Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Summer of Good Books

The year was 2005. I'd just finished graduate school, and took an internship in Western Massachusetts to fil the gap between college and gainful, full-time employment. A few days before I left, I learned (much to my displeasure) that I'd have to share the intern housing with another woman, and that we had no cable TV or internet. The horrors of it all! Without any real way to back out, I headed out into the wilderness.

I had the time of my life. My roommate turned out to be a lovely Australian woman named Sophie, the housing and grounds were absolutely beautiful (my NaBloPoMo photo was taken on the grounds that summer), and my internship was fabulous. But best of all were the books. Sophie is one of the very few bookfriends I've had in my life. I can think of maybe two other people I've met IRL that enjoyed reading and talking about books as much as I do. And I'm counting my ENTIRE life, since elementary school. The library in Stockbridge was surprisingly wonderful, well-stocked, with late hours that allowed us to go after work. Friday nights would find us down there, taking advantage of the internet and stocking up for the weekends. On a saturday, I would be frantic: the library closed at 2 and didn't reopen until Monday. The thought of having no book for that day and a half was horrifying, worse than having no food.

At nights, Sophie and I would have the run of the 50-some acre estate. Sometimes we would take our books and our tea up to the temple in the Chinese garden, or lie in the grass under the oak tree that overlooked the whole valley, where the family who built the estate picnicked over 100 years ago and decided they HAD to have their summer home there. Sophie had another weekend job with the agency at a property nearby, and one Saturday I went up there with her to see the place, keep her company between tours, and read my book in the grass near the house. Another time, for my 29th birthday, I took my book to Edith Wharton's summer home and treated myself to a dessert from the cafe (Sophie was working that day). But mostly we'd just stay on our own second-floor screened-in porch, listening to the crickets and the bluegrass on NPR, swatting away the mosquitos, and enjoying the summer nights.

I read a lot that summer: the first three Traveling Pants books, Life of Pi, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,Al Capone Does My Shirts,The House of Mirth (a direct result of my visit to The Mount, and in fact, what I read when I was there), Into the Wild, Assasination Vacation,Clockwork,Blue Latitudes,Jack the Ripper:Case Closed,Cloudsplitter,Seventeen Against the Dealer,In Cold Blood,Lost in a Good Book,The Inner Circle (a novel about Kinsey) and several others that I have no memory of but just see here on the list I was keeping that summer. We did a lot, too: I took a trip to the North Shore by myself, we went on hikes, visited all of the historic sites in the area, became well-acquainted with the Red Lion Inn and the Great Barrington Brew Pub, fell in love with the SoCo Creamery (I can still taste their Brownie Batter ice cream!!!!), swam in Stockbridge Bowl, and attended a concert at Tanglewood.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. I got a job in Central New York. Sophie stayed until the end of the summer and spent the next year in London. She went back to Stockbridge the summer after that, and I visited her several times. She took a job in the West for a brief time before returning home to Australia. I haven't heard from her in a while, and miss her a lot. It's funny: in the movies, the main character's Last Free Summer usually involves lots of drinking, sex and wild escapades. Mine involved lots of friendship, books and nature, but it was the best.

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