Books to Love: A Hundred Summers


In one week’s time, we will officially be kicking off the Summer of 2017. I love all the seasons. But, I have to be honest, I always look forward to summer. Perhaps it’s a throwback to my salad days when summer meant utter freedom. Popsicles and playing outside; wearing nothing but my bathing suit for days on end, running through sprinklers, going to the beach, staying up late and watching movies into the wee hours of the morning. No homework and no responsibility. That assuredly is not the case any longer. But, there is a looseness to summer that I adore, an ease of rhythm, an easy living. Early sunrises, late sunsets. Long days, short nights. I even love the languorous heat, the sun too hot on my pale skin, the breeze always warm, sometimes even sultry. Somehow those little things make the mundane and necessary aspects of life bearable.

And, given that I always had stringent reading requirements during the school year, summer equaled complete freedom in my reading. As I’ve been out of school for many years now, I haven’t had required reading for some time- except those few book clubs I’ve been a part of, of course. However, that reading freedom still rises in me as summer approaches. I find myself compiling the books that I will be taking on vacation with me.

Of course, there are the new authors and new titles that I’ve added to my To Be Read pile (which is insanely huge- mountainous comes to mind, actually). But, I often let the summer months be those months were I read precisely what I want to read, not worrying whether I’ve read it before or if it’s a new book that I don’t need to buy because my TBR pile is, as I said, mountainous. 

Since the summer of 2014, there has been one book that has been in my summer reading pile each year: Beatriz Williams’ A Hundred Summers. I adore this book. ADORE IT! The story, the characters, the setting, the time period- absolutely all of it. I have even been overheard remarking how much I wish I had written this book. I have an author signed hardback edition, as well as a kindle edition for easy travel, AND an audio book for road trips. Yes. It might be a little obsessive, but, did I mention, I love this book. It’s not demanding or overly ponderous; it’s not a heavy tome. However, it touches on the element of life that is intrinsic and necessary to every person in this world- love. It’s more than a romance. It’s about all forms of love, unfolded and spread over generations and multitudinous relationships. 

The story unfolds in two time frames (1931 and 1938). Williams weaves the tale magnificently, starting with the first chapter in 1931 and alternating into the future of 1938 in the second. Throughout the whole book, details and events and emotions are revealed in this juxtaposition, building to a powerful crescendo. 

Lily Dane is the privileged daughter of a big mucky-muck in New York City. She attended all the parties of the posh and sophisticated elite of the Upper East Side, grew up with their children, attended the right schools, and knows the right people. Yet, in spite of all the vapid phoniness associated with such crowds, Lily is noble in her honesty and genuine in her sweetness. She is almost artless, a cog that doesn’t quite fit in the wheel that is her complex and, at times, selfish family. Even her best friend, Budgie, is her antithesis. 

Largely a fish out of the purified waters of the New York elite, Lily befriends Nicholson Greenwald (mouthful, no? Williams wrote his reply to his name best: I urge your forcefully to call me Nick). Nick is an outcast for a totally different reason. While his family’s bank account gains him entrance into any number of circles, it cannot erase one glaring faux pas. Nick Greenwald is Jewish (half-Jewish, really, but at that time, half-Jewish was Jewish enough). 

Lily and his friendship begins in the fall of 1931, just before he’s to graduate from Dartmouth. Though he’s studied history as is expected of anyone who’s to step into an office at his father’s firm on Wall Street, Nick loves architecture. He has augmented his scholarly pursuits by studying it, simply for the love it. But he’s no fool. He has seen the blueprint of his life and architecture has no part of it. He’s going to go work for his father’s firm and make money and maybe, if he has the courage, he’ll be able to explore architecture later in his life, when it’s only an hobby to be indulged rather than a career to be pursued, do or die, as it were. Nick is not happy about this. And no one in his circles understands his dissatisfaction. No one, that is, until Lily. 

Lily is at Smith studying to be a journalist. She wants to travel and hole herself up in a studio in Paris or Venice or any other exotic locale she can imagine and write about what she sees and feels. Her family doesn’t understand this desire in her. Not one iota. In fact, her mother honestly thinks she wants to go into journalism so she can find a husband. Because… that’s what well bred young ladies do. Finish their education at the best finishing schools and then get married. Period. End of subject. And, if any well-bred young lady thinks outside of that box, she must be taken in hand and shown why her errant ways are so erroneous. 

How wonderful to discover that you are not alone, that there is another person in the world who understands the hardships and commitments, the passions and the dreams you hold dear, another person who allows that common thread to weave compassion and sympathy into his or her framework. For Nick, Lily is that person; for Lily, Nick is that person. Their friendship sparks in this light. They hear the same song of the spheres. They dance to music no one else can hear. All the elements are there for the burgeoning of a tender, poignant romance. In fact, there’s no burgeoning about it. It’s just there. And, it’s grand. Love is, isn’t it?

But, tragedy ensues (and I’m not going to tell you what it is). Just know, the lovers are parted- ruthlessly, painfully, horridly.  

That is, until the summer of 1938, when more than just years have passed. Ages have spanned and kingdoms have fallen. Now Lily must confront the most painful of realities: all her heart’s greatest wishes are lost to her forever. On the rocky seacoast of Seaview, she is confronted with the man who has held her heart exclusively and his new wife, her best friend, Budgie. 

How does one pick up the shattered pieces of her heart and move forward? Can new love be found when the heart still holds onto a love born long ago and cherished even in the face of impossibility? 

If this book sounds like your cup of tea, or your frozen daiquiri, or your gin and tonic, or— well, pick your poison— then head over to your local library or book seller and pick yourself up a copy. Truly, it will not disappoint.

What about you? Is there a book that you reach for over and over again when summer swoops in? Please share it with us all so we can add it to our beach bag, too.