Cross Country Checkup·Q&A

Shelagh Rogers on the perfect summer read

With many Canadians enjoying staycations this summer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, a good read for the beach or backyard is essential. Rogers says the ideal candidate is anything that "takes you away from where you are."

'I don't believe in guilty reads,' says The Next Chapter host

Shelagh Rogers is the host of CBC Radio's The Next Chapter. She will guest host a Cross Country Checkup call-in on Canadians' favourite books for the summer. (Dustin Rabin/CBC)

Looking for the perfect book this summer? According to The Next Chapter's Shelagh Rogers, the ideal candidate is anything that "takes you away from where you are."

"I don't believe in guilty reads," said Rogers, who will guest host a Cross Country Checkup call-in on Canadians' favourite books for the summer. "Reading is really, really important, so the fact that it's enjoyable too is just great." 

With many Canadians enjoying staycations this summer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, a good read for the beach or backyard is essential. 

On Rogers' bookshelf this season are Daniel Heath Justice's trilogy The Way of Thorn and ThunderMadeline Miller's Circe, and Desmond Cole's The Skin We're In, an important book she describes as an "act of love."

Checkup chatted with Rogers ahead of the program to get her take on the perfect beach read and how reading trends have shifted during the pandemic.

Here is part of that conversation.

How has the pandemic changed what we're reading?

My pandemic reading habits have changed in that I'm not as drawn to real life stories as I have been. I love reading memoirs. I love reading novels and short stories.

I have found a powerful attraction to fantasy literature and that hasn't necessarily been my go-to in the past.

I started reading an amazing trilogy — I haven't finished it because I don't want it to end — but it's called The Way of Thorn and Thunder by Daniel Heath Justice, and the central metaphor is one of colonization. He's such an amazing builder of worlds that I don't recognize, and I'm really thrilled to be in a world I don't recognize right now. That is a really enjoyable kind of experience.

I also read Madeline Miller's Circe, which is about the Greek god who is probably best known for her ability to turn men into pigs. In this book, she becomes extremely human to me, extremely recognizable. Somebody who, as a mother, would do anything for her child. And the sort of backdrop of Greek mythology is a lot like reading fantasy. So I really enjoyed that, too.

My reading has also been shorter and that, I think, is true for a lot of people I've spoken with. I ask authors before I talk to them, "How have your reading habits changed?" And a lot of people are going into things that are shorter, or out of their wheelhouse, because there's something about wanting just to change your brain a little bit right now, too.

With many Canadians enjoying staycations this summer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, a good read for the beach or backyard is essential (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Why do you think people are sort of seeking out those shorter stories?

Because so many of us, I think, are dealing with this sort of extra layer of uncertainty and anxiety, and I think a lot of our brain time, whether we're conscious of it or not, is dealing with that.

I had an opportunity to speak to Dr. Paul Zehr, who is a neuroscientist at the University of Victoria, and he likened what we're going through to post-concussion syndrome. That there is this, sort of, background noise — like a hive noise — of uncertainty, and it's not unlike a post concussion where you're easily distracted [and] you can't focus for a long time the way you used to be able to.

So things that come in smaller chunks are probably a little bit more appealing right now, and that's not to say that they are necessarily light. I think that people are turning to short stories, to graphic novels and to poetry ... they need to fill their souls as well. 

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What do you think makes a great summer read? 

Prior to this summer, I always turned to mysteries. I really liked things that came to a conclusion at the end. So many mystery novels have a great sense of place and you're able to sort of travel through the book.

I do read the occasional romance novel. That's not necessarily a go to thing for me, but if it's lying on a beach and someone's forgotten it, I'll pick it up and read it. 

I don't believe in guilty reads. If you want to read anything, that's great. Reading is really, really important, so the fact that it's enjoyable too is just great.

I haven't actually read any mysteries this summer except for Louise Penny's new book, and I'm really delighted she's going to be on [Checkup]. It's a great book. But it's so much bigger than a mystery. She's always examining the nature of good and evil and that duality.

In short ... a book that takes you away from where you are.

What are your must reads this summer? Let us know in the comments, and join Shelagh Rogers for Cross Country Checkup's summer reads call-in

Written by Jason Vermes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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