This is the Life: Reading for the season

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It felt like my summer had started in earnest once I had the latest James Lee Burke novel featuring Dave Robicheaux in my hands.

I have, for as long as I can remember, associated summer with reading. It’s odd, I know, considering that dark winter nights seem to provide so much extra time, but I’m not alone among the many who put aside books specifically for the summer time.

In the case of James Lee Burke, my passion for his writing goes back many years to a date when a librarian recommended his works to me through my son, who volunteered at the library as a youngster. Since 1987, Burke has written crime fiction novels featuring Dave Robicheaux, a Vietnam vet who is a police officer in a community near New Orleans. Robicheaux is a recovering alcoholic who fights his personal demons daily, often with less success than he has in ferreting out the bad guys in his jurisdiction. Best of all, though, is Burke’s use of language and his loving, florid descriptions of Louisiana geography and history — the novels in this series literally ooze with ambiance.

Picking up this latest novel, The Glass Rainbow, which was written last year, and noticing it had more than 500 pages, reminded me of my early teen years. For reasons still unknown to me I developed an enthusiasm for long books. For a couple of years I hardly read anything with fewer than 500 pages. I became a great fan of Irving Wallace and ploughed through tomes like The Man, The Prize and The Seven Minutes, savouring each, knowing that it wouldn’t end in a measly 300 pages. Arthur Hailey books, like Hotel and Airport, became favourites for the same reason.

One summer I made a great impression on my uncle, who had served in the navy and was a great reader of military books. He saw I was reading The Manhattan Project and was happy to engage in discussions about scientists like Robert Oppenheimer. I had chosen the book, in part, because it was thick.

In my teen years, there was nothing I liked to do better on a Saturday than hop on the bus and head for Calgary’s Hillhurst Book Store, a magnificent used bookshop on the corner of Kensington Road and 10th Street Northwest. I would spend hours moving through the stacks, making my selections with great care, which were in large part determined by the amount of cash in my pocket. In earlier years, our family had made Saturday excursions to the same area of town, where each of us walked out with armloads of books from the public library. It was a happy day when the librarian, aware of my voracious reading habits, invited me to take books from the adult section, which I was too young to borrow from, according to the rules of the day. There I discovered Zane Grey and a whole new world of reading opportunities.

Summers are perfect for reading multiple books by the same author. It’s always been a thrill to discover writers like Robert Parker, John D. McDonald, Nero Wolfe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sue Grafton, Robertson Davies, Leon Tolstoy, Somerset Maugham and Charles Dickens, then make my way through their works over a period of weeks and months. Recently I picked up the first Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich, who helpfully uses numbers in each of her title, allowing the reader to read them in sequence without referring to the bibliography on an inside page. Reading multiple books by the same author in the order they were written is my favoured approach, especially in the summertime.

I did outgrow, obviously, the need to read books only of a certain length. But I think my reading ability and habits were greatly enhanced by my teenage obsession. Reading is one of life’s great pleasures, one that has never grown stale with age.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.