Summer and books are always a natural combination

August 13, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

AS I RETURNED a mystery novel to my little neighborhood reading room, the Village Learning Place, the other day, I thought about the Augusts of my childhood. Teachers preached the value of summer reading, which, in a way, we revered.

But like all assignments, given three months to complete, the real work gets done at the end. So, as Labor Day loomed, my mother rounded up her children and we were off for a walk to what was then the Enoch Pratt's Branch 6 on St. Paul Street. The trick there was getting a book recommended by the librarian. This was a process much like being fitted for school uniforms. We trusted the librarian's picks and, in retrospect, I recall never getting a stinker.

The 1896 Pratt branch library buildings, with their oak shelves and desks and pointed roofs, are all about the architecture of reading. I associate these places with sensible, hardbound library editions of books, solidly bound, large type, often in versions that bear no resemblance to the cheesy (but costly paperback) versions sold at book retailers.

I also like reading a book covered in indestructible plastic covers that preserve the dust jacket's original artwork. After all, reading is all about imagination. It's fun to see how an artist conceives and depicts the story contained therein.

I often associated a hot Baltimore summer and its long days with a trip to the library. Yes, it could be a task too, with rules and hours to be observed. But nothing worthwhile comes without a price. I think back to my mother rounding up her six children and marching us to the local Pratt. I guess she could have sloughed that one off, but she herself liked reading too much.

Liked is the wrong word. The printed word was never far from her side, along with a pair of reading glasses, a strong lamp, matches and a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes.

It's taken me a while to appreciate fully the pleasures of a good, long read. Over this current hot summer, with its many rainy days, I've reconnected with the current generation of librarians. In the process, I've had a great time.

I can think of no better way to attack a new book than to have it accompanied by foul weather. Reading weather, as I define it, is when a day is so wretched, all you want to do is stay inside.

There was one bleak Saturday this past month when it was hot and humid, then the heavens opened. During a slight break in this mess, I darted out and picked up another work by the same mystery writer.

On this miserable afternoon, I decided to do nothing else but sit and read. The weather deteriorated as the day wore on, and as the bodies in the novel were piling up, the weather cooperated nicely with a show of dazzlingly brilliant lightning and violent thunder. It was far better than going to the movies.

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