When I was a kid, summer guaranteed two things in my mind: that there would be absolutely no school and that there would be some sort of trip, which meant I would be spending an inordinate amount of time with my family in a car. We weren’t the type of people who hopped a flight to Florida or Hawaii for a summer vacation; we visited cousins in Northern California or hauled a tent to Lake Tahoe — both trips were close to a 12-hour drive (one-way).
And while summer guaranteed a never-ending ride in the backseat of a car that was sure to overheat while we tried to climb the Grapevine, the car ride guaranteed that there would be a couple of really good books. Before we left town, my mom would cart my brother and I off to either a bookstore or the library. Our mission? To pick two sufficiently lengthy books — one for my mom to read on the ride to our summer vacation destination and the other for her to read on the way back.
The best choices we ever made were probably James and the Giant Peach, the Redwall series and The Indian in the Cupboard. We didn’t have Game Boys or cell phones, but we had my mom in the front seat — all she needed was a little Diet Coke and, boy, she could read for hours. This wasn’t your average reading either; when my mom read, it was a true Broadway-caliber performance. When we cruised through Charlotte’s Web for the 18th time (it was a family favorite), Charlotte, Wilbur and Pendleton all had their own voices. Charlotte’s was whispery and soothing (perfect for a maternal spider); Pendleton’s was appropriately nasal for a rat and Wilbur’s was excited and just a little goofy. The hours flew by in a flash.
I remember my dad trying to pretend he didn’t care what happened to all those bugs and James as they floated over the sea in their gigantic, hollowed out peach. He could play it cool … until my mom tried to take a break. In an unofficial study, we found that after three hours of straight reading, she would fatigue ever so slightly. But when she tried to stop, my dad would give her a sideways glance, both hands firmly on the steering wheel as we cruised up Interstate 5 approaching 90 mph, and ask casually, “You aren’t going to stop there are you?”
So when summer rolls around these days, I don’t necessarily long for those interminable car trips, but I do long for the good books. And, perhaps I’m not shopping in the children’s section anymore, but I’m looking for the same thing I was looking for when I was 7: a good cover (I’m shameless) and a story that grabs me and makes 12 hours feel like minutes.