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Summer Reading, 2012

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jun 25, 2012
Category: Beyond Classification

A friend suggested I pull together a reading list for the summer. I had a hard time taking her seriously. She’s one of the smartest, best-read people I know — I’d much rather read her list than mine.

But I understand why she’d like mine. Most of the books that you hear about elsewhere do fall onto my desk each week. I read at least a page of each. And then I give them away and look for an old, forgotten page-turner.
So what you’ll get here is balance: some new, some old. What you won’t get are books that take all summer to read; I have had the summer of reading Tolstoy, and while it was life-changing, it was only possible because I was a kid and my bills were small.
What you really won’t get here is rigorous intellectual challenge. New ideas? Yes, I hope so. But if, like me, you find the news close to unbearable, what you want from a summer book is a wallow in intelligent pleasure. And at a length you can handle in a weekend.
So: short books, mostly fiction, masterfully written, satisfaction highly likely. Slather on the sunscreen, pour the iced tea, and have at them.
Mission to Paris: The latest from Alan Furst, again set in France, again in 1938. If you’ve read any Furst, you have reason to hope this will be both delicious and exciting; if you haven’t, you showed up at just the right time.
The Stories of John Cheever: 700 pages, but they go down like gin-and-tonics on the manicured lawn of a Connecticut hostess.
Defending Jacob: Everyone in this family annoyed me. But the set-up is bullet-proof: A teenager is killed, and it sure looks as if the killer is his classmate, son of the DA who prosecutes homicides.
The Fault in Our Stars: The best book I’ve read this year, and I say that even though it’s a Young Adult novel about kids with cancer. Just do it, for God’s sake.
50 Shades of Grey: Women beaten down in their marriages or limited in their sexual expression will find delight here. I don’t see how anyone else might — the sex is so bad you soon start to skip it. And isn’t that why you bought it?
Better choices:
Garden of Eden: Hemingway’s surprising novel about a couple on their honeymoon who make it a threesome.
Jules et Jim: The French classic about three in what might be love
Smut: Two short stories about Brits who step out of the box
A Sport and a Pastime: James Salter’s classic about a lost American man and a French shop girl.
Levels of the Game: In one epic tennis match, we learn everything about Clark Graebner and Arthur Ashe.
Bonjour Tristesse: Francoise Sagan wrote this sophisticated beach romance when she was 18.
Quiche of Death: A London PR executive retires early to savor the joys or English country life. As if.
Just Kids: Patti Smith’s fevered memoir.
The Kid from Tomkinsville: A baseball novel. For kids. Maybe, but I read it again every few years.
The Queen’s Gambit: The more I tell you, the more you’ll wonder why. Just buy it. Read it. And pass it on.
These Days Are Ours: 20something New Yorkers, in the months after 9/11. Pitch perfect.
Sharon Olds: Poems that tell stories.
The True Believer: As we move closer to the election, Eric Hoffer’s short book will make more and more sense.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin: A note, left in a chateau: “Arsene Lupin, gentleman burglar, will return when the furniture is genuine."
Radioactive: This inventive approach to the lives of Marie and Pierre Curie literally glows in the dark.
Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Handbag: All the pleasure of finding a treasure, but without spending a dime.
Jesus’ Son: Like your humor black? It doesn’t get blacker.
Dora Lives: Surfing’s baddest boy.