When you settle in with a book on the dock or in a hammock, a good story is required, but it isn't enough.
Cottage reading is a particular breed of entertainment that demands just the right mix of high and low, sweeping time spans and specific details. The breezy beach book is too light for this endeavour (you've got to keep the mind sharp enough to calculate insect repellant doses so as not to give the kids blood poisoning), but neither is this the moment to rediscover Proust. Without a certain expansiveness, a cottage book leaves you tethered to present realities, defeating the purpose of the reflective vacation. Without an accessible and forward-moving narrative -- language and plot not simplistic, but still simple enough to be followed in an ice cream and sunshine induced daze -- the cottage book gets tossed in favour of a Sudoku puzzle.
These are the sorts of considerations I take into account when choosing which books I recommend for reading by the lake to the soundtrack of loons, woodpeckers, and outboard motors.
To determine if a work makes the cut, I of course factor in my usual measure of book quality: Does it elicit pangs of recognition, along with a desire to sign up for a creative writing class, and cause several emotions, preferably all at once?
But I also look for practical cottage-specific benefits: Ebooks save suitcase room, new releases add meaning to the reviews in magazines and newspapers that will also be dock and hammock staples, and stories that cross generations ring particularly true when read in a physical environment that is returned to again and again, in different phases of life and with evolving incarnations of family.
All of that should help explain this summer's best cottage reads, which include works of fiction, such as Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed, with its lost and longing daughters and fathers, and true stories, such as She Left Me the Gun, Emma Brockes' honest memoir about traveling to South Africa to unravel her dead mother's painful early life.