Books: Reading at Lac Pythonga

I ran out of books earlier this summer at our lake house and vowed to bring enough for my latest two-week visit. Other folks go to Lac Pythonga to fish, hunt, hike, sail. I go there to unplug, read, swim, sun, spa and hike. Mostly, I read.

I brought four books; I’ll tell you about the two I liked most. (To my new subscribers, welcome! And thank you.) 

Ann Patchett always delivers. Her Tom Lake is a pandemic story about a family of cherry farmers in Michigan who must shelter together. It’s spring, 2020. There’s a long-married couple, their three adult daughters, and the interwoven story of the mom’s young life in theatre and Hollywood, where mostly she played Emily in Our Town. There’s no mistaking the theme of this book — love and loss — and Patchett handles it deftly. She jogs back and forth between the past, when Lara Kenison first lands the Emily role, in high school, to the present, where Lara is the exhausted farm wife and mother to Emily, Nell and Maisie. There’s no rest when cherries need to be picked… To pass the time, the girls pester Lara to spill the tea on her romance with movie star Peter Duke, when they were both in Tom Lake’s Our Town, and later, when Lara starred in a Hollywood movie and lounged poolside with her older producer. How the heck did Lara go from there to a cherry orchard? I didn’t see the end coming; it’s a sweet and fitting comfort. I highly recommend this read. Note that cover art is “Bed of Daisies,” by Gustave Caillebotte, c. 1893.


I loved Christopher Nolan’s film, Oppenheimer, and felt like its three plus hours flew by. What a life! Such a fascinating time in history! A reviewer mentioned the film’s source, a 2005 Pulitzer Prize winning biography, American Prometheus, The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. 600 pages? Yes, please. The book traces Oppenheimer from birth to death and crucially describes his early education in New York City at The Ethical Culture School, where he learned to view the world not as it is, but as it could be. Too, the biography is a study of his marriage to Kitty, a brilliant woman of European royalty, a botanist, a divorcee and youthful widow of a fighter in the Spanish Civil War. Also a heavy drinker. Theirs was a love that never quit, even with his affairs and her temper. Their days in the Virgin Islands, on St. John’s, makes for especially entertaining — and endearing — reading. Loved the movie, loved the book. Worth the long read. Its cover art is a photograph of Oppenheimer by Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Also in the blog

My sister had more time than I to tour the new Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, and stopped into the Cy Twombly show (through Sept. 13.) The next day, she had to go back, and wanted me to see the Twombly show, too. She even persuaded her “love art, dread museums” 10-year-old


What’s a summer read? Turns out it’s — a book. Screened gadgets give off an impossible glare and the ones that don’t can fall in water or get buried in sand. They’re just not made for the beach, the pool, the deck of a boat. Books are. Using a buoy for a cushion I read


My friend Jennifer and I beat the heat the other day and ducked in to a movie theater for a matinee. We’d both read tantalizing reviews of “I am Love” and couldn’t wait to see it. We weren’t disappointed. Movies like this don’t get made any more: beautifully filmed, slowly told, it was like watching


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