summer books

There are three things I like to do in the summer: read, drink beer, and take naps. Come to think of it, that list about covers the rest of the year, too. So here’s a list of books to check out in the coming warm season. Stay tuned in the coming months for my top napping spots and a list of my favorite places to buy cases of Miller High Life.

Song of the Shank, Jeffery Renard Allen
If I recall correctly from his 2008 story collection, Holding Pattern—I was so young-ish and full of hope back then—Jeffery Renard Allen is equally at home trafficking in gritty realism or fantastical weirdness. In his latest sprawling historical novel, Song of the Shank, he uses those skills to great effect. Here he takes the historical fragments of a slave boy named Thomas Greene Wiggins, popularly known as “Blind Tom.” Wiggins is a musical savant who Allen uses as a jumping off point to explore the interior lives of a strange cast of 19th-century weirdos. I’m all in.

California, Edan Lepucki
Nobody said marriage is easy—especially if you and your spouse are stuck together in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. After all, how could a marriage possibly survive without How I Met Your Mother reruns to distract the happy couple from their ever-growing emotional disconnect? Impossible, I say. But Cal and Frida are going to give it a go, because they’re having a baby and there aren’t a ton of trustworthy nannies available at the end of the world. Also: You can’t order California on your Kindle. It’s published by Little, Brown and Co., a subsidiary of Hachette, a company currently battling with Amazon over e-book publishing rights. The book got the “Colbert Bump” when Sherman Alexie went on The Colbert Report and Stephen pimped the book to his followers, effectively declaring war on Amazon. You can’t beat that kind of publicity.

Tigerman, Nick Harkaway
Sometimes we don’t get the hero we need. But we do get the hero we deserve. And sometimes that hero is a guy dressed as a tiger. Or something like that. Lester Ferris a man with a certain set of skills, sort of like Liam Neeson in one of those movies about the kidnapping and the dudes with eastern European accents and the ass kicking. But Ferris is done with all that. He is just looking to kick back on this backwater island and take ‘er ease, but the nefarious forces taking advantage of the island’s ambiguous legal status have other ideas. It’s time for Tigerman to rise.

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death, Colson Whitehead
I’m pretty terrible at poker. I don’t know if it’s because I’m lousy at reading faces, or just that I’ve seen Rounders a few thousand too many times and feel like I have to go all in after two hands. In The Noble Hustle, Colson Whitehead goes on assignment to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, with a $10,000 stake from Grantland. Whitehead proves to be as adept at participatory stunt journalism as he is at writing novels, and his musings span far beyond the scope of professional poker. But while we’re on the subject, I’d like to take this opportunity to propose that front me $10,000 to see just how far I can get drinking my way through Mexico. Sleep on it, guys.

I Am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes
When you start writing about books, you have to be prepared for the accompanying brouhaha—the media circus, the women, the fancy drug parties, the sycophantic hangers-on. You know, the whole shebang. One of the lesser perks, though, is that publicists send you tons of books, each one apparently some kind of “tour de force” or a “brave new voice” in fiction. For purely time-related reasons, most of these sit in a pile and collect dust. It looked like I Am Pilgrim was destined for this sad fate, but chance intervened and I picked it up and gave it a whirl. Pilgrim is the name of a super agent who is tasked with tracking down a not-so-nice fellow named Saracen. It’s got all the trappings of good spy fiction. What I’m saying here is that Terry Hayes is a brave new voice, and that I Am Pilgrim is a complete tour de force.

Jet Set: The People, The Planes, The Glamour, and the Romance of Aviation’s Glory Years, William Stadiem
Is there anything less “glamourous” than sitting in the middle seat on a Delta flight to Ft. Lauderdale? It’s right up there with taking the Chinatown bus. But it was not always so. Once upon a time, flying was the province of the rich and the famous. There was plenty of legroom in coach, and you could smoke cigarettes like a boss. Stadiem chronicles this golden age of aviation in loving detail, and his descriptions of a gilded, bygone age will make your next redeye to Chicago seem even dingier than usual.

My Struggle: Book III, Karl Ove Knausgaard
Knausgaard isn’t struggling with much these days aside from his literary super fame, but this is one of those rare cases when the adulation is mostly deserved. This guy remembers details about his youth that make me feel like I have Alzheimer’s. But in a good way. If you haven’t started this sprawling memoir yet, you need to get on it.

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, Tom Rachman
I was a late Dickens adopter, for whatever dumb reason. His books just didn’t seem that, I don’t know, sexy or something, so I didn’t read my first—Bleak House—until I was nearly 30. Dickens, it turns out, is worth the hype, so I’m resolved not to make the same mistake with Rachman, whose books have been likened to that of the British master. The Rise & Fall of Great Powers spans decades and centers around Tooly Zylerberg, an American bookstore owner living on the Welsh countryside. (Now if that doesn’t sound like a non-stop thrill ride, I don’t know what does.) But if Tooly’s present circumstances don’t seem that noteworthy, her past is something else entirely.