Stories for all your various summer needs
While summer reading lists tend to put one in mind of trashy paperbacks stashed away in canvas bags for beach reading, not many of us will spend the entire summer in a folding chair. Thus, a good set of summer reading suggestions will include options suitable for a variety of situations and pursuits. Whether you’re soaking up summer rays, trapped inside by a sudden summer storm, or looking for a different kind of summer getaway, this list should have you covered. (You’re welcome.)
For those hot summer days:
Other than Jill’s Kolongowski’s recommendation of Julia Child’s My Life in Paris (which is both an amazing book and actually about a lot more than just Child’s life in Paris), the most enjoyable food book you can add to your summer reading list is Bill Buford’s Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. Formerly Fiction Editor at The New Yorker, Buford leaves his magazine job to learn about cooking in Mario Batali’s restaurant Babbo shortly before the release of The Babbo Cookbook. It’s a time when the restaurant is both preparing for fresh critical scrutiny and tweaking the menu to move beyond the soon-to-be-published set of recipes. No one in the kitchen has the time or patience for a rank amateur in their midst, and Buford has to make the most of it — which he does with humor, humility, and aplomb. Heat is a welcome counterpoint for those of us put off a bit by the overwhelming bravado of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, and things just get better when Buford heads off to Italy to study with some of Batali’s mentors.
For those stormy summer nights:
There’s actually some really amazing stuff in even the biggest mainstream comic books right now. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on Batman is unbelievable (and in a different venue, I’d have written that word in all-caps AND bold AND italics), Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s work on Wonder Woman is everything the New 52 promised to do, a magnificent re-imagining of a classic (but too-often underutilized) character — the character designs alone are worth cover price — and Gail Simone’s Batgirl is a remarkable and psychologically gripping take on Barbara Gordon that manages to preserve most of what was wonderful about Simone’s time writing the character as Oracle. (This is high praise coming from me. I was really disappointed that DC was abandoning Stephanie Brown in order to bring back the Barbara Gordon Batgirl, although, in fairness, I might just be the only person in the world who feels that way.)
But, assuming that you might not be the sort of person who visits a comic shop every month, let me recommend Grant Morrison’s current run on Batman, Inc. as the culmination of a story he’s been telling since 2006. Morrison is a writer whose work actually often reads better when it’s been collected into a trade volume where the reader can pick up all the visual and story clues he weaves together from month to month (which can often seem a bit obscure when you’re only getting 20ish pages at a time, with 30 or more days between installments). Morrison’s saga starts with Batman and Son (with a jaw-dropping first issue where Batman fights ninja man-bats in a Roy-Lichtenstein-inspired pop art exhibition), and continues in The Black Glove (with art by the no-less-than-absolutely-brilliant J. H. Williams III), Batman R.I.P., Batman & Robin Vol. 1: Batman Reborn (where Dick Grayson steps into the cape and cowl), Vol. 2: Batman vs. Robin, Vol. 3: Batman & Robin Must Die, and finally, the pre-New 52 Batman, Incorporated. (Completists will include Final Crisis and The Return of Bruce Wayne, but you can get away without reading those two. Just know that Bruce Wayne dies, sort of, and then comes back.)
Like many “difficult” writers, the trick to reading Morrison is to just keep going. With Morrison in particular, you’ll get totally lost if you worry about making sense of everything. I think the big secret is that Morrison spends a lot less time worrying about whether he makes sense than building and keeping up a sort of narrative cadence and momentum. When you really get into him, you don’t so much read as excavate, digging up all the things that you didn’t realize were there at first, and finding yourself pulled into the most neglected and maligned corners of a character’s history, suddenly shown (well, skillfully retconned) to have been the most interesting and important thing all along.
But, having said that, you don’t need to know anything about Grant Morrison or even Batman to pick up Batman and Son. (Although, good luck putting it down once you’ve started.)
For getting away from it all:
Being the sort of person who tends to talk about narrative video games, I’m going to recommend a game rather than a book on games. (If you’re looking for a fun AND smart book on video games, there’s always Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives, which I’ve written about before, or you can do what I do and crib from The Brainy Gamer‘s bookshelf.)
If you haven’t played it yet, go download Thatgamecompany’s Journey right now. There’s a collector’s edition disc coming out at the end of August (which will also include Flower and Flow), but don’t wait. Hell, download it now AND buy the disc in August. Anything to encourage people to make more games like this.
For the foreseeable future, Journey will only be available for the Playstation 3, so my apologies if you don’t own one. For everyone else, we can count the new Mass Effect 3 endings as narrative, right? Just for the summer?
Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.