From the woods of Maine to Cape Cod to the coastal waters of South Florida, a trio of new volumes celebrate summer.
From a summer camp lifer, “Camp Girls: Fireside Lessons on Friendship, Courage and Loyalty” by Iris Krasnow (Grand Central) is a warm, smart and funny book about why summer camp can matter so much for those fortunate to attend.
Krasnow, an author and professor of journalism and gender studies at American University, was about to spend her 17th summer at camp as she wrote the new memoir. She began attending Camp Arawak in the woods of Maine as an 8-year-old and spent the next 10 summers singing around campfires, swimming in an ice-cold lake in a uniform swimsuit, sneaking frogs into counselors’ beds, leading the Blue Team in color war, learning perseverance and forging deep friendships.
After a 40-year hiatus, she returned to camp at age 58 to help resurrect the camp literary journal she wrote for as a child. Her beloved camp served a mostly Jewish population in her days there, although now is more diverse (its brother camp is Kawaga, which is Agawak spelled backwards). She still sobs on the last night of camp. Even at home, the slamming of a screen door still takes her and her friends “back to the most carefree of days, when we were always bound toward the next best place.”
“We met as timid youth and grew together from flirty teenagers into a powerful sisterhood that includes some grandmothers,” Krasnow writes of her lifelong camp buddies, all ageless campers to her — she still speaks to at least one of them nearly every day. She also interviews people who went to other camps, who have also held onto their camping days throughout their lives.
At camp, they got to be their best selves, away from home and school, all the while gaining strength and independence, learning about loyalty, kindness, courage and community — which makes the thought of shuttered camps this summer so sad.
Life’s moments are measured by upticks in follower counts in Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel, “Big Summer” (Atria). With cameras always ready, photos are taken, edited, cropped, filtered and posted online within seconds.
Weiner is an author whose books, including last year’s “Mrs. Everything,” land on best-seller lists. A contributing opinion writer for the op-ed page of The New York Times, she is known as a storyteller and truth-teller.
“Big Summer” is a tale of female friendship, the power of revenge and the possibilities of forgiveness, justice, family and community, with food, nurturing and social media added to the mix. A romance and a mystery, the well-crafted novel is set between New York City and Cape Cod. Along the Massachusetts peninsula, a murder takes place and another that happened years earlier still reverberates.
Daphne Berg is the proud, plus-sized 20-something heroine, with a blog titled “Big Time.” Earlier, she had been someone who hid herself in boxy clothing, counted calories and was desperate to find the thin woman she hoped was inside. After a video of her ranting at someone who insults her for her size goes viral, she finds herself a successful influencer on social media, paid to post photos with her clients’ stylish and sexy clothing, yoga mats and more. Her father, a teacher, and her artist mother are Upper West Siders who do whatever they can to make their daughter happy and self-confident.
She is surprised by an invitation to serve as a bridesmaid in the wedding of her high school best friend after they had feuded and lost touch. While Daphne had attended their private school on scholarship, Drue was wealthy, thin, popular, glamorous and cool. Daphne, who saw herself as a “sweaty pretzeled knot of striving,” enjoyed being in the glow of her friend’s stardom.
The million-dollar Cape Cod wedding weekend includes antique Persian carpets set out on the beach, bonfires lit by uniformed servers, flowing liquor and signature cocktails, a buffet of the most treif of delicacies and rented mansions on the water for the guests. A rabbi makes an appearance in the aftermath.
“Big Summer” is a quick read, a summer escape, with a view toward what an authentic life can look and feel like.
Andrew Furman has written a Jewish fisherman’s tale. Nathan Pray is a middle-aged Jewish commercial fisherman trawling the coastal waters of South Florida at a time when fish stocks are being depleted and urban life is spilling into the seas. A man of few words when he’s out on the water, he’s principled about angling, reluctant to give up his old ways and use artificial lures, newfangled reels and sophisticated technology.
“Jewfish” (Little Curlew Press) is written with humanity for its quirky hero, an eye toward environmental concerns facing South Florida and the rest of the world and a tender humor about the Jews who live there. Pray is trying to make a living doing something he loves while adjusting to his divorce (his wife remarried a more conventional Jewish husband) and trying to stay connected to his son (whose bar mitzvah is approaching). He’s also dealing with his father as he slips into dementia, his divorced mother with her own concerns and a remote connection with a brother who moved to Israel decades earlier.
When approached by a Jewish businessman who tries to use their shared heritage to convince Pray to support artificially scented baits and questionable methods, Pray ponders, “It was so hard to know these days how to go about being a Jew in Florida, how to go about being a man, or even a person for that matter.”
He remembers visiting his grandfather in South Beach, where the old man drove a Pontiac convertible and was later recalled by some of the seniors in the memory care center as a tailor known for his expert pleats. His grandfather taught him to sew and knit, skills he uses with his nets.
Pray’s boat is called Pray Fish, and some of the guys in his fishing “bouillabaisse” — pals and competitors in the charter boat business — think that the only Jewish guy in their business should rename it Jew Fish. That’s the name for a large saltwater fish — with fins and scales — that’s an Atlantic grouper, and has widely been renamed the goliath grouper.
Pray feels nature’s power most profoundly on the water, and it’s there that he feels at ease and most human. Even as he’s offered deals that might be lucrative, he prefers fishing that’s closest to nature. Furman lyrically captures the allure of casting into the seas.
Furman, a professor of English at Florida Atlantic University, is the author of several books set in Florida including the novel “Goldens Are Here” and the memoir, “Bitten: My Unexpected Love Affair with Florida.”