Megan Abbott is the Edgar award-winning author of the crime novels Queenpin, The Song Is You, Die a Little and Bury Me Deep. Her writing has appeared in Wall Street Noir, Detroit Noir, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year, Phoenix Noir, Storyglossia, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Believer, Queens Noir and L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories.
This week marks the publication of her new novel, The End of Everything, the story of a 13-year-old girl in the 1980s suburbs whose best friend disappears.
The Book Reads You
by Megan Abbott
I always associate summer with the freest reading of all. I was an avid reader as a kid, and never limited myself to “official school books,” but there was always something liberating about the kind of reading you could do in the summer, books you could take to the community pool, curl up in your beach bag, leave on the picnic table, tuck in the thick burlap bag I used to fling over my bike for my summer newspaper delivery route. I remember epic, punishing car trips to Ocean City, New Jersey, my brother and I in the backseat, swapping from a stack of Archie comic books when were very little, graduating eventually to fat biographies—especially mass market tales of moviestars and the Kennedy dynasty.
Sometimes, summers meant returning to well-worn favorites, Lois Duncan’s Stranger with My Face, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and Judy Blume’s Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, which was set in the 1940s, my most favored era, even then. I still remember its strange cover, a collage of braided, gaptooted Sally, Esther Williams in a sarong and ….Adolph Hitler. Often, though, summer meant digging through the humid depths of used bookstores with my parents, hands clamping over the blaring, blood-lettered covers of true crime books by Ann Rule and Shana Alexander.
Later, in high school and college, I would usually tear open the first book of the summer at the peak of finals, needing its escape, so it would usually be an enormous, engaging, intensely readable tome, like John Irving’s Hotel New Hampshire or any of a number of Joyce Carol Oates books. I remember one late June beginning Executioner’s Song on a Friday evening and barely looking up until Sunday. These books seem somehow to know us. To know what captivates, moves and enthralls us. It’s like hypnosis. You succumb and only wake up when the book decides to release you.
Somewhere along the way, though, I lost this sense of summer books. In large part through spending so long in graduate school, reading books for my own studies, or later reading the books I was teaching for a course, or later still reading mostly as research for one of my own books. Mostly, my reading is consistent year-round and feels very orderly. I’ve lost that sense of abandon. That immersive summer reading experience seems to have drifted away.
But this summer I vow it will be different. I’m going to devote myself to true summer reading. To that deeply pleasurable experience of surrendering myself to a very long book chosen utterly for pleasure and barely taking a breath until I’m finished. Stopping my life and letting it sink into me. Maybe a phonebook-thick book I’ve read before and have no excuse at all to read again other than that it’s a place I want to revisit, a past self with whom I’d like to acquaint myself again. Or maybe something I can’t even guess, found at the bottom of the stack at the “to be shelved” pile at the Strand, tucked in a corner shelf at Oxford's Square Books, it sits there, waiting for me.