Have you ever considered how many great books there are to read? If the printing presses stopped today, there would surely be several life times worth of joyous reading to get lost in.
This amazing possibility, which I have given some thought to, usually brings to mind a companion thought: If I was a trust fund baby, and did not have to work eight or nine hours a day to support myself, I would set two goals to occupy my time.
1: To eat three meals in every city of the world. One at the most famous restaurant, one at the newest, trendiest restaurant, and one at the most renowned food cart out on the street.
As best as I can tell, without making a career out of researching this and only visiting cities of one million or more, there are 267 cities across the globe to eat in. If you eat one meal a day, spent four days traveling there, and to the next one, and did this continuously with out a break, you could accomplish this culinary world tour in about 5.12 years. That is an ambitious time frame no question about it, but possible for the motivated globe trotter full of youth, cash, and enthusiasm. However, it would be an awkward fit with my second goal.
2: To make a list of every book that caught my attention as ‘great’ and read each one one the shaded portico of my tile roofed, stucco walled villa over looking the ocean in the south of France. (Think of Cary Grant playing John Robbie in To Catch A Thief, replace the rosebushes with stacks of books.) I could definitely milk that for a lifetime and then some.
Where am I going with this? To the nine book summer reading list of course.
If you find yourself sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking the gently rippling waters of a mountain lake in upstate New York, of lounging in a beach chair under an umbrella at the ocean in the south of France, you may need a good book to read before dinner at the lodge, or a long night of roulette at the gaming tables. Here is a list to help you out.
Just one qualification, these titles may appeal more to men then women, though I have known some to be read and enjoyed by female readers.
KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL – Anthony Bourdain
Here it is, the food lovers, restaurant goers, gourmet and gourmand’s essential summer reading. Take it from a chef, this is the way it is in the kitchen. No heavy philosophizing, no post existential deconstructionist, Freudian polluted musing on what it means to devote your life to the craft of cheffing. No, just the a chef reliving the glory days in full story telling mode of the highest order. He is the modern bard of the kitchen, New York version of Francis Parkman exploring the lore and legend of the cookhouses and galleys that crank out millions of meals a day, yet remain virtually unknown to the dinning public. You don’t have to of worked in a kitchen to enjoy the ride.
THE LAST COIN James P. Blaylock
This novel’s unlikely hero, and his know-it-all side kick, are written with much humor. So much in fact, that I laughed out loud dozens of times. Blaylock has honed his skill for writing maniacal dialog. He is right up their with the likes of Stanley Elkin and the Marx Brothers.
He also has a skill at weaving an equally maniacal plot, a conspiracy of biblical proportions and cosmic consequences, that works rather well for a mystery/adventure book that seems to have the primary purpose of making you laugh.
Reading through the first few chapters I thought the humorous style made the novel a bit shallow. But, as I got deeper into the book I changed my mind. These characters are struggling to save the world, or dominate it, no matter how hapless their actions are, or how handicapped by their own foibles they may be.
Perhaps the author got his inspiration from real life? Blaylock’s characters, just like humans, lack sufficient knowledge of the complex situations they find themselves in, but think they have it pretty well figured out. So they go along and make plans to change the out come of their situations; which only work half as well as they intend them to. If a being of vastly higher intelligence were watching the workings of our world, with a similar view of events as the reader has in this novel, it would find most of what we do just as hilarious as Blaylock writes his characters.
If you are looking for a few good laughs and a mystery to puzzle over, you found your next read.
FOOD IN HISTORY – Reay Tannahill
Essentially, the history of food is the history of culture and of human existence in general. This book approaches it’s subject from that prospective. The author touches on multiple aspects of food down through the ages and how it has shaped societies.
Obviously, food effects everyone on this planet; we are what we eat in more ways then one. Yet, most people know next to nothing about the thing that sustains them and its history. Considering how important food is, and every aspect of it, I would think it wise to be knowledgeable on the subject. Tanahill’s well researched and authoritatively written classic is a great place to start.
THE TWELVE CAESARS – Suetonius
If TMZ, bought Oxford Press, these kind of history books would be all they would publish.
Did you ever want to have a learned, high brow, aristocrat stoop low to dish the dirt on the Greatest Emperors in western history? Then this is your rag to read. It is easy to read, and easy to relate to even though it was penned two thousand years ago.
After all, gossip is gossip.
But I did learn two things from this book, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Jesus Christ came into the world at the right time to save us all.
THE ARMS OF KRUPP – William Manchester
If you are going to read this entire book on your vacation, make sure you have a month and no plans to do anything. This is as thick as an old fashion telephone book, but a hell of a lot more interesting. Manchester must have done a massive amount of research to write this. It definitely paints a full and detailed portrait of one incredible family of industrialists.
There is a tone of ridicule that surfaces every so often in this book. It is actually funny at times, but I am not sure if Manchester intended it to be that way. It makes me think that he had a contempt for the entire Krupp clan, which he did not have the will power to keep it to himself for the duration of writing these 700 pages. Why would you write a massive tome about a subject you disdain? (Because his publisher offered him a wheel barrel full of green backs to do so?) In any event, this is a very enjoyable book. To follow the history of this family is to follow the history of the steel industry, the arms industry, as well as the history of Germany and Europe, from a behind the scenes perspective.
THE PERFECT STORM – Sebastian Junger
My brother-in-law, a fabulous writer and wit, told me I might like this book. He was right, a white knuckle sea adventure that old J Conrad and Melville would not be able to put down. It is written with a powerful, streamlined style that moves along at a fast pace and keeps you engaged. The most chilling thing about this is that it is true.
THE PINE BARRENS – John McPhee
I picked this book, The Pine Barrens by John McPhee, up from Barnes and Noble when I first moved to the Archipelago. It was obviously positioned to sell, being displayed on a table at the front door of the store. It was the first book a shopper would see once they entered. Why B&N displayed it so prominently I have no clue. It was not a new addition, the author had not been interviewed on TV recently, and no new documentary was made of the guy. Strange.
However, I had driven past the pine barrens of New Jersey several times, but never penetrated its foreboding boundaries. I was always rushing to get to the sunny beaches of the Jersey Shore. Perhaps it was my fate to encounter this book.
So, I thought a peek between the covers of this slim volume, might be of interest for a moment or two. There might be some historic tidbit or nugget of nostalgic information worth reading. I had no great hope of finding anything worth laying out money for. Even though the writing was rather plain, it drew me in so I bought it.
Little did I know that McPhee is not just an author, he is a word sorcerer, a grammatical spell-caster, a literary genus in every sense of the word. I never read an author, before or since, who could write an engrossing, intensely interest book about a topic, that on the face of it, is boring to read as an IRS form or one of Biden’s speeches.
How could a writer make something as dull and tedious as thousands of acres of pine trees exciting? Just the title of it ‘ The Pine Barrens’ brings to mind a landscape of mind-numbing monotony. I will leave it to you to find out how; I don’t want to give anything of this book away.
This is definitely a classic in my world. Just writing about it makes me want to dig it out and read it for the third time.
THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAU – Pierre Boulle
One Friday night my friend and I were having a few beers at Peter McManus Cafe on 7th avenue in downtown Manhattan. I was complaining that I had read a string of mediocre books and was losing faith in the writing talent of the human race, or, I was loosing my knack for finding enjoyable books. The next time we went out drinking he gave this book to me.
It is an odd novel in the fact that it reads like a long narration of Boulle describing the novel he wants to, or was going to write. Maybe that oddness, that strange narrative style, is what made it work so well.
THE CURSE OF LONO –
Hunter S Thompson & Ralph Steadman
I saved this book for last because I do not want to scare the faint of heart. The combination of Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman can permanently injure the physic centers of those unfamiliar with their twisted world view.
I don’t approve of what was Thompson’s lifestyle, or much of his politics, but I do admire his writing style. It is a strange and powerful literary elixir for sure. He has a rolling, stream of consciousness narrative with a dark edge of paranoia that puts him in a separate class of American writers. When I read the darkly rhythmic, alliteration, of Poe’s The Raven I think of Thompson. For me, he achieves the same effect, not with words, but with the repetition of ideas and images.
In The Raven and Curse of Lono, there are two common themes. Poe classic poem examines the narrator’s obsession with his lost love and how it adversely effects his thinking. Thompson shows the same effect through personal observations on his constant efforts to procure, and us, recreational chemicals; or more accurately, the gleefully abuse of said chemicals. This may done inadvertently on Thompson’s part due to his compulsive honest with his audience.
Both authors touch on a second theme as well; how larger, cosmic forces are at work to manipulate and antagonize the narrator in the Raven, and Thompson on his travels to, and around Hawaii.
They are kindred spirits in method and subject.
Steadman’s illustrations are a perfect match for Thompson’s writing. Whoever hooked these two up should have gotten a casting award at the publishing equivalent of the Oscars.
If you want to step into one man’s intellectual maelstrom, and ride his run away roller coaster, whirling dervish, tarantella inspired commentary, then Curse of Lono is the dark door to enter.
There you have it, your summer homework assignment.