Three Short Books to Read on the Patio


You say potato, I say patio. I am sipping a giant cappucchino and trying to stay warm on the patio. As the wind blows my hair and pierces my sweatshirt, I rummage through my bag for a light jacket. I would love to sit inside on a faux leather chair, but the coffeehouse is strictly to-go during the plague. Hence, we’re on the patio.

Patio life is, well, different. It demands a larger coffee and the kind of book you can dip in and out of easily. And that means shorter books, including poetry, comedy, and memoirs, of which I’ve recommended one of each.

So here are Three Short Patio Books I’m reading this November. And I’d love to hear your suggestions for patio-able books.

1 Gilgamesh. What is it about the name Gilgamesh that always filled me with boredom? Why did I never want to read the great Sumerian-Babylonian epic (the oldest poem in the world, so they say)?

But when there’s nothing else to read, this hero’s journey epic is surprisingly entertaining. Gilgamesh, the anti-hero king of Mespotamia, fights monsters with his friend Enkidu, and after Enkidu’s death takes a journey to find a man to tell him how to avoid death. I love Stephen Mitchell’s beautiful translation, and the poem itself is BLESSEDLY short. The introduction and notes take up most of the book.

Love it, embrace it, and hasten to the patio!

2 An Academic Question by Barbara Pym. This posthumously published novel, edited by Hazel Holt, is comical and appealing, yet has a different tone from Pym’s other novels. For one thing, there are no vicars. I do kind of miss them. But it is very enjoyable without them.

The narrator, Caro, a faculty wife, does not much like university life. Her husband Alan wants her to get a job, but she shudders at the thought of working in a library, as a singularly unattractive fellow faculty wife used to. Alan objects to her plan to work in a friend’s used bookstore, which he calls a “junk store.” As you see, being a professor’s wife is unremarkable, and she makes no friends among academics: when a student visits, it is not to see Caro but to used the sewing machine.

In the preface, Hazel Holt quotes one of Pym’s letters to Philip Larkin to explain why this book is different. Pym writes, “It was supposed to be a sort of Margaret Drabble effort but of course it hasn’t turned out like that at all.”

Actually, it is a bit Drabbleish,. but we love Pym just the way she is. I’m still reading it…

3 Carly Simon’s Touched by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie. I love Simon’s music, and she is also a surprisingly lyrical memoirist. She was fascinated by Jackie before she met her, and used to follow her in the news like the rest of us. (My mother never got over Jackie’s marriage to Onassis.)

I am still reading this, but just to show you the power of Simon’s imagery, let me share one of her similes: she says a friendship is like a house. She goes on to explain:

“In the first weeks and months, you become meticulously and even overly familiar with the front hallway, the mirror, ;the hooks, the sneakers and shoes, and the living room, the candles with their black wicks on the mantel.”

And then she writes about the kitchen, bedrooms, and basement. I never thought of friendship in terms of a house, but it is an intriguing analogy.

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