June 16

On Summer Reading


When I was a teenager, I had one surefire way of earning what seemed like a ton of money for only a week of work: I organized and ran our family garage sale. While a Tupperware container full of crumpled dollar bills and grimy quarters may seem like a reward in itself, there was a hidden perk: a week of sitting around reading pulpy paperbacks. Our neighbor Sandy would haul over a box full of bodice-rippers and thrillers – from Jayne Krentz to Dean Koontz. Sitting in a folding chair, I would monitor the goods while alternating: one pirate romance, one killer ghost, one cross-dressing woman who engages in a game of seduction, one clairvoyant stalking target, and so on. It was THE BEST.

My summer reading rules:

  1. It must not feel like work – intellectualism and personal improvement are for long, dark winters. Do not pick up a book because you feel you ought to. There is no homework in the summertime, remember?
  2. It has to take you somewhere. There should be a mansion or a sailboat or some kind of cliff or a looming forest or an expansive horse farm with white picket fences. Think picturesque or sublime. Think somewhere you want to be. Clapboard houses with a view of the ocean are good. Sit down and sink your feet into the imaginary sand. Nice.
  3. Plot is more important than theme. A novel about a vampire police squad can also offer a complex societal critique and eventual moral redemption akin to a Dickens novel. But even if it doesn’t, you know it’ll be entertaining. (How will they suppress their urges and fight for justice? Will they refrain from draining the criminal when they catch him? It’s hard to say.)
  4. Don’t be a genre snob. There is something comforting about patterns and archetypes. You know what’s going to happen, and yet you get to see how the author plays within the lines. It’s the variations that keep you guessing. And if you’re right, you get the satisfaction of feeling clever. (This is as true of Jane Austen as it is of John Grisham.)
  5. Base your choice on the cover. Get something ridiculous with a shameful image of a large man helping a woman do a backbend. Or something with lightning or cat eyes on the cover. You know those are going to be good.

My advice: go out and pick up the most ridiculous and secretly thrilling book you can find. Put your feet up and read it in an afternoon with a glass of tea by your side. And then tell us about it when you’re done.