volume two, chapter four
The long days of summer have arrived. And with it the sweet pleasure of turning the pages of a book, your fingers staining the thin paper with just-eaten fish and chips, the sun high and tide low and lazy.
Afternoons stretch out in front of you like a picnic and the words that have waited all year to find you do — lying on a sea-soaked towel or swaying gently in a hammock, you surrender to idleness, in your own world where you are finally alone with your summer read.
Below, you will find five writers from the UBC Creative Writing program who take us back to a summer in their past and the book that made an impression on them. Read and listen as they take you back in time and don&rsuqo;t miss their recommendations for what should be on your summer reading list this year.
by Alison Acheson
I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith) one summer in my late twenties, and the story and characters won’t let me go. Written in 1943, its depiction of poverty, resilience, and growing up in an urban world haunts. I’ve come to see it as my first “young adult” read. When I was a teen there was no such label. If the book were published now, marketing people would slip it into that category. And as such, it holds the bar high, and is what I expect from a solid YA read: rich characters to mull over, a setting that becomes an equal character, and details that cause me to stumble into the place and walk it.
The passage about the Nolan family coffee ritual is one that as I re-read, I realize I’ve carried this image and action in my mind. We don’t speak of living without money — generally. Is this because where published writers come from has changed? Or what we speak of? The 40s were different times. But in my 20s in particular, I could identify with the panic that Francie feels about her life, and the brave evocation of it inspires me. Smith honours her characters in finding their words.
Incidentally, ‘the tree’ is an imported species, now considered invasive in NYC and elsewhere. But I open to any page and am transported to its shade and wind in leaves and the fire escape where Francie Nolan sits to read and leave behind her world. Fiction should transport, provoke, inspire, challenge. As Wm. Steig said, “Wonder is respect for life.” A Tree has a solid dose of ‘wonder’.
Recommended Summer Reads
I open to any page and am transported to its shade and wind in leaves and the fire escape where Francie Nolan sits to read and leave behind her world.
Thank you to our co-creators who generously took time away from their teaching and writing to contribute to this story: Alison Acheson, Amber Dawn, Kevin Chong, Susan Musgrave and Timothy Taylor.
A distinct and special thank you to Annabel Lyon who helped make this story possible and Steven Galloway for letting us film in his office and turn off his fish tank for short periods of time while doing so.
More information on the UBC Creative Writing department and its programs.
Story team: UBC Communications and Marketing — Margaret Doyle, Digital Storyteller; Michael Kam, Web Developer/Coordinator; Lina Kang, Web Coordinator; Justin Lee, Video Production Assistant; Adrian Liem, Senior Web Coordinator; Jamil Rhajiak, Communications Coordinator, Digital Information Channels; Aida Viziru, Web Interaction Designer.
Published: July 2015