It’s the summer reading season. You could grab a trashynovel or two to while away some lazy afternoons in the backyard hammock. Butthe stereotypical summertime novel is a bit like a sugary treat that leavesyou with nothing but a headache and regrets. Here are a few suggestions thatmay offer greater rewards as you swing in the shade.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
With the blockbuster movie on the screen, this summer is the perfect timeto discover (or rediscover) the late Douglas Adams’s hilarious taleof a nebbish Englishman trying to cope with the destruction of Earth. Themovie may dazzle with special effects, but the 1979 novel (first in whatAdams eventually called “a trilogy in five parts”) dazzleswith brilliant use of language.
If you like your summer reading to come with a social conscience, takea look at Adams’s Last Chance to See, a nonfiction book written withzoologist Mark Carwardine. Adams applied his trademark wit to a worldwideexploration of animals in danger of extinction. The book is both funnyand moving.
Transgressions, edited by Ed McBain
Ed McBain, author of the famed 87th Precinct series of police procedurals,has pulled together ten new novellas in a collection that features someof the best and most popular mystery and thriller writers working today.McBain himself contributes a new 87th Precinct story and is joined by,among others, Stephen King, Sharyn McCrumb, Walter Mosley, and LawrenceBlock, who delivers a novella about Keller, his oddly appealing hit man.
Speaking of Block, the recently released latest entry in his acclaimedMatthew Scudder series, All the Flowers Are Dying, is surely on many summerreading lists. Indeed, Block has a knack for having new books hit the marketin time for the summer months.
Until I Find You, by John Irving
John Irving’s new novel won’t hit stores until July 12, butbased on an excerpt he read in Iowa City honoring Frank Conroy followingthe Writers’ Workshop director’s death, the book will appealto the author’s fans and win him more. His last novel, The FourthHand, was a disappointment but an aberration in a career that includesclassics like A Prayer for Owen Meany and TheCider House Rules.
Irving acknowledges that Until I Find You is both his longest novel andthe novel that has taken him the longest to write. It will join MarilynneRobinson’s Pulitzer Prize winner Gilead and Michael Cummingham’sSpecimen Days as major recent releases from authors with Workshop connections.
Natasha and Other Stories, by David Bezmozgis
David Bezmozgis’s debut collection is a nearly perfect set of linkedshort stories, equally enjoyable individually or taken together. In lessthan 150 pages, Mark, the narrator and member of a family of Russian Jewswho have immigrated to Toronto, grows from a six-year-old caring for aneighbor’s beloved dog to a grown man spending time with his agedgrandfather. While each story seems grounded in disappointment and disillusionment,a resigned hopefulness seems to pervade the stories when taken as a whole.
Other recent story collections include Aimee Phan’s WeShould Never Meet, and Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s Sightseeing. The former featureslinked stories of Vietnamese refugees, while the latter is set in contemporaryThailand. Lapcharoensap’s is the more successful of the two, butboth offer a glimpse at cultures outside the experience of most readers.
The Chet Gecko Series, by Bruce Hale
Have an elementary school-aged child who’d like to join you in thebackyard hammock? This pun-filled, groan inducing, delightful series abouta fourth grade gecko detective named Chet and his mockingbird sidekickNatalie Attired will entertain you both. Start with TheChameleon Wore Chartreuse, the first of ten adventures (the eleventh, ThePossum Always Rings Twice, is due next year) and you’re likely to speed throughthe series together.
For a mixture of fantasy and fact, you might try Mary Pope Osborne’sMagic Treehouse series and the new nonfiction research guides that supplementmany of the titles. The writing occasionally leaves something to be desired,but the adventures span the globe and explore history in an accessibleand exciting way.