Summer books: more than just beach reading

There’s a tendency among book readers and book critics alike to use the phrases “summer reading” and “beach reading” somewhat interchangeably, as if the only books published between the months of May and August were

There’s a tendency among book readers and book critics alike to use the phrases “summer reading” and “beach reading” somewhat interchangeably, as if the only books published between the months of May and August were penned by the likes of James Patterson (who does, incidentally, have a new novel, Sail, coming out in June).

Neglected in this equation are the other books published during that time: good books, bad books and mediocre books. Rather than let these thousands of pages go unread for another summer, The Temple News has decided to provide you with a brief, categorical guide to what publishing executives and the rest of the American literary scene have determined will be cool this summer:

Historically, we have got a lot to be grateful to Britain for: representative government, the Beatles, not totally hanging us out to dry on the whole Iraq thing, and a lot of books that will be hitting American bookshelves over the next few months.

Apples, the London-lauded debut novel from 21-year-old Richard Milward, is billed as something like an On the Road for the MySpace generation. Or if you’re into the whole James Patterson deal, why not try Britain’s best-selling crime author, Martina Cole, making her American debut this July with Close? My personal choice, however, would have to be Adam Thirlwell’s highly anticipated and pretty much self-explanatory The Delighted States: A Book of Novels, Romances & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set On Four Continents, & Accompanied by Maps, Portraits, Squiggles, Illustrations & a Variety of Helpful Indexes.

The 2008 Democratic National Convention isn’t going down until late August, so theoretically we could spend an entire summer hooked on the Obama-Clinton question.

If 24-hour press coverage of their campaigns, eventually to be succeeded by even more extensive coverage in advance of the general election, isn’t enough politics for you, then find some time to work Ted Widmer’s thoughtful Ark of the Liberties: America and the World into your reading schedule. Or, if thoughtful’s not your bag, try one of the political thrillers by Mike Lawson or Ralph Reed that’ll be hitting stores this June. Liberals might enjoy John R. Talbot’s Obamanomics: How Bottom-Up Economic Prosperity Will Replace Trickle-Down Economics. Ultra-leftist radicals would probably be more taken by Jim Marrs’ The Rise of the Fourth Reich: The Secret Societies That Threaten To Take Over America.

There are few things hipper or trendier right now than localism, sustainability and the Internet. If you’re interested in the first, just keep reading and we’ll do you well; the second, try Thomas L. Friedman’s latest, Green is the New Red, White and Blue, due out this August. And the Internet? Well, online publishing isn’t quite so revolutionary as those guys who write Battlestar Gallactica fan fiction would have you think, but it certainly has shaken things up a bit.

Now, you’ve even got fairly established authors like Mike Heppner doing the Radiohead thing and releasing their latest work online.

The world of online publishing is far too large to even begin to be encapsulated here, but it’s worth taking a look into this summer, particularly if you’re planning on working a desk job. Enrich your mind instead of spending six hours a day on Facebook.

Almost as cool as the Internet. Unless you’re not into that, in which case it’s about a thousand times cooler.

Yes, localism is quite hip right now as well—so why not extend your produce-shopping practices to the literary world? Philadelphia has a wealth of local independent and university-affiliated presses worth checking out this summer. Penn, Arcadia, St. Joe’s and, of course, Temple all offer a fairly interesting publishing calendar. The award-winning Running Press features a good, general selection, covering a wide range of interests. Polyglot Press is a bit more literary, republishing rare or out-of-print works.

If you’re looking for Indie street cred, take senior English major and literary aficionado Emilie Haertsch’s advice and check out Ixnay Press. Interested in supporting a local author without overstraining your mind? Try D.H. Dublin’s Freezer Burn, a CSI-esque thriller featuring some of Philly’s finest.

It might just be me, but summer publishing always seems to be dominated by totally unbelievable thrillers and a veritable cornucopia of non-fiction books. This summer is no exception, and the “recently released non-fiction” shelves are sure to be packed come August as the “half-price nonfiction” bin is come mid-September.

Non-fiction readers can choose from Tony Perrottet’s Napoleon’s Privates, a collection of bawdy historical anecdotes; debut memoirist Adam Nimoy’s My Incredibly Wonderful, Miserable Life: An Anti-Memoir; the timely Rome, 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World by David Maraniss; Me of Little Faith, comedian Lewis Black’s entry into the field of religion; and Douglas Preston’s The Monster of Florence, a narrative history in the tradition of all those other narrative histories that have been coming out lately.

Providing a list like this means ruling out a lot of books that can’t find their way into any of those categories – including one I’m particularly looking forward to Love Today, the first English-language collection from German literary jack-of-all-trades Maxim Billar. In the end, few things beat a good book, glass of wine and cool breeze on a midsummer’s evening; so whatever your tastes, something will be released this summer that caters to them.

Try looking beyond the New York Times Best Sellers List, and you’ll discover a wealth of worthwhile summer reading you might otherwise have overlooked.

Peter Chomko can be reached at

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