REQUIRED READING Books, books and more books are the stuff of a bibliophile's summer-vacation dreams


I have this fantasy: In the back of my house is a flagstone patio, deeply shaded but enclosed by a sunny, aromatic garden where small songbirds quietly fill in the hushed background.

My patio has deep, soft chairs; the table where I have breakfast, lunch and dinner is low and long, ample enough for a handful of guests but cozy enough for two. I spend my summer here, content, peaceful -- reading, sipping sweet, minted iced tea, reading some more. Someone else answers the phones, tends the kids; I read and sit and read, uninterrupted.

I want a summer that is really summer, not just a vacation from the rest of the year. I want the summer that school kids have, endless. A summer where time is taken for granted, gloriously wasted.

During the part of the year that isn't summer I will cultivate my reading list. Books will pile up on my desk, eventually overflowing onto the floor, reminding me in the long, dead days when my kid's school is closed because of last night's ice storm that a future, better life lies ahead.

In my piles will be the books of Provence by Peter Mayle, to be read in June and July while I'm sipping chilled glasses of Lillet and nibbling small pickles and cheese. I will stay in France for a while, reading Henry James' travel journals, his letters to Edith Wharton; while I'm at it: anything James has written.

During days of cool or rain, when my stamina is not sapped by summer's heat, I will read things that the concentration of my regular life doesn't allow -- Foucault and Barthes and "Ulysses" by Joyce. (In my fantasy summer I will have the patience to sift through these; my eyes will not once become heavy, since I am forever rested.)

Classics will be there, too -- the ones I "should" know but don't, the ones I used to know but don't remember. I will enter ancient worlds, led by Edith Hamilton and Bulfinch. Proust and Dostoevski and Balzac will remind me once again why their words have stood the test of time. I will read Trollope to see why he's so popular, and Nabokov for his insistence on pumping out the dimensions of human emotions. These old works will nourish me, like the good summer vegetables I will nibble while reading.

Maybe I will pull out "A History of Private Life" and read about the toilet habits of people long ago. Or the Durants' epic "The Story of Civilization." Maybe, if I want to, I'll just look at the pictures and say I've read them.

And then, when it is August and I am gasping for breath even under my deeply shaded sanctuary, I will read things that are not good for me: Judith Krantz and Sidney Sheldon, tales of people's lives that prove our world is beyond redemption. I'll take up Anne Rice, too, devouring her books by moonlight with the summer's warmth around me. I will share these adventures with no one, leave no tracks. Only the occasional guest who snoops among the stacks of my treasures will know my secrets.

Slowly, quickly, August will fade and the world will return. My children will need new shoes and clothing and nurturing. My house will be in decay, requiring reinforcements against the winds of another winter. My husband, too, will have needs. Even the cat, who has spent the summer curled at my feet waiting for birds to alight among the berry bushes, will need shots and other cat things.

And thus my fantasy summer ends, abruptly, as if it were too good to be true.

( Which, of course, it is.

JANNA BIALEK is a free-lance writer living in Baltimore.

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