Looking for your big summer read? Then look no further than Marissa Stapley's Mating for Life, an absorbing novel of tangled family ties, with a Joni Mitchell soundtrack and a perfect cottage setting. It's a novel in which characters get up to their own summer reads, characters perching on the ends of their docks, paperbacks in hand. It's a ritual that Stapley knows something about, as she tells us here, sharing her own favourite setting for summer reading and some books that would make for great reading there.
Every July we rent a cottage in Muskoka. It’s a place my husband and I have been visiting since before we were married, and it’s the place I modeled the cottage in Mating for Life after. There are many ideal reading spots here, but my favourite is the end of the dock. (I sometimes imagine I’ll look up and over at the dock next door and my character Laurence will be sitting there, reading Junky, by William Burroughs.)
I know there are many other beautiful places in the world, but none touch me quite the way this property does. It feels accessible, like I belong in it, like I don’t have to leave it to go home because I already am home. Also, being Canadian, I understand how important it is to savour these moments of warmth under the sun. Too soon, we’ll be visiting the same lake and skating on frozen water, warming our hands by the fire, reading indoors rather than out.
I recently finished Friend of My Youth, by Alice Munro. I mentioned it to a friend, who sent me an old Entertainment Weekly review of the book (it was published in 1990) that said, “Sexual Secrets of the Canadians could have been the title of this collection of absorbing, beautifully written stories” because “it would have the advantage of stunning all those Americans who believe that Canadians don't have sex.” This made me laugh: I didn’t realize there were Americans who believed we didn’t have sex. Either way, Munro taps into concealed longings and strange desires with this collection, which makes it the perfect read for when you’re already feeling a little bit hot.
In a similar vein of subversively sexy CanLit, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin has everything: intrigue, sex, romance, politics—and science fiction. Plus, it’s full of those staggeringly great Atwood sentences that require the luxury of time to absorb. (Sentences like, “Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence.” Or, “The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date.”) The Blind Assassin also feels to me like a love note to a Toronto that no longer exists. I enjoy reflecting on my city when I’m taking a break from it.
Grace O’Connell’s Magnified World is also filled with the nameless longing I associate with summer, as well as expertly rendered glimpses of a Toronto that is familiar and mysterious at the same time.
The novel I’m saving for this summer’s lakeside reading sessions is The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, by Heather O’Neill. It’s set in Montreal, a city I’m looking forward to becoming more acquainted with while beside a northern lake far from city life of any kind.
Marissa Stapley is a writer and former magazine editor who contributes to Elle, The Globe and Mail, and The National Post, among others. She also teaches writing at the University of Toronto and editing at Centennial College. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two young children.
With an Introduction by Bonnie Burnard
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