Summer reading

It’s been a strange season to come and go from Sofia.

The night before we left on a trip overseas, a forest fire burned atop Mount Vitosha. The craggy horizon burned red as we packed our bags – a discomfiting omen, I thought.

While we were gone, terrorists set off a bomb and killed Israeli tourists in the port city of Burgas, which we had driven through in April. Summer floods soaked our basement garage with two feet of murky water, judging from the flood marks and squishy floor mats in our Subaru. And just weeks before, in May, an earthquake jolted us out of bed.

All that in the space of three months: fire, flood, war and earthquake.

“Is this normal?” I asked a Bulgarian friend.

“That’s life,” she said with a shrug and a grin.

So we’re back from holiday. The satellite TV is barely working, so we can forget about watching the Olympics. And it’s hot as blazes. Just about every Bulgarian with a bit of money and time seems to have left town for a bit of mountain cool. We have the city to ourselves. But with the temperature lurking around 32 degrees Celsius, who can enjoy it?

So we went to Ikea and bought a whomping-big sun umbrella for our terrace. (Okay, perhaps a bit too big, but it’s the thought that counts.) And now we’re poring through those stacks of books we’ve always meant to read.

My pile would make any expat proud. Some of these books have crossed five oceans since the 1990s: US to Belgium to US to China to US to Bulgaria. Before the last trip I added something else hidden in a book-like case: a Kindle. Yes, I know.

But last night I felt a twinge of pride as I walked over to the book shelf for something new. Why buy electronic when you can pull the real thing right off the wall?

Some of the books I chose were old favorites: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane; Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez; An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro.

A few others have languished in the batter’s circle – nearly time to read, but not quite yet – for far too long: Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr; Nabokov’s Lolita; Waiting by Ha Jin; and Red Dust: A Path Through China by Mia Jian. Plus a couple of serious-sounding tomes: The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus, because they’re getting ready to unveil a boatload of new Roman ruins in downtown Sofia and that’s just plain cool; and Tony Howarth’s history of the 20th century because, truth be told, the present century scares me just a bit and I’m feeling nostalgic for the good old days of the Cold War.

I don’t share all of this to show off. After all, these are the books I’m planning to read over the next few months. Soon the school year will start and I will have to buckle down and get some work done. But then again, part of the fun of summer reading is contemplating the journey and tuning out the madness of real life. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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