Sunday, June 29, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Summertime

It's summer - ice tea and okra and catfish and peaches and cherries; air like a blanket until the storm pushes through; yards that turn into jungles overnight; zucchini too small to harvest one morning and as big as your leg the next; empty streets, or gridlock on the way to the lake, the beach, the shade; chlorine and cocoa butter and stacks of books and music that you barely notice but which will, when heard next winter, suddenly flash sunlight behind your eyes -

Let's have a summer book.

Not one about a real summer, mind. One about the ideal of summer. About freedom: exploring and creating and testing your limits, about learning what you want to learn the way you want to learn it, without teachers or parents riding you. About friends who don't have to be perfect but who are at least on the same page as you, with roughly the same goals and either a general agreement about how to accomplish them, or an alternative method that can compete in a friendly fashion. Lupe thinks her method of training the dog is best; Leti thinks hers is - well, both girls have dogs and let's find out. The twins both wanted a canoe and they got one, so they take it out every day and take turns being captain and deciding the agenda and doing all the planning for their trips of discovery and recreation.

Or, the starship's going to take three months to reach the outpost Mom's been stationed to, and this is a well-honed routine; the kids can be safely turned loose to explore, happens every trip, the ship's crew is used to it and the ship was designed so parents wouldn't have to worry about their kids (but oh, something is different this trip; this is the trip when the Big Thing happens and only the kids have the information necessary to figure out what's going on...)

Or, the grownups are off doing their thing, working, and the kids persuade them that they don't have to go to that stupid daycare place this year, they can stay home alone during the day and they'll even keep the house nice. And the strategy for keeping the house nice is, to never be in it - to go all the places they've wanted to go but never can because the grownups are too busy to take them, or in some cases don't even think it's a good place to go, and get home every day to be clean and smiling and uninjured with supper started when the folks get home, none the wiser. They have to cut it close a few times, and then there's this Complication that arises, the person they meet or the information they uncover which they know the grownups would make them leave alone, but they can't. It wouldn't be right.

Genre as generally conceived by book publishers is irrelevant. This is about atmosphere and a particular intellectual/emotional opennes. The term "beach read" has come to mean a particular kind of potboiler; the books I'm thinking of aren't potboilers, but they are good to read on the beach; and they make you want to get up and do things once you finish the chapter.

Swallows and Amazons, Treasure Island, and all the Stratemeyer syndicate books ever written are summer books. Lots of Diana Wynne Jones's books are, too, even many of the completely unrelaxed ones dealing with big stakes, like Eight Days of Luke. The reader is relaxing; the characters need not be. The characters can be as busy as corporate lawyers, even struggling for survival like Brian in the Hatchet books. But they must be competent or become so, they must have perfect liberty within the framework of the setting, and they must be fun to read about with a big bag of potato chips and a cold drink.

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