It's summer reading time, we're told. Apparently people who read nothing more substantial than the back of the cereal box now go to the beach with 1,000-page tomes and settle back to read while squinting and slapping bugs.
But what makes a summer book? It can't be Russian literature, since that would call for snow. It can't be something scientific. If you showed up at the beach with "A Brief History of Time," everyone would kick sand in your face. "Hey, look at the loser, improvin' his mind! Get him!"
No, it has to be a genre novel, something invariably described as a roller-coaster ride, because everyone remembers how much fun it was to read a book on a roller coaster. So let's look at some examples of summer beach reading:
Romance. I don't mean the assembly-line books like "Pec O'Glisten of Larksbreath Manor" or any of that pulpy stuff. The people who read those books are year-round consumers and go through them by the dozens.
I mean books like "Fifty-One Variations of Blue," a daring, breathtaking, passionate novel of passion that tests the boundaries of passion.
The plotline: Melissa Standin is a fashion editor living in New York who thinks she has it all until she meets the mysterious, rich, handsome Manlee X. Stanforth, and enters the strange, shadowy world of people who combine passionate lovemaking with Civil War re-enactments.
"Contains more euphemisms for sex than any other book on the market today." — Publishers Weekly
"One book-club assignment they'll actually read." — Kirkus
Horror. There's a Stephen King novel out this summer, and it's good for the beach. If you take it fishing, it can be used as a boat anchor. I'm sure it's scary and 400 pages too long, because it has to kill off all the characters you never cared about in the first place. Good thing there are other people churning out horror stories, like:
"The Foggening," by Alistair Spuekey. Artisanal toothpick maker Seth Broadson lives alone in the woods, hand-carving toothpicks from avocado pits for Seattle restaurants. It's a simple life with simple joys — until a strange fog surrounds him and follows him wherever he goes. He loses his ability to concentrate, and his life spins out of control. Does the fog have a purpose? Or has he just been smoking too much weed? No, it can't be the weed. On the other hand, it's probably not helping.
"Will grip you by the throat and keep you on the edge of your chair on a roller coaster." — Publishers Weekly
"In a genre often cluttered with clichés, 'The Foggening' stands apart, and the final scene in an insane asylum built over an Indian graveyard is impressive." — Kirkus
Crime. Everyone loves a mystery, especially if there's a ragged, weary hero tracking down a brilliant serial killer. Take: "Big Boys Don't Die," by John Sirnaim. Detective Mark Spillone is a chain-smoking, alcoholic, disgraced ex-prizefighter haunted by his past. He needs a shave and a case. When lovely Linda Vavume walks into his office, he thinks things might be looking up. But soon she's found dead, dressed in a red-and-white checked jumpsuit, her lacquered black hair piled on her head, a plate full of hamburgers glued to her hand. It's the first of the "Big Boy Murders," and Spillone has to race against the clock to find who would choose such a ridiculous theme for his serial murders.
"Not since 'Dead Me Kissly,' Sirnaim's first and best work, has Spillone seemed so tired and haunted." — Publishers Weekly
"Spillone once again tracks a brilliant serial killer who sends taunting notes to the detective, who had already shot and killed 22 serial killers who sent taunting notes." — Kirkus
Military thriller. In this Tom Clancy genre, there's "Drone Force Delta Bravo Tango Whiskey Strike-Package Alpha," by Tim Klency. The sequel to "Seal Team Foxtrot Tomahawk," "DFDBTWSPA" follows a drone pilot in a Florida command center who receives orders to wipe out the entire Jordanian royal family. Will he follow his orders, or investigate the rogue elements that seek to destabilize the region?
"The soul-searching scenes after the hero wipes out the royal family are uncharacteristically moving." — Publishers Weekly
"Like previous books in the series, the main character has a member of the family who is kidnapped. This time it's a hamster." — Kirkus
Of course, you're better than that, so you'll want to read this year's can't-miss memoir, "The Ochre Kites of Madagascar." It's about a young girl who tended silkworms in her small village, then saw a kite one day that seemed symbolic. Now she teaches creative writing at Columbia, where she uses her book to explain the difference between a simile and a metaphor.
Touching, no doubt. But you might want to hold out for the book I'm writing. It crams all the summer reading genres into one story: A detective has sex with a ghost on a submarine heading for Kabul. If you don't like one story line, just skip every fifth page.
email@example.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks