Garn Books: Lemon Bars, Flamingos Dunking and Great Summer Reads

By Denny Taylor

I love lemon bars but I only eat them in summer … or when I want to pretend it’s summer – which is most of the year. You can find a whole lot about lemon bars in the New York Times.

It’s a great article. You can almost taste the lemony bars. But I like the lemon bars my mother made. Lizzy was a good cook and we often cooked together. We made lemon meringue pies and a “luscious lemon cake”– that’s what it was called. But it was her lemon bars that I loved. Lizzy never measured anything. She would shake dry ingredients into the bowl and take fists-full of others. I would watch and try to figure out the amount. There were lots of recipes with “a pinch”. Some pinches were bigger than others and some you just rubbed your thumb and index finger and with a flourish of the hand sprinkle the pinch into the mix. I still have visuals of my mother’s hands as she cooked. They were her measuring cups and spoons. And so rather than have you guessing I have found a Jamie Oliver recipe for lemon sorbet that is quintessentially a summer dessert that is absolutely delicious!

Where I live we have urban hawks and in the winter hawks often fly past when I am walking my dogs as they swoop to catch rats or pigeons. Sometimes they are so close to my head I feel the wind from their wings on my face as they fly by. But this only seems to happen in winter. Hawks remind me of cold climes. But flamingos? They remind us of summer don’t you think? I love flamingos – even the plastic one that people used to put on their front lawns! Perhaps they still do? Flamingos always increase the heat. It was positively balmy in my apartment when I looked at this Audubon video of Flamingos Dunking. Take a look.

Did you have a look? Did you stay on the site long enough to see the pink flamingos walking along the sand with the ocean lapping at the shore behind them.

Lemon bars and pink flamingos are just fine but it’s not summer without just the right book. Summer reads are different from winter reads. You can’t wrap yourself in the book when it is hot outside. In summer books I like to read as if the book is a breeze making it a cool experience whether I am in my apartment or sitting outside under a tree. Of course the book should still radiate heat — you want to feel the sun shining and it can be oppressively hot as long as a few paragraphs on there is a breeze or water. Definitely water.

Rosie’s Umbrella begins with Rosie Llywelyn walking home through the Boston Public Gardens and here’s the line that makes us feel hot: “Even though it was early summer, Boston was suffocating, smothered in damp Mississippi heat.” A few pages on we get to the water:

Ahead of her she could see great jets of cold water shooting onto the grass and masses of ducks swimming in a giant puddle that had spilled over onto the path. … Some college students, who had been lazing the afternoon away before the sprinklers came on scrambled to their feet, grabbing their notebooks.  …

One of the young men grabbed a young woman who was soaking wet and kissed her. Unclothed by the water, her T-shirt transparent, she laughed, pushing him away, and then, as if realizing he was covering up her nakedness, she grabbed his wet shirt and pulled him back, kissing him the way he had kissed her.

… Only a short time ago she would have stood there and watched, looking at the young woman’s body, thinking about her own, wondering if she had been grabbed like that would she have grabbed the guy back? She would have imagined what it would be like to be kissed like that, slurped up, wet with longing, but not today. …

Is it summer yet? Rosie’s Umbrella has been called “a moving meditation” and “a page-turner” – both seem important in a summer read. Personally, I like the comment by the Teen Reviewer for Readers Favorite, Kristen Van Kampen, who writes, “It is exciting from cover to cover and includes many scenes that made me gasp out loud. I was hooked by the first page, and I did not want to put the book down.”

Isn’t that what you want from a summer read? Geoff Ward’s You’re Not Dead: The Midnight Books Volume One has that effect on me. It’s hard not to feel the heat when you read the scenes in Death Valley, or to experience the eroticism in the pool scene that contrast so sharply with the oven hot experience of Death Valley. Here’re the scenes:

The desert is profoundly quiet. So insistently quiet, that the couple hushed, and Miles found himself turning the dial on the car radio to Off, out of deference. And it rolled around and over them, the redness. Deep, dry, red waves. At sundown, such creatures as can manage to live in this place begin to stir.

… By late spring, the rocks may be too hot to touch by mid-morning. In summer, this vast maw is strictly out of bounds, to all save those to whom the actively dangerous has become the only pleasure. …

Miles and Becky checked into the last pre-Badwater zone of civilization, the Vulcan’s Forge Inn. And, God Bless America, or Mars, wherever we are, they have a pool.

Under the stars, the only guests – at least the only humans out and about – they set down towels and sandals by the side of the 1930’s pool, and dropped into water that issued from hot springs beneath the rock.

Something growled in the parking lot. Full moon. And then she dropped like a stone, vanished, leaving bubbles at the surface and came up again, hair plastered down now, which made her mouth look even heavier and her dark eyes darker with a mercury pinpoint in the artificial light. Miles plunged down too, in deference and play, came up, and they started to swim.

The lemon sorbet comes with a recommendation of a shot of vodka or grappa. The pool scene with Becky and Miles is kind of cool but it heats up. Vodka on the sorbet might be just the thing for the next few pages of the book.

I had forgotten how breath-taking Geoff Ward’s novel is – or, if I had not forgotten, the experience of reading it again has made me remember the visceral impact the story has on me. John Ashbery, beloved American poet, writes, “Geoff Ward’s glitteringly funny and scary novel sends his hero Miles on a wild pursuit, through this world and the next … Like the object of his obsessive quest, You’re Not Dead is both supreme fiction and grail …”

Enjoy your summer reading. More great books to come!

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