Summer reading from Bolano to Beach Roses

The key to choosing the right book for summer is throwing out the notion that with summer comes rubbish reads, the tome in its lowest form: pulpy, disposable, and thoroughly unhealthy tripe masquerading as literature. As the sun’s vitamin D is to your skin, so is a good book to your brain.

One hope about summer reading is that you’ll have a lot of time to do it. Ignoring the veracity of this question (who but teachers and snow plow operators really have their summers totally free) let’s assume that summer is a series of empty pages. You need a lot of full ones to make up for it.

International readers only really started paying attention to the work of Chilean author Roberto Bolano after his death in 2003, but when they did it was with intense admiration. Bolano wrote some gorgeous short novels, like Amulet (New Directions, 2008), but an intrepid reader will really get bang for their book with his immense novel, 2666 (Picador, 2009). Totaling 900 pages, 2666 will keep you occupied for some time, and the hot sun might enhance the book’s winding, mysterious plot.

A good trilogy keeps the word count up, and luckily a wildly popular series of three was just completed this summer with the publication of Steig Larson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Knopf, 2010). Larson’s Millenium Trilogy is so popular that any summer traveler can hastily by it en route in the airport, and it is prominent in Cairo bookstores. Summer readers who find that their attention wanes at the sight of waves will cheer at the plot, a mystery and natural page-turner.

The bulk of summer reading takes place not in bed–or, god forbid, the airplane–but outside, whether on the beach or the balcony, and when portability is an issue, you might not want a thousand pages. Don DeLillo published his highly portable novella Point Omega(February, 2010) this year, and though it received mixed reviews, it’s, well, still DeLillo. Another big name to put out a small book this year is British novelist Ian McEwan, with Solar (Nan A. Talese, 2010).

Although the title of McEwan’s novel might imply summer-readiness, readers should know that in it McEwan in fact “outdoes himself in terms of catastrophic occurrences.” It’s not the first time the writer makes summer promises in his titles that his plots can’t keep; McEwan’s earlier On Chesil Beach(Anchor, 2008) is not exactly a book about sandcastles. Although books like Robert Coover’s Noir (Overlook, 2010)–a mystery that is described both as postmodern and hardboiled–or any of the hundreds of vampire-centric books might appear summer-inappropriate, they might satisfy the bearer with a little, ironic chuckle upon retrieving it from a sandy beach bag.

For more literal reflections of the happy-go-lucky summer months (and lighter fare), a brief search of Amazon for novels with the word “beach” in the title yields endless results. There’s Life’s a Beach (Voice, 2008) and Beach Roses (Bantam, 2003) and Beach Road (June, 2007), all of which promise tales of the shore in both title and jacket photo. Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties (May, 1985) is perhaps more sophisticated, but not unrelated to a Laguna Beach: Life Inside the Bubble (Pocket, 2005).

Most people try to redo themselves before summer; the winter has, after all, been so hard on the complexion and hips, not to mention the disposition, but for perfectionists there are always a slew of self-help books available, more or less readymade for that ideal summer of brutal self-evaluation. Self-help is, as the saying goes, a “recession-proof” industry, particularly when the books are about making money. Rich Dad, Poor Dad (Business Plus, 2010) takes a look at personal wealth through the stories of two fathers with opposite incomes (one is also happier than the other); The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People (Free Press, 2004) offers an in-depth lesson in effectiveness, but requires a “paradigm shift” before reading (“paradigm shift” is not a water sport) and so might be a little strenuous. Self-help is such a solid genre, that there are self-help books about self-help books, like 50 Self-Help Classics: 50 Inspirational Books to Transform Your Life (Nicholas Brealey, 2003).

Most tempting from this year’s publications, based on personal taste alone, are The Infinities by John Banville (Knopf, 2010), So Much for That by Lionel Shriver (Harper, 2010), and Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey (Knopf, 2010), but I’ve only gotten to read the Shriver so far. Luckily, I plan on reading in the fall and the winter as well as the summer, and in the springtime I’ll find a good self-help book that addresses time-management.

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