Sunday, June 12, 2011

The literary boys and girls of summer

(From today's Times and Monroe News-Star)

My stepdaughter has to read "Lord of the Flies” this summer for school in the fall.

Good luck with that!

Back in the day we did not have Required Summer Reading, but I read anyway because I was strange that way and still am. If you are stalled and need to jumpstart your summer reading program, I have suggestions.

First suggestion: Don’t read “Lord of the Flies” unless you have to. Read “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman instead. Second suggestion: Follow my suggestions.

Here are the best books I’ve read since January. Each comes with a glowing recommendation:

“Water For Elephants” by Sara Gruen. I was slow to the party but glad I got there; (I am also late to the party for “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, but it’s “in my pile” and I hope to read it before the movie’s August release;

“The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson;

“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. Of the four Vietnam War-related O’Brien books I’ve read, this is the one I’m most thankful for. “First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping…” And on like that;

“Lit” by Mary Karr, a later-in-life memoir by “The Liars’ Club” author. The title itself has three different meanings. And you get sentences like this: “How little we ever wanted, the creatures in my family, and how hard we struggled in one another’s company not to get it”;

“The Pastor” by Eugene Peterson, translator of “The Message”;

“King’s Cross” by Timothy Keller;

“Popular Crime” by Bill James, author of the “Baseball Abstracts,” is a passionately researched and presented look at the phenomenon of popular crime stories in America since the 1600s, and how these stories have made an impact on our country’s history and society without our even realizing it. James knows trends, cause and effect; for decades he’s used his fascination for baseball’s numbers to alter the way we think of the game, and he does the same here with crime. His goal is to use the phenomenon of Popular Crime to first inform and then hopefully involve the public to the point that we’ll change the criminal justice system and not “abandon the criminal justice system to the lawyers – which will result in a justice system that works well for the lawyers…”;

“The Onion Field” by Joseph Wambaugh is from 1973 but still excellent for an odor of procedural law of the time and the absolute mess that became of a police officer’s murder. (Young actors Ted Danson and James Woods star in the movie);

I could have done without reading “Cutting For Stone” by Abraham Verghese and “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, though I admire both ambitious efforts. Moving on…

Right now I’m reading “Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life” by Pulitzer winner Richard Ben Cramer, who writes with beauty. I feel safe recommending it along with the others in my SRPP (Summer Reading Partial Pile):

“The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood” and “Sandy Kofax,” both by Jane Leavy; “Leaving Church” by Barbara Brown Taylor; “A Bright Shining Lie” by Neil Sheehan (about Vietnam); the new Dick Van Dyke memoir and, always, some John MacDonald (me and Travis McGee are up to “Dress Her in Indigo.”)