Friday, June 12, 2015

What to Read this Summer (2015)

As an avid reader I figure I'm able to tabulate a list of great summer reads just as much as anyone.  My list is certainly not comprehensive seeing as how I'm only one guy, and I haven't read a mere fraction of the books, some great and lots terrible, that are in circulation today.  Having said that, there are a few I think we can all enjoy while sitting by the beach, lake, or pool.  To me a summer read doesn't necessarily constitute a book that is intended only for cheap entertainment, although those are good some times.  I think if someone reads their way through summer they should pick up some popular fiction as well as thought-provoking, brow-furrowing books of quality.  Here are a few I think won't disappoint.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
What can I possibly say about Dandelion Wine or Ray Bradbury?  I started reading Dandelion Wine the very day Ray Bradbury died, all by coincidence.  This book is probably Bradbury's most approachable.  Avoiding the heaviness of something like Fahrenheit 451 and the more fantastic elements of a book like Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dandelion Wine strikes a balance of magical nostalgia in a seemingly mundane domestic setting.  But there is nothing truly mundane about this book.  It is a beautiful and intriguing work of fiction which transports the reader back to the rowdy and glorious days of childhood. 

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
Cold Sassy Tree has one of the most shocking moments I've ever read in fiction.  And I'll do you all the service of not spoiling what the shock is.  It's probably been close to a decade since I've read Cold Sassy Tree, but I still remember the feeling of reading the book.  I have read hundreds of books since then, and I can't remember most of them very well or at all.  When I look over my list of books I have read I often pause and say to myself: "Oh yeah, I did read that."  But I have never done that and will never do that when it comes to Cold Sassy Tree.  Set in a Georgia town during 1906, the book is truly evocative.  The characters are charming and memorable.  It's a great deal of fun to read.  It's not as heady or heavy as a lot of Southern Literature tends to be, and in this case that's a good thing.  It's a wonderful book to read while listening to the churn of the surf.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
I like fantasy, and I like science fiction.  Often times the stories are overlooked in those genres to make way for the author's oh-so-original take on well-worn themes and settings.  Mistborn, however, presents an extremely unique set of fantasy rules while still providing an entertaining story and mostly memorable characters.  The book certainly has its problems, but it's a fun escape.  It deals with big ideas just enough to ensure the story doesn't become stale or insipid, but it doesn't inundate the reader with incomprehensible or esoteric moral dilemmas that most of us probably wouldn't care about anyway on a lazy summer afternoon.  In addition, Mistborn is the first of a trilogy which may provide a very good reason to continue reading the series.  It's not a bad thing to not only find one new book during the summer but discover a whole new series you can enjoy. 


All Over But the Shoutin', Ava's Man, and The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg
There are probably not enough positive adjectives I could pull out of my cranium to fully express my effusive love for these books.  Rick Bragg is better than just about every non-fiction writer I've read, and he's better than most fiction writers as well.  This biographical/autobiographical "trilogy," for lack of a better term, truly showcases some of the best writing I have ever had the joy of reading.  And when you're looking for a good summer book, why not read some of the best writing you can?  Although some summer readers may not want to wade into non-fiction while they're relaxing and possibly want to escape reality, I would still recommend these books to anyone.  They're tough books at times and deal with difficult family and domestic issues, but they're beautiful works of art that a summer reader would be hard-pressed not to appreciate.

Crimes Against Logic by Jamie Whyte
Jamie Whyte's treatise on the use or more appropriately the misuse of logic is short, entertaining, and more than likely a little condemning.  Most of us have committed one or two or three of the crimes, as defined by Whyte, highlighted in this little book.  It's a fun exercise to absorb what Whyte has to say about the crimes against logic and see those crimes pervasively perpetuated all around us.  Crimes Against Logic won't necessarily change your philosophical position on life, love, or happiness, but it's an extremely approachable book that can more than sufficiently divert and indulge your intellect without ever becoming too burdensome.

As a special treat, my daughter Emma, a voracious and inveterate reader herself, has a book recommendation for this summer that she thinks anyone can enjoy:

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
"I like the Percy Jackson series because it is about the Greek gods.  And it is a book series about Greek mythology.  And most gods have powers.  My two favorite characters are Percy and Annabeth.  I really like the Percy Jackson series because it is an adventure."

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