We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate. ~Henry Miller
Ahhh… summer. I do a lot of heavy reading during the year and I love it. But when summer comes and I spend hours and hours in the Texas heat at the local pools, I often want something lighter to read. I still demand good writing, no matter what the topic, however. Here are some of my favorite choices and a few from friends for you to stick in your beach bag.
10. Enslaved by Ducks by Bob Tarte
I found this wry and touching book at a used bookstore a few years ago, and have bought it again for at least four people. Tarte’s true tale of moving from the city to the country and acquiring more and more animals is unforgettable, especially if you are an animal lover or have ever dreamed of living a quieter life. Publisher’s Weekly says: “With dead-on character portraits, Tarte keeps readers laughing about unreliable pet store proprietors, a duck named Hector who doesn’t like water, an amorous dove named Howard, a foster-mother goose, patient veterinarians and increasingly bewildered friends. Tarte has an ordinary-Joe voice that makes each chapter a true pleasure, while revealing a sophisticated vision of animals and their relationship to humans.”
9. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
At first, I was disappointed that Sedaris’s new book would not be a collection of essays from his real life and family. But the humor works here in this anthropomorphized series of human foibles and vanities. Remember, however, that despite the adorable illustration, this is in no way a children’s book. Some of the animal stories include a dying lab rat, a cat who goes to AA meetings, cheating dogs, and a mouse with a pet snake. Christopher Muther of the Boston Globe says Sedaris is a “connoisseur of human nature at its worst.” Enjoy!
8. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
Going on a road trip? Take along Sarah Vowell’s delightfully funny and informative look at the places, people, and situations involved in the assassinations of three American presidents: Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. Bruce Handy of the New York Times aptly notes that Vowell “made the commercially courageous decision to avoid the catnip that is the Kennedy name” and says Assassination Vacation is “a learned, engagingly discursive, funny, sometimes even jolly ramble — literally — through the landscape of American presidential assassinations.”
7. Devil Bones by Kathy Reichs
This is a recommendation from a friend who says, “The book series inspired the television series ‘Bones” but the books are different. The protagonist (like the author) is a forensic anthropologist who works between Montreal and North Carolina. I get murder, travel and fun filled macabre facts.”
6. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Another recommendation from a friend, who says, “I have read it several times, but the first time I read it I finished it on a trip to Orlando. Anything Gaiman is an excellent read.” Laura Miller of Salon.com praises American Gods, saying it “is a juicily original melding of archaic myth with the slangy, gritty, melancholy voice of one of America’s great cultural inventions — the hard-boiled detective; call it Wagnerian noir. The melting pot has produced stranger cocktails, but few that are as tasty.”
5. Life by Keith Richards
Lots of rock musicians have gone on to that Great Gig in the Sky, many of them Richard’s contemporaries: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and dozens of others. Betting people probably thought the odds of Richards’ being among their numbers a good pay off. But Richards has survived, and his tales of writing and working with the other members of the Rolling Stones is fascinating. Listen to his interview about the book with NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air here. Particularly interesting is the story of how both the music and lyrics to the classic song “Satisfaction” came to him in a dream.
4. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
Another recommendation from a friend who finds this novel engrossing. Michael Christy reviewed the novel in his “Afterword” column in the National Post. He writes:
This novel follows two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, infamous assassins sent on an errand to kill Hermann Kermit Warm, an ingenious (and, as it turns out, extremely likable) man, who is accused of stealing from their boss, a fearsome figure named the Commodore. Luckily for us, the genre permits deWitt to turn his considerable powers loose, allowing him to rummage the treasure chest of English with much less constraint than a story staged in the contemporary world… There is a delightful irony generated between this over-formal, old-timey way in which the characters speak, and the horrific subject matter they are often aiming to relate.
3. The Silent Twins by Marjorie Wallace
I read this book years and years ago (on a beach, in Jamaica…don’t hate). The tale of these two twins who never spoke to anyone as children, not even their parents, but developed their own language, intelligible only to themselves, fascinated me as did their joint arson attacks in their later years. Library Journal says:
This true story focuses on the young adult years of identical twin girls. June and Jennifer isolate themselves from family and society, sinking into a world of interdependency, fantasy, and obsessive game-playing, until an arson spree lands them in a hospital for the criminally insane. The fascination of this tale lies in the discrepancy between the twins’ silent, emotionless facade and the rich creativity and passion that spills out endlessly in their writing. The author has reconstructed their story from their extensive diaries, in which they compulsively explore their lives and the condition of the world as they perceive it. Again and again, they express both their love and hatred for each other and their desire yet inability to become separate individuals. This book is written by a sympathetic journalist for a general audience.
2. The Colour of Magic (The First Discworld Novel) by Terry Pratchett
Want to really lose yourself to a completely different world this summer? Get hooked on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. If you are totally unfamiliar with the 26 novels, here is a brief overview and review of the first book from Fantasy Book Review:
The Colour Of Magic is set on a world sitting on the backs of four elephants hurtling through space. Rincewind, the wizard and Twoflower, the Discworld’s first tourist encounter DEATH and Hrun the Barbarian on their journey through the Discworld.
This novel is very different from most fantasy novels and a is breath of fresh air. A beautifully imagined world and wonderfully described characters, when added to the mix, make this a must read novel. This book can stop you from taking life too seriously.
1. Bossypants by Tina Fey
I don’t often recommend books by comedians. Too often, they are just re-hashed versions of their stage shows, television bits, or information you’ve heard in interviews a million times. You probably have heard the accolades about Fey’s book and they are deserved. Fey is funny and revealing, recounting stories about her life (yes, she tells about how she got that scar, something she is very reluctant to do) and her career (much harder and longer than most people think) and is honest about her relationships with fellow actors like Amy Poehler and Alec Baldwin and her former boss at Saturday Night Live, Loren Michaels.
If you have been looking for something to read this summer, I hope these suggestions help. Please do leave your own suggestions for others to enjoy. Happy reading!