Tomes Against the Tides by
(194 Stories)

Prompted By Beach Reads

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Beaches weren’t the natural places for me to read, avid reader though I was and am. As a child at the Jersey shore, I was too busy swimming in the ocean, and playing miniature golf, cards, or Monopoly with my family. In northern California, the beaches are beautiful but not conducive to sitting with a book. Often windy, normally cool, they are better suited for long walks and looking at the wild surf.

I'll never forget the syllabus for that summer Russian literature class, which included War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, plus some stories by Pushkin, Gogol, and Chekov.

However, some summers lent themselves to reading, giving me extra time, often for longer, more serious books. My first recollection was the summer after I turned 10. I’d read everything in the children’s section of the Verona Library, but there were rules that kids couldn’t take out books from the adult section (I have no idea how old you had to be to be considered an adult). So, my mother, bless her, wrote a note to the librarian giving me permission to have the run of the entire library. I took out Gone with the Wind and read it that summer. Likely I didn’t get all the nuances, but I certainly enjoyed it and remember it.

Summers during high school were similar. At some point after my junior year I read The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (in English). Later, after missing a semester of college during my move to California, I wanted to catch up with my original graduating class, so between my sophomore and junior year, I attended a six-week summer session at UC Berkeley. I took Russian literature and Japanese history. I must have done reading for the Japanese history class, and I recall a lot about the Meiji period, but I don’t remember the reading. However, I’ll never forget the syllabus for that summer Russian literature class, which included War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, plus some stories by Pushkin, Gogol, and Chekov. I had read some of the material in a wonderful world literature class in high school, but still, with just six weeks to complete the reading, my eyes were bleary. I took a noontime folk dancing class to rest my eyes and clear my head!

When I started my own business in 1983, summers became one of my busier times, because I’d often fill in temporarily for people on vacation. I mainly stuck to mysteries and lighter reading. It really wasn’t until I retired that I had a full summer without a lot of obligations, and I picked up Possession by A.S. Byatt. This dense, 500+ page novel was well worth the month it took me to read, but I confess I haven’t been as ambitious since. There is still time this summer, so it’s back to the library to see what tomes await.

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I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: been there, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Great story, Marian! When I read what you wrote about the Verona Library it sounded so familiar that I think I may have had the same experience at the Belleville Library. I know I would never have been content reading the books from the children’s section.

    I’m impressed with your summer of Russian literature! That was certainly a lot to get through in six weeks! You must have been really motivated!

    I just googled Possession, to see what that was about. It sounds fascinating, and I am adding it to my list. If you liked that, you should read The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish, which has a similar structure of modern scholars researching ancient documents, and the two parallel stories that develop. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, although at almost 600 pages, I wouldn’t call it a beach read. Maybe a tidal tome.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Marian, I wonder how many of us read Gone with the Wind as our first “adult” book? Most likely, it was a female fascination. Two of my middle school age granddaughters are avid readers and, thankfully, there are now young adult novels for them to enjoy. Even then, there can be a conflict between what they are able to read and what they should be reading.

    • Marian says:

      Interesting about the popularity of GWTW, Laurie. In retrospect I am impressed by how liberal my mom was in terms of reading. Of course it was a more innocent era, so less potential harm.

  3. Russian – and Soviet – literature is a fond memory. I took courses in both. Certainly there is some very serious work, and it seems incongruous, at least to me, to put Russian/Soviet literature in the same breath. But I remember the stories were terrific stories, and most compelling. Thanks for refreshing my recollection!

    • Marian says:

      Indeed, that summer class clearly was Russian literature. Loved the Gogol and Chekov stories. One summer, when I was still in high school, I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and thought that Solzhenitsyn was at least as dour as Dostoevsky. Thanks for helping me remember it, Tom.

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