Vacations are a great time to get away and see the sights, but it’s also a great time to slow down and catch-up on the latest reads your favorite author has penned; re-read a tome you adored the first time; or discover the tales of a new writer.
To follow is my list of ten books to read this summer and where to read them during your visit to the nation’s capital.
- The Reed of God by Caryll HouseLander. This is a spiritual and easy-to-read classic about the Virgin Mary. Houselander strings together her pearls of prose and poetry when considering the human side of Mary. What I like: Houselander is not overly didactic. Her lyrical writing style is contemplative but not overbearing. Take it along with you when you tour The Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and find a quiet and reflective spot amid the beautiful and sacred art to read it (not during Mass though).
- Paradise Lost by John Milton. This epic blank verse poem, often considered the greatest poem in the English literature canon, detail man’s creation and fall. What I like: Milton’s incredible imagery and his hubris that he alone can “justify the ways of God to man.” The perfect place to enjoy Paradise Lost is at the National Botanic Gardens, DC’s own garden of paradise located at the foot of the US Capitol. You can sit outside underneath an umbrella in the courtyard or inside the greenhouse on a bench in one of the many themed gardens.
- William Makepeace Thackery’s Vanity Fair: A Novel Without A Hero. Vanity Fair is a must read classic. Its main character, Becky Sharp, is a social climber and Thackery does a brilliant job of poking fun at both society’s wealthy and society’s wannabe wealthy. Thackery asks the following question: “Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?” What I like: Thackery’s wit and that of his characters will keep you in stitches as you read this commentary on human society. This is the perfect book to read while sipping a latte at the swanky and posh Café du Parc at the Willard Hotel.
- Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate. Bate has taken a creative approach to exploring William Shakespeare’s life by using the Seven Ages of Man speech from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. What I like: Bates does a wonderful job of tying together Shakespeare’s life with his literary works. Shakespeare scholars and fans will enjoy grabbing an iced coffee and reading this book at the Folger’s Elizabethan Garden just outside Folger’s Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill.
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Download Team of Rivals to your Kindle and find a spot on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for this page turner. What I like: Goodwin does an outstanding job of explaining the relationship Lincoln had with three members of his Cabinet--William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates all of whom sought the nomination for the seat of the presidency and lost it to Lincoln—and how Lincoln’s unique ability to unite his rivals politically paralleled Lincoln’s skill to unite the nation and save the union.
- The Curious Garden. Written and illustrated by Peter Brown. Young children will adore this story of a little boy named Liam who finds a struggling garden and decides to care for it. What I like: It is filled with environmental themes and the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden is the perfect place to read it with the kiddos on a bench in front of the fountain. After, the children can explore the grounds and pretend they’re the keepers of the grounds.
- Fragonard's Allegories of Love (Getty Museum Studies on Art) by Andrei Molotiu. If you are a fan of Jean-Honore Fragonard you will love this book that takes a look at his works called the Allegories of Love, including the J. Paul Getty Museum’s masterpiece, The Fountain of Love, that offer a glimpse into intimately romantic moments of love. What I like: The illustrations are decadent to look at and the author gives the reader a unique prospective about love on the eve of the French Revolution. Take this one to the National Gallery of Art and find Fragonard’s Swing and Blind Man’s Bluff on the West Ground Floor Gallery 42B. There are benches in this room to sit and get lost in Fragonard.
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Three women are inspired to do something extraordinary—start a Civil Rights movement of their own that will change their town and their own self-worth. What I like: Stockett does a really nice job of depicting the town’s struggle with racial issues. Her main character Skeeter who is fresh and starry-eyed from college, conducts a series of interviews with black maids and its their stories, while fictional and tempered with humor, that are truly compelling. This is the perfect book to read while relaxing on a bench on the National Mall.
- The Collected Poems of William B Yeats. Yeats’ Second Coming boasts some of his most violent imagery juxtaposed to The Lake Isle of Innsfree which is ethereal and hypnotic. What I like: Yeats is simply a beautiful poet. In fact I will go as far as to say that Yeats is one of, if not, the best poets to come out of the Emerald Isle. Bring a book of his poetry to Theodore Roosevelt Island where you can sit in tranquility and read in a wooded area by a fountain dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt.
- Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Head over to the Dubliner, (Number 4 "F" Street, Washington, D.C. 20001; 202-737-3773 an Irish pub on Capitol Hill, ask for an outdoor table, order up a Guinness or a Harp and the famous Beef O’Flaherty. What I like: This is probably Joyce’s most accessible work of literature that gives readers a glimpse into the intellectual and religious awakening of the author through his character Stephen Daedalus.