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It’s summer—time for long days at the pool, Grizzlies games, day trips to the beach, and . . . summer reading?
The way you feel about summer reading probably depends on how you feel about reading in general. Some of us love nothing more than curling up with a good book—bonus points if it’s beside the pool or on the beach. Others prefer to leave the books at school once it lets out for the summer. Whether you’re looking for a book to take on your next vacation or just want to keep your kids engaged over the summer, we’ve got a summer reading list to help you begin.
This, though, is a summer reading list with a twist. Fresno and the surrounding areas have been home to many writers who have made their mark in the literary arena, including the newly-appointed U.S. Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera. The selections on my FresYes reading list—all written by authors with Fresno connections—celebrate the place we call home.
The Human Comedy – William Saroyan
William Saroyan is arguably the most beloved writer to come out of the Valley. If you were fortunate enough to grow up attending school in the Fresno, there’s a good chance you had to read his autobiographical novel, The Human Comedy, at some point. First published in 1943, The Human Comedy (which was adapted into a movie starring Mickey Rooney) is the story of 14-year old bicycle messenger Homer Macauley, who comes of age against the backdrop of World War II. It’s also the story of the people and places that make up a small town, one that many may recognize as the Fresno of a bygone era.
Need another reason to read it? A new film adaptation of the novel, directed by and starring Meg Ryan and produced by Tom Hanks’ production company, is in the works. Renamed Ithaca, after the book’s fictionalized version of Fresno, the film is in post-production and scheduled for an end-of-year release. I’m normally a little wary of book-to-film adaptations and remakes of classic movies, but the last time Ryan and Hanks teamed up we got You’ve Got Mail, which itself was a remake of The Shop Around the Corner, so I’m cautiously optimistic about this one.
Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm – David Mas Masumoto
In 1987, Valley farmer David Mas Masumoto wrote an essay for the Los Angeles Times about making plans to bulldoze his family’s peach orchard because their Sun Crest peaches just were not doing well in the marketplace. The overwhelming response he received from readers inspired him to change his mind, and it also launched a flourishing writing career. His original essay went on to become a full-length book, Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm. Published in 1996, well before organic farming, community supported agriculture, and “eat local” were buzzwords, Epitaph for a Peach is a lyrical look at the land and the family farms that help define the landscape and culture of the Central Valley.
Still farming at Masumoto Family Farm 80 miles southeast of Fresno, Masumoto also writes a column for The Fresno Bee.
The Upside Down Boy/El niño de cabeza – Juan Felipe Herrera
Former Fresno State professor Juan Felipe Herrera has just been appointed the new Poet Laureate of the United States (his term will begin in the fall), which is reason enough to check out his work. But you should check it out anyway because it is just plain good. The son of migrant farm workers, Herrera writes about the Chicano experience for readers of all ages. The Upside Down Boy/El niño de cabeza is a picture book for the youngest of readers. Written in both English and Spanish and illustrated by Elizabeth Gómez, it’s the story of a young boy’s transition to a new community and lifestyle after his family of migrant farm workers settles down in a new town.
I’ll Meet You There – Heather Demetrios
Though based in New York City, Heather Demetrios—a rising star in the young adult world—attended high school in the Fresno area. And the Valley is the setting for her most recent contemporary young adult novel, I’ll Meet You There. It’s the story of Skylar, a 17-year old high school graduate who can’t wait to leave her suffocating Valley town (the fictional Creek View) behind for art school. When her mother loses her job, she is forced to help make ends meet by taking a job at Paradise, a motel off of Highway 99. There she befriends Josh, a 19-year old former Marine and amputee. Yes, it’s a love story, but it also touches on heavy subjects like coming from a broken home, PTSD, and poverty. As an avid reader (and aspiring writer) of young adult fiction, I cannot recommend this gritty, realistic novel enough.
Baseball in April and Other Stories – Gary Soto
Fresno native Gary Soto is a prolific author, having penned essays, poetry, novels, and short stories for both children and adults. Baseball in April is one of his many short story collections for young readers. The stories collected in the book are simple slice-of-life tales of what it’s like to be a child in the Valley. Although the main characters are all Hispanic, kids of all cultures will recognize themselves and their friends in these stories. This is a great book to give to reluctant readers over the summer because sometimes a short story can be less intimidating to tackle than a novel.
There’s no denying that part of the appeal of reading is the way it can transport us to another place or culture and allow us to escape our everyday lives. But it’s also kind of comforting to find “home” between the pages of a book, isn’t it?
(All of the books mentioned above are available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, and the Fresno County Public Library.)