My father used to say that summer was over after the 4th of July. (We lived in Duluth, so he might have been right.) But I think of July as the one true summery month. School's out; the sky is light until after 9 p.m.; the sun is too fierce and too hot for vigorous exercise, especially for those of us who are looking for a reason to avoid vigorous exercise. Far better to spend those long, slow days on the porch, reading under a lazy ceiling fan. July is the heart of summer, and the heart of summer reading.
This, of course, raises the question of what constitutes summer reading. Beach books? Chick lit? Paperback mysteries you can leave behind in the cabin after vacation?
Or maybe summer is the time to delve into those thick, difficult books that require deep concentration and dense blocks of time: "Moby-Dick." "Anna Karenina." Anything by Dickens (except the Christmas-y stuff).
For me, summer is the time to catch up on the great books of last winter. In my peculiar job as books editor, I read the first few pages of dozens of books every day as I go through the mail and decide what to have reviewed, but many of the books that I choose I never read in full — instead, I send them off to my critics and then turn to the next day's mail, the next day's hundred books.
In the summer, though, there's light and there's time. And so I have looked back to last year and finally read "The Good Lord Bird," James McBride's funny novel about John Brown, which won a National Book Award. I read "Beautiful Ruins," by Jess Walter, "A Tale for the Time Being," by Ruth Ozeki, and "Life After Life," by Kate Atkinson. All of those would have made my best-books-of-2013 list — had I managed to read them in 2013.
The important thing is I'm catching up, even as the books for winter pour into my book room. So, I say, the best summer reading is just any good book. What do you say?
• "Candyland in the Twin Cities," by Susan Barbieri, has been published by the History Press. She'll read at 7 p.m. July 24 at Common Good Books in St. Paul.
• "Seventy-Five Years of the Minneapolis Aquatennial," a tribute in photos and words by Pam Albinson, with an introduction by columnist Barbara Flanagan, has been published by Nodin Press. Albinson was Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes in 1962, and she'll autograph the book — along with other past queens — at 1 p.m. July 20 at the Hennepin History Museum, 2303 3rd Av. S., Mpls.