Monday, June 15, 2009

Great Summer Reads

Selecting books for a vacation is a very delicate thing. There’s the temptation to keep doing what has sent you on vacation, i.e. read all those dense, history books that are part of a job. There's also the opposite impulse, which is to chuck it all and delve into the frothy, fun books that help you escape.

The tension between continuing and escaping work usually means a stuffed book bag, for the best part of vacation is refusing to make hard choices.

I’ve been in the beautiful Carmel Valley for the last three days and besides two jaunts to spectacular Pt. Lobos to search for sea otters, I have spent most of my time reading. Here are the books that I read:

The Slippery Year by Melanie Gideon—There is a lot of pre-publicity buzz about this memoir by Gideon, who lives in Oakland and is a member of the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto. Her publisher, Random House, flew her out to New York and hosted a luncheon for her with reps from many women’s magazines. It worked, as there are already lots of raves about the book, which will come out in August. Sara Nelson, the former editor of Publisher’s Weekly who now has a column in The Daily Beast, listed The Slippery Year as one of her top summer reads.

Gideon, 44, poses the question “Is this all there is to life?” Despite being married to a sweet, hard-working guy with only a few neuroses, living in a nice house in the hills and sending her son to an exclusive private school, Gideon isn’t sure she is happy. Should she settle for this middle-calss suburban life or strike out for more excitement? Will earthquakes or other natural calamaties hurt her family?

I have to say that I laughed out loud about 10 times while reading the first chapter of this book. It was a hoot. The rest of the book had fewer laugh out loud moments, but it was well-written and engrossing. It straddles the line between a beach read and serious literature, which in my view is perfect.

After finishing Gideon’s book, I picked up Gillian Flynn’s thriller Dark Places. Now I liked Flynn's previous book Sharp Objects a great deal, but I can already tell this is better. It tells the story of Libby Day, whose mother and two sisters were murdered by her brother. It’s twenty-five years later and Day is broke, so she agrees to talk to a “Kill Club” that is fascinated by old murders. Of course, visiting that group jolts Day out of her complacency and certainty that her brother was the actual killer. I can’t put it down.

If you doubt my opinion, consider that USA Today, Salon, New York Magazine, and NPR all selected Dark Places as a top summer read.

The history tome I brought was Harold Evans' The American Century. Evans is the British-born husband of Tina Brown, the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and the current editor of The Daily Beast. Evans was the long-time editor of The Sunday Times in London and is an editor-at-large for This Week magazine.

This massive volume is a pictorial overview of the United States and it is incredibly well done. Evans touches on many social movements and the personalities behind them. I remember when this book came out 10 years ago. It was critically acclaimed. My copy is from the library but I think I want to buy my own copy. It’s the kind of coffee table book that will grab your attention and keep you turning the pages.

Stangely enough, it is also a perfect book for a vacation. While it is too big to lug to the pool, I like having one serious book to read and reflect on.


Meghan said...

I've read The Slippery Year, too, and loved it!

Anonymous said...

I would have recommended a different book....