The Summer Book was recommended to me as an antidote to the fall blues: stressed over climate change, midterms, earthquakes, disinformation — I needed a little literary calm.
“You need to read this,” said a friend, handing me The Summer Book. Friends are the best.
This small gem of a book contains a large enough dose of beauty and calm to restore the soul of the weariest American. Or Swede, or any other citizen of the world for that matter. It’s been offering that calm for fifty years, since first published by Swedish author Tove Jansson and translated by Thomas Teal in 1972. London’s Sort Of Books published a new edition in 2003 that has so far been reprinted seven times.
In The Summer Book, six-year-old Sophia (inspired by author Jansson’s niece) spends the summer on a remote island in the Gulf of Finland, in the company of her wise and often cantankerous grandmother. The two slowly build love and respect for each other and the planet. The novel unspools in a series of jewel-box vignettes that make for easy short reads, though you’re likely to become so entranced with the characters and their world that you won’t want to put it down.
Grandmother and granddaughter clamber over rocks and around rugged coastlines, watch storms at sea, glorious days and threatening skies. But they are noticing the tiniest specs of nature at the same time, and discovering lessons in them all. The book is a constant unveiling of wisdom and wonder. Moss, for example, will recover if stepped on once. A second time it will slowly recover. After a third careless footfall it will die.
As Sophia edges resolutely into life, while her grandmother winds her own way out, the two develop a ferocious attachment to each other and to the natural world. They build tiny boats of tree bark, study bugs and weeds, watch seabirds, listen for the breath of the wind. We readers are swept melodically along like invisible guests with VIP passes.
The Summer Book will have you smiling, laughing, nodding in appreciation and discovery — and feeling better about the world.