Summer books 6-15-2011

Littorally literary.

Some books we’re in the mood for this summer.

We’ll be honest, traditional, trashy, throwaway beach reads don’t excite us very much. Our summer “must reads” are books we’d be proud to leave behind at the beach house for the next guest to read (but rarely do, because we find it too hard to part with them). You might not agree with all our selections, but we’re fairly certain you’ll find something here that interests you—unless you prefer shell collecting to reading. In which case, we’ll understand.


Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Reissued a few years ago with cool, retro cover art, this is the first of the Bond books. Reading the books in the order they were released, rather than how the movies were, gives you a new understanding of the Bond character. It’s interesting to note that one casualty of the Bond mystique created by the movies is the fact that a lot of people have forgotten how good a writer Ian Fleming was.


The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The book that launched Hemingway’s career and reputation. It falls into that select group of works that can be read and reread and still be fresh. The crisp, concise prose that details the tortured Jake Barnes and his circle of friends is the standard for excellence that has spawned a million imitators. And if that’s not enough to draw you in, pay attention to how much these people drink. Wow.


American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

At least once every week we bump into – or are bumped into – one well-dressed man on the subway completely absorbed in it. Perhaps this is because it’s an in-depth, and occasionally incredibly violent, examination of what it means to live, or not live, in the modern world. If you open it at the beach, be sure you do so only when you’ve reached your towel or beach chair—or you might bump into us there, too.


Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower

Proof that the American short story is not dead. Each one funny and weird in their own way, these stories are incredibly fun to read—perfect for the beach. Tower has an eye for detail that never fails to astound. The title story alone is worth the price; it’s easily the weirdest of the bunch and crushingly good. You may never find a better last paragraph in all of fiction.


Payback at Morning Peak by Gene Hackman

Sometimes, you’re just in the mood for a hard-edged, revenge-filled Western. If so, this one fits the bill nicely. And the fact that this one was written by Academy Award winner Hackman, a man who knows them better than anyone, having starred in Unforgiven, one of the greatest movie Westerns ever, lends it an added aura of authenticity.


Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

Profiling oddball New York characters was Joseph Mitchell’s stock in trade while working for The New Yorker from the 1930s to the 1960s. This is a collection of his best work and it brings these characters to life like only the finest reporting can. “Joe Gould’s Secret,” about a Harvard-educated eccentric wanting to write the world’s longest book, is not to be missed.


Spartina by John Casey

This won the National Book Award in 1989, and deservedly so. It’s about a man trying to make it in America—specifically a deeply flawed Narragansett Bay fisherman trying to achieve his dream of finishing a boat sitting in his backyard so he can earn some real money. He wants a better life and is willing to take the risks required to achieve it.


The Longest Silence—A Life in Fishing by Thomas McGuane

For some, reading outdoors with your feet in the sand requires reading a book about the outdoors. If you’re an avid fisherman, this book can be read as a collection of sporting essays. If you’re not, read them as travel writing. Either way, McGuane’s writing will keep you riveted to your beach chair.



Justinian’s FleaThe First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire by William Rosen

Let’s face it, some histories just aren’t cut out for beach reading. (We’re looking at you, all six volumes of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.) But this reads almost like a whodunit, or should that be, howdunit? A terrific history of an incredibly complex subject.


Life by Keith Richards

This bio is truthful in the best sense of the word—telling it like it is without resorting to embellishment. Perhaps this is because Mr. Richards has done more than the average mortal and doesn’t feel the need to brag. Regardless, there’s something here for Stones fans, guitar fans, rock fans, pop culture fans, and fans of interesting lives. And if you’re any one of those, you won’t be disappointed.


Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan

This memoir by Bob Dylan is a great counterpoint to the Keith Richards bio. Dylan takes fans on a tour, describing the events and people that have influenced him. And a great deal of it is completely unexpected. Nick Hornby called this, “The most thoughtful autobiography of a musician that I have ever read.” And we agree.


Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil, and Legend by Leigh Montville

Few people have reached the heights (pun intended) of cool that Evel Knievel did. If you weren’t lucky enough to be able to tune in to his exploits on TV during the 1970s, you can do it here. Maybe more than any other book on the list, we can guarantee you’ll have people asking you how this one is. Montville did great things in his Ted Williams bio and he surpasses them here.


The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine by Steven Rinella

This book almost defies categorization. We’ll just say it’s food lit for guys. Rinella takes you on a journey across the country as he attempts to assemble the ingredients for a feast outlined in Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire, the book that defined French cooking. If you like being “hands-on” when it comes to food, this book is for you.


A Good Man is Hard To Find by Flannery O’Connor

A great short story collection from a great Southern writer. If you feel you don’t have enough time to devote to a longer work, what with all the beach volleyball games and long swims interrupting you, these stories pack the same punch as a novel in a fraction of the pages. They’re set in a South that’s probably not very familiar and populated with strange and complex characters that might keep you on your towel for longer than you’d planned.


Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

A chronicle of bubble, office-life at an ad agency where layoffs are imminent, this makes for a great beach read. Why? Because there’s never a better time to appreciate the absurdity of cubicle life than from the safety of a rope hammock or a beach chair. If you were reading this during your lunch break, it wouldn’t be quite as funny. Perspective is everything.


Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III

Acclaimed writer of The House of Sand and Fog tells his own story here of growing up—and toughening up—in New England’s Merrimack Valley during the 1970s. Dubus’s prose is lean, alive, matter-of-fact and violent at times. This book will have you wanting to learn to fight and write the perfect sentence—all at the same time.

TAGS: a good man is hard to find | american psycho | andre dubus III | bret easton ellis | casino royale | Ernest Hemingway | evel knievel | Everything Ravaged Everything Burned | flannery o'connor | gene hackman | ian fleming | James Bond | john casey | joseph mitchell | joshua ferris | justinian's flea | keith richards | leigh montville | life | Payback at Morning Peak | Rolling Stones | spartina | steven rinella | the longest silence-a life in fishing | the scavenger's guide to haute cuisine | the sun also rises | then we came to the end | thomas mcguane | townie: a memoir | up in the old hotel | wells tower | william rosen

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