The First Summer Reading List

Phoebe Kate Foster

Vacations, to us of this peculiar breed, are simply an excuse of an extended orgy of unrestrained reading.

David Constantine

Wish You Were Here: 11 Vacations for the Mind

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.
— Henry James

I don't know what image "summer afternoon" conjures up in your mind, but to those who are members of the fanatical wing of bibliophiles, whatever it is by definition must include books and lots of them. Vacations, to us of this peculiar breed, are simply an excuse of an extended orgy of unrestrained reading.

A beach without books is just sand, surf and flirtation with skin melanoma. Roughing it for a week in a tent in the mountains means being sure to pack the latest bestsellers along with the bottles of merlot that will go so nicely with the frozen filets mignon in the cooler. Even a lunch break on a June noon in the park leaves one feeling undernourished unless some suitable reading material has also been consumed along with the grilled chicken salad and double decaf iced latte.

In the memorably flubbed words of former Vice-President Dan Quayle when speaking at a function sponsored by the United Negro College Fund, "What a waste it is to lose one's mind." Let's adopt this delightful convolution as a summer mantra. Our minds will not be allowed to hang out on street corners with bad company, figuratively speaking. Or lapse into unproductive, endless-loop lucid dreaming, a la Vanilla Sky. Or get tucked away in mothballs with the Merino wool sweaters, rendering its possessor at summer's end in no better a state than Homer Simpson who remarked, "Every time I learn something new, it pushes the old stuff out of my brain. Like that time I took that home wine-making course and forgot how to drive."

PopMatters's reading list won't make you wince like the ones your English teachers used to hand out at the end of school. While you count down the days to your never-long-enough vacation, send the mind on some travels all its own, guaranteed to yield pure pleasure and lasting memories.

Sin Killer
by Larry McMurtry
Simon & Schuster

Start with a trip to the Great Plains of the 1830's with an eccentric British family and their retinue of faithful retainers as they embark on the wild ride of a lifetime on a steamer on the Missouri River. Larry McMurtry's Sin Killer, the first volume of a planned tetralogy, introduces us to Lord Albany Berrybender and his large brood who have come to America on an impulse to hunt animals different from those at home. They get more adventure than they bargained for in the untamed West, as they encounter calamitous weather, hostile Indians, and an assortment of trappers, pioneers, explorers and frontiersmen. McMurtry is a skillful storyteller, combining fascinating characters and fast-paced action against the sprawling and colorful historical backdrop. A book that will delight his old fans and attract many new ones as well.

by Ian McEwan

Linger a little longer with the English upper crust, this time with the Tallis family in Ian McEwan's masterful saga Atonement. D. H. Lawrence's "dirty little secret" of sex throws these proper Brits into a series of crises, with repercussions that span half a century. "In my dreams I kiss your cunt," impulsively writes a servant's son to one of the Tallis daughters. The note is intercepted and the course of lives is changed forever on a fateful day in July 1935. The novel's scope is sweeping as it depicts the conflict between social classes and the consequences of youthful impetuosity, set against the vivid backdrop of war-torn Europe. An unforgettable exploration about obsession, love, lies, loss of innocence, guilt, expiation, and forgiveness.

In This Mountain
by Jan Karon
Viking Press

For a complete change of pace, ascend into the light, bright world of "the little town with a big heart" in the North Carolina hills. Jan Karon's just-released seventh book in the Mitford series, In This Mountain, continues the gentle chronicle of the day-to-day ups and downs of a rural pastor and his congregation. The pace is slow, the problems are soluble, the people are friendly, the view is pretty, the forecast for life is always hopeful, and the food at the Main Street Grill isn’t half bad. The small town Americana ambience and amusingly drawn, believable characters make Mitford a charming stopover and a safe haven for minds in stressful times.

The Jimtown Store Cookbook
by Carrie Brown, John Werner and Michael McLaughlin

A homey feel and the passion of great cooks to share their favorite recipes pervade The Jimtown Store Cookbook by Carrie Brown and John Werner. The authors turned a 100-year-old abandoned building in rural Northern California into a contemporary country store designed to be a gathering place for people who want a taste of the unusual in a beautiful setting. This unique restaurant features local produce in gourmet specialties with a characteristically quirky West Coast flare. From the Pan-Fried Petaluma Duck Burgers to the buttermilk pie, these 135 upscale but uncomplicated recipes make for tasty reading and inspiration to spend some time in the kitchen.

by Melody Beattie

I Never Thought We'd Speak Again
by Laura Davis

There's a third "R" that should be added to the classic prescription of R&R. Along with rest and relaxation should come reflection. "The unexamined life is not worth living," Socrates wrote. Two books this summer season give us some food for thought.

In Choices, Melody Beattie gently guides us on the path to greater self-awareness with her blend of practicality and inspirational uplift. As always, she is an affirming voice of common sense as she demonstrates how to be free from destructive patterns of thinking and behavior. In a society where we so often feel driven, helpless and victimized, this popular author offers fresh insight into the process of making decisions that bring personal fulfillment, inner peace, and emotional wholeness.

The challenging process of reconciliation is the subject of Laura Davis's compassionate and comprehensive book, I Never Thought We'd Speak Again. Making peace with the past and finding ways to reconnect with loved ones after a history of emotional hurts is a difficult undertaking. The book features the personal accounts of men and women who have reconciled with loved ones under a variety of circumstances. Davis's approaches are practical and realistic. Bottom line: the "happily ever after" in relationships requires work, commitment, maturity and courage -- but it can be done.

Additionally, I Never Thought We'd Speak Again is a particularly timely and relevant work, addressing a broad spectrum of peace-making. The children of Holocaust survivors meet children of Nazis, Vietnam vets come to terms with the specter of wartime experiences, young Palestinian and Israeli girls make inroads to mutual understanding. An important book for all seeking ways to bridge the chasms that separate us personally and globally.

The Wailing Wind
by Tony Hillerman
Harper Collins

The ever-popular Navajo cops, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, are back again this summer in Tony Hillerman's latest mystery novel, as they unearth the dark secrets of a legendary lost gold mine guarded by an old shaman. An eerie Halloween murder, mysterious disappearances, a mythical wailing woman, and tribal customs and lore combine to make a thoroughly satisfying tale of greed, gold fever, and dirty dealings set in the haunting landscape of the Southwest. As always, Hillerman does a bang-up job, effortlessly shifting from humor to terror in the space of a sentence and crafting believable, engaging characters that go beyond the standard denizens of crime fiction.

The Summons
by John Grisham

Greed also rears its ugly head in The Summons, when a law professor finds an unexplained $3 million in cash, hidden in boxes in his dead father's house. Ray Atlee decides to keep the money a secret from everyone and hides it in the trunk of his car. In the process of figuring out what to do with his windfall, Ray discovers not only what a man of mystery his father was, but that he himself is now the target of someone who knows about the money and wants it, too. Set in Mississippi and redolent with seductive Deep South atmosphere, this tightly focused thriller gets inside the head of its protagonist as he's stalked by a clever extortionist -- and his conscience.

The Puzzle Bark Tree
by Stephanie Gertler

An intriguing second novel by promising writer Stephanie Gertler, The Puzzle Bark Tree follows heroine Grace Hammond Barnett as she unravels the mystery of her family's troubled past. The inexplicable double suicide of her parents leaves her with a curious inheritance and a chance to uncover the terrible secret that turned the vivacious Mr. And Mrs. Hammond into recluses and drove them to take their own lives. Skillful characterization and a uniquely evocative setting -- a remote island in the middle of a lake in the Adirondacks --make this an appealing choice for poolside reading this summer.

The Nanny Diaries
by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
St. Martin's Press

You think you've got the job from hell? Ha! The Nanny Diaries will make you grateful to do whatever it is you do to bring home the pancetta. Learn from these two former real-life nannies what it's like to babysit the prototype for Richy Rich on a 24/7 basis, as well as get a juicy insight into how the "other half" lives in the rarified climes of upper Eastside Manhattan. This is a bona fide suspense novel -– you can't wait to find out what outrageous thing that Park Avenue "Mommy X" will demand of her nanny next. Sheer fun from cover to cover…and I guarantee you'll be glad to return to your corporate cubicle and computer screen by the novel's end.

Star Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones
by R. A. Salvatore

Okay, you know who you are. You were there every night for its run in your local movie theatre. Now go get the book and invite Anakin Skywalker, the Jedi Counsel and Padme Amidala into your own place for an extended visit -- at least until the DVD comes out, of course.

Happy reading, and more mind vacation options to come over the next weeks. Spend your summer free time behind a book.

— 19 June 2002

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-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

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-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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