionally removed. I’m in it with the characters. I gasp and laugh in all the right places. But crying? Please. I’m an adult.

That said, here’s the caveat. I was 17 or 18, lounging about in a lawn chair, reading Crime and Punishment at our campsite when I got to Raskolnikov’s dream. In it, he’s a little boy walking through town with his father. When they pass the tavern, they see a skinny little mare hitched to a cart much too big for her. Raskolnikov and his father witness a crowd of drunks pile into the cart at the urging of the horse’s drunk owner. They all know that the horse won’t be able to pull the weight, but the owner is determined to make her carry them all at a gallop. He whips her despite all her trying, and several others join in. Raskolnikov is horrified and runs to the horse, trying to protect her. The whips catch him in the face, but he doesn’t feel it because he’s so upset. Eventually, the owner beats the horse to death with a crowbar, and Raskolnikov is powerless to stop it. “The poor boy, beside himself, made his way, screaming, through the crowd to the sorrel nag, put his arms round her bleeding dead head and kissed it, kissed the eyes and kissed the lips.”

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From “New Girl”

And that, my friends, is my most memorable summer reading experience. Bawling, while camping, about a horse that died in a dream I didn’t even have. Even now, I’m still a bit of a mess about it.

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From “How I Met Your Mother”

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Check back next week for another post in our Summer Reading Series. Happy reading!

The Three B’s of Summer: Beaches, Books, and Baseball

This week in our Summer Reading Series we hear from Artie Sparrow, Blair’s office manager, about the benefits of a beach house’s borrowed library.

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One of the things I like most about renting houses at the beach is that they come with personal libraries. The owners leave behind books for guests to enjoy when they’ve had their fill of the sun. I always try to find something I wouldn’t ordinarily read. When I’m on vacation, I like to get away mentally as well as physically.

All roads lead to the shore.

In the summer of 2008, my wife and I rented a cottage in Duck, N.C. It had a paperback copy of The Bronx Zoo, Sparky Lyle’s diary of the 1978 New York Yankees’ season. I’m not much of a baseball fan. I’m biased against it because the sport requires hand-eye coordination I don’t have. It also conflicts with my short attention span. My fandom is limited to hating the Yankees, since my parents met when they were both living in Boston. But I did think the Yankees of that era were interesting, mostly because of the famously contentious relationship between owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin.  (For more on that see this classic Miller Lite commercial.)

Artie shows off his OBRX pride.

The Bronx Zoo is a perfect summer read. It’s thought provoking and well written, but it doesn’t strain the brain. Lyle’s 1978 season was tumultuous. In 1977, he won the Cy Young Award for being the best pitcher in the American League and the Yankees won the World Series. Steinbrenner went out and signed Goose Gossage, another relief pitcher, to compete with Lyle. It was the sort of thing Steinbrenner did that made him beloved by some Yankee fans and despised by everyone else. Instead of rewarding a player for a good season, he signed someone else to take his job. His players put up with it because he paid more than any other owner.

Mixed in with the musings about money and job security are entertaining tales of what it was like to be a major-league baseball player in the 1970s. The book didn’t turn me into a Yankees fan, but at least it humanized the team’s players. They weren’t all storm troopers. Some were decent guys just trying to get through life with as little physical and mental damage as possible.

Tigger lounges on the beach house deck.

Thirty-five years ago this week, the Yankees were about 12 games behind the Red Sox in the standings. Thanks to that beach cottage in Duck, I now know how they came back. I also no longer use Bucky Dent’s unofficial middle name, on the rare occasions when I think about him.

One more thing I like about beach cottage libraries: most of the ones in North Carolina have one or more of the Judge Whedbee ghost-story books.

I’m not a big fan of ghost stories, but his are highly entertaining. Really.

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Check in next week for another post in our Summer Reading Series from Blair staffers.

The Truth About Camp Yonahlossee, From a Chief of the Tuscaroras

This week in our Summer Reading Series Blair’s president Carolyn Sakowski talks about the book that took her back to her summer camp days.

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IMG_1090In January 2012, the buzz in the book industry was about a first novel auctioned for a rumored seven-figure deal. Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani had to be about my beloved Camp Yonahlossee in the mountains of North Carolina, where my sister and I, as well as our mother before us, had gone. From 1961 to 1964, I spent most of each summer there.

IMG_1086When Publishers Weekly announced Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls as one of the “most anticipated books of Spring 2013,” I knew it was going to be on my summer reading list. The book’s jacket copy says, “It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy . . . Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes.” I loved that “Southern debutantes” part.

DiSclafani keeps readers wondering exactly what Thea has done to deserve her exile. Since Thea has been raised on an orange-grove plantation without knowing any girls her age, her discovery of female friendship is one of the book’s strongest themes.

KioskHowever, I suspect other Yonahlosee alums will be as slightly disappointed as I was. I know DiSclafani has gone to great lengths in media interviews and personal appearances to say the camp in her book is nothing like the real Yonahlosee (which closed in the 1980s), but I still yearned for a book that would capture the magic of the close relationships we developed during those summers together.

Susan Kelly’s article “Camp Days” in the June issue of Our State magazine actually fulfilled more of my need for a dose of nostalgia. You can tell Susan really went to Camp Yonahlossee.

In the ringThere really was horseback riding at Yonahlossee, and I did partake, but it wasn’t the core of my camp experience. Whereas Susan Kelly gravitated to the crafts cabin, I was one of the girls who “swam endless laps in the pool’s frigid water in order to earn the privilege of Going to the Lake for four days and nights to ski and motorboat.”  I also got to be a pretty darn good shot with a rifle—and a bow and arrow, long before high-tech bows and Katniss Everdeen came on the scene.

on the water frontI must admit that, after that extra glass of wine, I can also throw back my head, “lift my arms to the heavens and intone in an eerie sing-song, Wa ah ta ho, maui ta la no.” Having been chief of the Tuscaroras, I, too, know the secrets of the echo and the bonfire—and I know all the words to “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

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Check back next week for another installment of Blair’s Summer Reading Series.

My All-Time Favorite Summer Reading

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Steve Kirk, Editor Extraordinaire

This week in our Summer Reading Series Blair editor Steve Kirk talks about his favorite summer reading.

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I don’t remember the year, but I remember the setting: our back porch, off the garage, where no one would bother me. The bugs were so bad at night that I left the lights off and read as far into darkness as my eyes could stand.

And I certainly remember the author: Robb White, a former World War II pilot who also served on battleships, submarines, and aircraft carriers. His daughter, June, became a popular author and NPR commentator, going by the name of Bailey White.

Up PeriscopeAnd the books: Up Periscope and Silent Ship, Silent Sea especially, but whatever others our small-town library had, too. Robb White was the first author I went looking for by name. A prolific writer for the big screen, TV, and major magazines, he also wrote memoirs and even wrote as a woman for True Stories. But he is best known for his war-in-the-Pacific adventure novels for boys, and I was exactly his target audience. To this day, no author has ever met my need so perfectly.

Unless it was James Herriot a couple of summers later.

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Steve is also the author of First Flight: The Wright Brothers in North Carolina and Scribblers: Stalking the Authors of Appalachia. Stay tuned to hear more about the Blair staffers’ favorite summer reading memories!

Choosing the Perfect Summer Reads

This week in our Summer Reading Series we hear from our summer intern Catherine on her method for picking beach reading material.

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Enjoying my library pick on the beach.

Some of my earliest memories of summer reading include going to the library to pick out books for my family’s annual beach trip. Every year, a week before the trip, my mom would take me to Braswell Memorial Library and we would spend a few hours sorting through the shelves. I had a particular method that I found successful; unfortunately it was not very time-efficient. Since I was always told to never judge a book by its cover, I decided it was best to judge one by its spine. I scrutinized title, font, coloring, and any other designs. I would scan a bookshelf and pick out two or three interesting spines and continue the process throughout several sections of the library. I took pride and pleasure in picking out my summer reads.

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My bookshelf.

While my method overlooked many fantastic books, I can count on one hand the number of times I ended up with a dud. I was so eager to dive into my temporary stash that I would begin reading as soon as we left the library. This resulted in my mom taking away all but one book before the trip in fear I would be left bookless during a five-hour car ride. I’m not sure who this benefited more. We continued this tradition for years. I found so much pleasure in the success of my “spine method” and hand-picking books to feed my curiosity and imagination. Of course, as we grow older we start to doubt ourselves. Later I began consulting “book lists” instead of trusting my own judgment. For a period of time summer reading became more of a challenge than a vacation.

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Taking cues from classmates’ reading choices.

After starting college I realized I hadn’t read as many of the “classics” and I felt bookshelves away from my classmates’ ability to connect various works of literature. I turned summer reading into a methodical list instead of continuing to rely on my “spine method”. I consulted countless “Top Tens” and took summer reading from being purely delightful to being a tedious task. I realized I had a problem when I had to put down Gravity’s Rainbow for the fourth time.  My mom asked why I kept tackling it when I could never read past eighty pages. Although it resides on the top of someone’s list as the book with the best opening line, it rests on the bottom of my bookshelf in hopes of one day being completed.

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My current summer selections.

Since then, I have tried combining my two methods. I still consult websites proclaiming a list of books as must-reads or greatest of all time, but now I reincorporate my own judgment of what makes a good book. I have loved exploring classic “Brit lit” but also learning more about my own North Carolina roots. This summer, I am fortunate enough to read several Blair titles while simultaneously reading a few from some designated list. I’m currently digging into Met Her on the Mountain and chopping away at Vanity Fair. Although both are quite different, they each create a completely foreign world for a quick summer escape.

Stay tuned for more from Blair staffers about their summer reading!

Launching Blair’s Summer Reading Series: Harry Potter and the Relaxation of Rereading

Summer is here and it’s the perfect time to indulge in a good book, whether on a beach, hammock, porch, or inside for a lazy afternoon. To celebrate summertime Blair staffers will be sharing some of our favorite summer reading stories throughout the next two months. This week I kick off the blog series with a post about the reread books that remind me of summer.

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One of the many knickknacks that my boyfriend is coming to terms with (though he had no issue with the Ninja Turtles).

You should know that I love Harry Potter. The character, the books, the merchandise, the candy. I love it all. A number of things throughout any given day will remind me of Harry Potter and make me think of a certain scene or spell. Cassettes of the audiobooks line the floor of my car and there are certain phrases that I can only think in the manner voiced by Jim Dale.

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My jams.

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To determine the family’s biggest HP fan.

For three years in a row, and then every other year, summer brought the anticipated release of the latest Harry Potter book. My siblings and I not only bought and devoured the books immediately, but lost ourselves in the minutiae of this imaginary world. We played Harry Potter trivia. We discussed character motives and plot devices. We had hypothetical discussions about theories of magic. Basically, we were pretty cool.

Though we always hurried to read through the books in those first weekends of release, the enjoyment of the books continues to this day. Now when I reread Harry Potter I slip into a satisfying feeling of familiar comfort, escaping to this literary world that I know so well. I find few things as relaxing as rereading Harry Potter and this relaxation, whether it is March, June, or December, envelopes me in an aura reminiscent of those carefree summer days tinged with the excitement of reveling in a new book.

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My brother and I honing our reading skills in preparation for the Harry Potter release weekends.

Let us know what books you are excited about reading this summer and look out for more posts from Blair staffers in our Summer Reading blog series.  Happy Reading!