The Best Books and Graphic Fiction for Summer

[12 June 2011]

By PopMatters Staff

PopMatters writers offer up a selection of personal summer favorites that range from high-brow fare like William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf to mysteries from Agatha Christie and Craig Johnson. We also highlight an array of new and classic comics that make for perfect light summer perusal, as well as modern fare like spin-offs from Internet media.

 
R.J. Anderson’s Knife (Faery Rebels) Trilogy

Looking for a summer reading project for the kids that might resonate beyond the next Hot Topic? You couldn’t do better than R.J. Anderson‘s best-selling faery trilogy. These are the Wee Folk as you’ve likely never encountered them before—interwoven with myth, legend and literature, and imbued with idiosyncrasies both delicate and down-to-earth. Each tale explores a different facet of the Oakenwyld-shattering events that begin with Knife, the tale of a fierce faery huntress out to unlock the riddle of her people’s lost magic… and inadvertently uncovering the secrets of a human’s heart in the process. As they explore further in the Great Unknown that is mankind, Anderson’s tiny heroines move effortlessly from thrilling adventure to emotional depths without ever losing their human readers’ sympathy—not by swooning over sparkles but with courage, determination and a healthy dose of wit. Also—at least in the UK editions—cool Brian Froud covers! [Titles include: Knife (US: Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter), Rebel (US: Wayfarer), Arrow (no US edition)]. Kerrie Mills

 
Archie Comics

Archie Comics first came into being in 1939, so if you think about it, everyone should have grown up with Archie Andrews and the Riverdale gang, and formed some sort of opinion over whether he should end up with Betty or Veronica. The quintessential American comic book series has changed over the years and has moved from MLJ Magazines to various publishers, before finally settling into Archie Comic Publications. Archie himself has also changed. In the “Archie Marries Veronica/Archie Marries Betty” series written by writer Michael Uslan in 2009, the red-headed heartthrob walks down the aisle with Veronica in one universe, and Betty another. City slickers can get a real sense of the retro all-American summers from the comics, many of which see Archie and his friends drinking chocolate malteds at Pop Tates or alternating between babe watching and burying each other in the beach sand. It’s a slice of history. Sally Fink 

 
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (1988)

Pulitzer Prize winner, and all around class act, Michael Chabon set out to write an update of The Great Gatsby for his first novel. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, like Fitzgerald’s classic, follows a group of sad young men through an epochal summer. Chabon’s lyrical, staggeringly vivid prose details all of your favorite summer activities: sex, heartbreak, more sex, drinking, criminal activity, and—yes—sex. Equal parts emotional coming-of-age story and plot-based page-turner, Mysteries will be hard to put down once you pick it up. Luckily, you’ll lose yourself so thoroughly in its pages, you won’t even notice. Corey Beasley

 
Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie (1941)

What is it about being on holiday that makes you want to read a crime novel? Queen of crime, Agatha Christie, wrote more than 80 novels, but none were more entertaining than those about the travelling Belgium detective Hercule Poirot, who solved cases with the power of his “little grey cells”. Poirot travelled everywhere from the English countryside, to the Middle East, and North Africa. In Evil Under the Sun, the little detective visits Devon for a quiet holiday, but soon finds himself in the midst of a murder mystery. He is forced to take a look at each of his fellow guests at the resort and discover which of them the murderer is. Like, Death on the Nile, or Murder on the Orient Express, Evil Under the Sun is a quintessential holiday read, one of the original whodunits that paved the way for James Patterson and Stieg Larsson. There’s nothing like a spot of murder when relaxing under a beach umbrella. Sally Fink

 
The Winners by Julio Cortázar (1960)

Hop aboard this novel written in 1960, the first by the late but immortal Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar. You’ll find yourself sailing off Buenos Aires and lounging in the atmosphere of easy cigarettes, newspapers, and slow travel by ocean liner, with not a cell phone or a laptop in sight. The characters, however, are shockingly familiar. Drawn from diverse social backgrounds and thrown together on a cruise after winning a competition, they find themselves in a bizarre situation, with half the ship out of bounds and under the control of a mysterious crew. Their hot and steamy trip delivers more than you’ll ever bargain for on any summer vacation—fantasy, sexual desire, class, cold beer, guns, and an unexpected destination. Paula Cerni

 
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (1936)

Every summer I like to compound the boiling of my brains with some super-dank prose. William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! is a dense, swampy novel about the complex racial problems embedded in the American South. The book is a series of cobwebby recollections, roughly covering the 1850s to 1910, centered on the familial doom of dubiously self-made American Monster Thomas Sutpen, a mulish racist described throughout as beast, ogre or, most often, “the demon”. Faulkner’s style is as lush as his content, with pages-long paragraphs and a lexicon of humid, marshy words perfect for summer conversation: words like “circumambient”, “miasmal” and “effluvium”. The ideal antidote to that “classic” Southern summer novel, Margaret Mitchell’s blustery Gone With the Wind, Absalom, Absalom! is about half its length and a hundred times heavier. “Jesus, the South is fine, isn’t it. It’s better than the theatre, isn’t it. It’s better than Ben Hur, isn’t it. No wonder you have to come away now and then, isn’t it.” Guy Crucianelli

 
Graham Greene

One of my favorite summer reading approaches is not to focus on a series of classics or conquering Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past or working my way quick like through a vampire or zombie series but, instead, tackling as many works by a single author as I can. You have to pick someone who has a broad, challenging oeuvre and dedicate yourself to a book a week. This year try British author Graham Greene. Travels With My Aunt (1969) is light and delightful, The Honorary Consul (1973) is one of his better espionage pieces and Monsignor Quixote (1982) has the perfect “Huh?” factor. No doubt you’ll find your way to his “Catholic” novels—The End of the Affair (1951), The Heart of the Matter (1948), The Power and the Glory (1940)—but with such a broad range of themes and genres you should be able to read without an agenda and without any sense of guilt at all. Jedd Beaudoin

Craig Johnson and more...

Internet Spinoffs

Sadly, as yet they haven’t released the waterproof Internet connection. Or if they have, I bet it’d still be a lot more expensive than just grabbing your favourite website in paperback form—plus of course new! improved! bonus content—and heading out for a satisfying afternoon of surf and snickers. Snack-type Snickers would also be a good idea, although I certainly wouldn’t recommend drinking anything that can be snorted from the nose while perusing David Thorne’s The Internet is a Playground, which collects the best of his hilariously subversive 27b/6 archives. Fellow funny-making staples Cracked.com (whose book is oh-so-helpfully subtitled You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News), The Customer is (Not) Always Right, Cake Wrecks and of course I Can Has Cheezburger (offering no less than the LOLCat Bible) are among the many other sites currently available—and compulsively readable—in dead-tree format. Kerrie Mills

 
Irredeemable Vols. 1 through 6 and Incorruptible Vols. 1-3 (Boom! Studios)

For two years now Mark Waid has been working on these two comics set in the same fictional universe, but each keeps getting better as time goes along. Imagine Superman turning completely evil and turning against the earth in anger. That is what happens when Waid’s superhero the Plutonian lashes out, destroying entire cities, becoming irredeemable. Witnessing the demolition of one city by the Plutonian, the supervillain Max Damage, who becomes more powerful each hour he stays awake, experiences an epiphany, and resolves to reform and take on some of the responsibility for caring for earth; he becomes incorruptible. Irredeemable has in recent issues become rather extraordinary, as readers come to wonder if the Plutonian will in fact prove to be beyond redemption. Although the Plutonian and Max have had little direct contact so far, one can’t help but anticipate an eventual crossover between the two series. In these comics Mark Waid, who wrote one of the great superhero stories of all time in DC Comics’ Kingdom Come, has created one of the most satisfying superhero universes outside DC and Marvel. (Boom! Studios) Robert Moore

 
The Walt Longmire Mysteries by Craig Johnson

Summer is a great time to read not just books, but a series of books. The Walt Longmire Mysteries chronicle the adventures of Sheriff Walt Longmire of the fictional Absaroka County in Wyoming, and of a large group of quirky locals and colleagues, primarily Deputy Victoria “Vic” Moretti; Walt’s best friend Henry Standingbear, a member of the Cheyenne nation, bar owner, and Army special forces vet; and Cady, Walt’s daughter, a lawyer. Each book concerns a mystery, but the mystery is rarely front and center. Johnson is more interested in our spending time with his characters, so that in the end the books feel more like a Wyoming version of Northern Exposure than a police procedural. A&E is turning the books into the TV series Longmire, starring Robert Taylor, who played one of Agent Smith’s cohorts, as Walt Longmire, Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff as Vic, Lou Diamond Phillips as Henry, and Smallville Cassidy Freeman as Cady. [Titles include: Cold Dish (2004), Death Without Company (2006), Kindness Goes Unpunished (2007), Another Man’s Moccasins (2008), The Dark Horse (2009), Junkyard Dogs (2010), Hell Is Empty (2011)] Robert Moore

 
Patrick F. McManus

OK, so summer’s here and you want to get outside, but you’re not quite sure what to do with all that… outdoors out there. You could hole up until August with a hefty stack of camping/fishing/cottaging manuals… or, alternatively, you could give in and check out Pat McManus’ gently goofy tales of his own lifelong dance with Mother Nature, growing up in the backwoods of Idaho and getting lost on fishing and hunting trips everywhere else thereafter. Collections of his Outdoor Life columns—like The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw and They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?—read like the softest of summer breezes yet resonate with the universal wit and poignancy of Twain and Keillor. Special bonus (in Rubber Legs and White Tail-Hairs): Pat’s own guide to ‘Summer Reading’! Kerrie Mills

 
Supergods by Grant Morrison

Comic book readers will be blessed this summer with a rare treat: one of the greatest writers of superhero comics—Grant Morrison, author of All Star Superman, Doom Patrol, Animal Man, Batman: Arkham Aslylum, The Invisibles, New X-Men, and many others—is publishing an in-depth analysis of the superhero genre. Part history, part analysis, part manifesto, this is a truly unique book. Few writers of Morrison’s stature have taken upon themselves a study of his or her chosen genre. Morrison discusses not only the contemporary superhero comic, but the origins of the genre and the Silver Age as well. He also looks at how superheroes have managed the transition to film and television. If you love superhero comics, this is as close to a must-read book as can be conceived. (Publishing 19 July 2011) Robert Moore

 
Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Vol. 4) by Bryan Lee O’Malley

The entirety of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels are the sort of thing you’d associate with a beach read: they’re fun, they’re inventive and compulsively sweet. However, Volume Four needs to be singled out here as it is the issue of the Scott Pilgrim series that is actually set in the halcyon days of summer. Complete with an eight-page colour introduction (making you wish that the entire series had been done this way), this volume probes the nostalgia of being in your early 20s without much in the way of responsibility, at least on the surface. There are beach parties to be had, waking up drenched in sweat due to a heat wave and meeting up with your ex-girlfriend in a scuzzy, downtrodden city-centre mall. And yet this is the volume in which our titular hero begins to grow up by getting a job and moving in with his girlfriend. There’s a level of wistfulness and sadness that begins to percolate into the series, arguably starting here, as Scott begins to mature in his own little way, but that doesn’t take away from the fun, humor and warmth that permeates this volume. Ultimately, while this isn’t the place to start, this is where summer arrives in earnest in the Scott Pilgrim universe. Zachary Houle

 
True Grit by Charles Portis and True Grit directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

For many fans of Charles Portis’s great 1968 novel, the Henry Hathaway film made in 1969 and starring John Wayne was painful to watch. Kim Darby was almost a decade too old for the role, and turning the film into a star vehicle for John Wayne meant destroying the heart of the novel. The star of the story—the person who truly possesses has “true grit”—is the narrator, the indefatigable Mattie Ross. The Coen Brothers second film version of the novel—thank god they just ignored the earlier movie—honors both the book by restoring Mattie Ross, one of the great fictional characters of late 20th century American literature, to the heart of the story. Both the novel, driven by Portis’s magical narrative voice, and the film—graced with beautiful cinematography, several outstanding performances, and a touchingly rendered relationship between the crusty old federal marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) of Yell County, Arkansas—are masterpieces. Read (or re-read) the one; watch the other. Robert Moore

Thomas Pynchon and more...

Power Girl from DC Comics

After years of being featured in various DC Comics stories, Power Girl aka Karen Starr aka Kara Zor-L finally gets her own series. The Earth Two equivalent of Supergirl, Power Girl is one of the few survivors of the collapse of all the various old earth’s into one. So she has lost her planet twice, first with the destruction of Krypton Two and then with the destruction of Earth Two. Because she was vulnerable only to the kryptonite of Earth Two, she is theoretically tougher than Superman. Only, she comes across as more emotionally vulnerable than her cousin Clark. Unlike most DC Comics, which have gotten darker and darker, Power Girl has stayed fun and lighthearted, with consistently great art. Best of all, of the DC superheroes, PG is the one we perhaps know the least about. And will we learn why this post-feminist heroine is so much bustier than her Earth One counterpart? Robert Moore

 
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Niel Gaiman (1991)

So the summer is approaching and you’re looking for something fun to read that you can flip right through, but that still has enough meat to make you feel as though you’ve digested something of substance? You have got to start your summer reading off with Terry Pratchett and Niel Gaiman’s 1991 hilarious end of the world epic Good Omens. A satirical work of the highest order, Good Omens chronicles the efforts of a demon and an angel as they try to delay the Apocalypse because both have grown very fond of earth. Heaven and Hell still want the Armageddon to go off without a hitch though and the Four Horsemen are chomping at the bit, now if they could just find the Anti-Christ. Religion, business, pop culture and human nature are all artfully skewered with timeless irreverence and relevance. Read Good Omens... the end of the world has never been so funny. Gregg Lipkin

 
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (1966)

I realize that Pynchon’s brief fever dream of a second novel doesn’t necessarily scream “summer” to most people. But to me, Oedipa Maas’ long, strange trip into an ex-lover’s will and the world of the Tristero perfectly suits the season in two ways. First, few stories suit the heat-hazy season of lowered responsabilities and inhibitions as much as this one, where a perfectly average woman either uncovers a conspiracy stretching back generations or, maybe, just imagines she does; and second, at 160 pages it’s really the only Pynchon novel you can reasonably expect to start and finish in the course of summer afternoon or a weekend camping trip. For years now it’s been a ritual for me to read this one in my backyard, in the sun, and I can’t picture doing so any other way. Ian Mathers

 
Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal (1968)

Of all the great American stories about Hollywood has-beens and hangers-on, this is probably the bitchiest. Our emasculating heroine kicks things off with the great opening line, “I am Myra Breckinridge, whom no man will ever possess.” Then she dishes up a sordid tale bursting with sex, fools, insults, and her own pet theories on film studies and gender roles. These academic asides are fascinating in themselves, but as the story twists along and Myra plots like a pornographic Iago, they also emphasize how much smarter Myra is than anyone else in her book. Bonus: Myra Breckinridge also features the greatest strap-on anal rape scene in literature, outside the works of Edith Wharton. Josh Langhoff

 
Gossip Girl series by Ceicily Von Ziegesar

Gossip Girl has become synonymous with trashy teen TV, but before it graced the small screen is was just a trashy teen book series. What elevates it, in my opinion, from the usual shallow garbage being force fed to our youth, is that it is well written. Far too often young adult writers fall into the trap of thinking that youth equals bad taste, but I assure you that is not the case and luckily Cecily Von Ziegesar understood that. The quality of writing and story is what makes it enjoyable for readers of all ages. Of course, it is still teen fiction revolving around secret affairs, betrayals and delicious scandal, making it the perfect read for lazy days laying out. Fans of the show beware, you won’t find the screen stars you have come to love in the books, but it’s better, much better. Devin Mainville

 
Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis

Connie Willis’s riveting story—a single novel published in two parts—has been nominated for this year’s Nebula and Hugo Awards. The premise is that in the 21st century historians use the recently discovered ability to travel in time to go back and study on location great events in history. These books tells the story of a few historians who travel back to London during the time of the blitz, but who for some reason find that they are unable to go back to their own time, so that the story is as much an historical novel as it is science fiction. Along with the historians we as readers discover the enormous courage of the people who suffered through the events of World War II, while we see them strive to not change the timeline, which as anyone knows who has seen any show or movie or read any novel, has the potential to alter history. One of the great works by one of the finest living science fiction writers. Robert Moore

 
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927)

Virginia Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness masterpiece is one of the greatest summer reads of all time. While its lack of conventional dialogue and long, meandering internal monologues, it doesn’t fit the mode of a typical beech read. But, Woolf’s skillful evocation of its setting at a summer home on the Isle of Skye render the novel especially relevant this time of year. Its meditations on the fleeting nature of life make it the perfect read for those willing to tackle some deep questions whilst playing in the sand. Jacob Adams

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/143683-read-the-best-books-and-comics-for-summer/