June is called “mid-summer” even though it is technically the beginning of the season. It’s the month of weddings, graduations, and pool parties. This is my first summer in almost eight years that I am not landlocked. Austin was just hot and steamy. Prague is pretty rad, but it doesn’t have an ocean or bay. Summer just isn’t the same without open water and a book to read.
Here is a list of books for your own Mid-Summer enjoyment and relaxation. Best if enjoyed near open water! (You can get any of these books at your local library, or Independent Bookseller.)
Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974) – You’ve seen the movie. It scared you from going into the water for years. Now read the book. It is quite possibly the greatest beach read and the one that will keep you from putting even a toe into the ocean again.
Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch (2014) – In his follow-up to The Dinner, Koch once again delves underneath the smiles and laughter of friends sharing a summer together and pokes at it with a stick. Until it bleeds. And oozes. It’s a summer book with a real dark side. The narrator is a Doctor who find his patients disgusting. The book opens with him looking back at the events that have unfolded, wondering what he could have done to avoid it. Any of it. It’s a great read, but if you are looking for a “light summer read” this isn’t it. This is a book about the underbelly of human beings. The puss. The nasty, filthy things that go unsaid are said here. And it’s pretty dang good.
The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses (2014) by Kevin Birmingham – I have not read James Joyce’s classic Ulysses. I admit it. That book is really long and really hard to read. I had no idea that the book struggled for publication for nearly fifteen years because of the controversy surrounding it. Ulysses was considered “poor taste” when it was written, and because of shameful things like female sexuality it was banned. Banned! This book explores why it was banned and how it eventually got through to the public. Any book that could make me actually want to go back and attempt to read Ulysses has got to be good. The book is funny and has a light tone considering the weight of the subject matter.
Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America (2014) by John Waters – John Waters is one of my favorite people in the world. Ever. If I were to write a book like his book Roll Models, he would be in there. He has made a career of breaking taboos and bringing the perverse to the mainstream. His books are as funny as his films, if not more so. “Waters, who is now 68, was looking for an adventure he could write about. So he decided to hitchhike cross-country from his home in Baltimore to his co-op apartment in San Francisco.” Hilarity ensues.
Tibetan Peach Pie (2014) by Tom Robbins – Speaking of my all time favorite people… Tom Robbins has a new book out. It is a memoir… of sorts. He doesn’t call it that. Of course he doesn’t. This is Tom Robbins we’re talking about. He writes about his childhood, growing up in Appalachia in the 1930’s, and how he came to be the bad boy of the literary world. Tom Robbins was my personal introduction to Zen ideas and what it meant to be a Bohemian. I think I (unconsciously?) lived my life like one of the fiercely zany female leads from one of his novels. Reading Tibetan Peach Pie made me laugh out-loud more than once and remember why I fell in love with outlaws, literary and otherwise, in the first place. Long Live!
James and the Giant Peach (1961) by Roald Dahl – No summer reading list is complete without at least one great adventure. James and the Giant Peach is a perfect summer read. When a crazed rhino kills his parents, James is sent to live with his horrid aunts Sponge and Spiker. Dahl delights in writing wicked, truly horrid adults in his books for children. And these are two are the worst. James gets a little help from a little man and soon grows a rather large, let’s call it a giant, peach that squashes his aunts and sets him on big adventure. If you haven’t read this before, or since you were a kid, then give it a try. The least you will do is smile. “James decided that he rather like the Centipede. He was obviously a rascal, but what a change it was to hear somebody laughing once in a while. He had never heard Aunt Sponge or Aunt Spiker laughing aloud in all the time he had been with them.”
The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (1998) by Susan Orlean – This is one of those books that you read and you can’t quite believe that what you’re reading really happened. I get the same feeling when I read anything by Eric Larson. (Devil and the White City) The book started as an article Susan Orlean was writing about the 1994 arrest of John Larouche and a group of Seminoles in south Florida. They were stealing Orchids so Larouche could clone them. What follows is Orleans journey through the odd world of plants and the people who cultivate and kind of worship them. The book was later made into a movie (kind of) and creates its own awesome journey of flowers, passion and truth. A great book and equally great movie.
Outlander (1991) by Diana Gabaldon – If you like historical fiction, sexy sex, time travel and evil villains, then this is the book for you. The story follows a 1940’s war nurse who accidentally travels back in time to 18th century Scotland. I know. It sounds ridiculous. It is. But it is also addictive and awesome. Outlander is the first in a series of eight novels. I only read the first three or four, but I loved every minute of them. Here is a quote from Diana Gabaldon, the author. “In essence, these novels are Big, Fat, Historical Fiction… However, owing to the fact that I wrote the first book for practice, didn’t intend to show it to anyone, and therefore saw no reason to limit myself, they include…history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul…” The eighth (Written in My Own Hearts Blood) was released just a few weeks ago, and the Straz series based on the books airs August 9th so you better get crackin’ if you want a head start on the next big thing.
Swamplandia! (2011) by Karen Russell – Set in the Ten Thousand Islands off the southwest coast of Florida, Swamplandia! is the story of the Bigtree family, and centers around the smart and precocious Ava, daughter of famed of alligator wrestlers who live on Swamplandia!, an alligator-wrestling theme park. The book is beautifully written and I couldn’t put it down last summer. It’s one of those special books that stay with you long after you’ve closed the cover for the last time. Inside the world of Swamplandia! there is mystery, magic, seances, water slides, ghosts, tragedy, a boy named Kiwi, love and loss. It is a fantastic book with one of the most likeable narrators in recent memory.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985) by Haruki Murakami – Murakami has a new book coming out in August called Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. I’ve read it, and it is beautiful. But since that book doesn’t come out for another few months you should read this one. You could read any of his novels and walk away happy, but this one is the most… Murakami of all his books. It takes place in the real world… for the most part, and in a fantasy world. It’s part science fiction cyber punk and part dreamlike fantasy. It’s like reading a surrealist painting. The story is split between two parallel narratives: Hard-Boiled Wonderland (odd chapters), and The End of the Wold (even chapters). This is a great introduction to Murakami and his lovely, weird, sad, funny, and ultimately wise characters.