Let’s assume you want suggestions for good summer reading. The recommendations have got to be available in paperback, suitable for easy toting to vacation destinations. And they probably needn’t include Angela’s Ashes, since either (1) you’ve already read the hardcover edition or (2) you’ve already bought the new paperback edition or (3) you have absolutely no intention of reading Irishman Frank McCourt’s memoir this summer because you’re taking a vacation from all things Irish and all things memoir — and what you really want to do is read Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, not least in affectionate support of the author, who’s recovering from serious injuries to his own fragile bag of bones up in Maine.
Let’s assume you’ve devoured Bones in one sitting, and you know that Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, delicious as it is, will last you only a weekend, tops. Now may be the perfect time to pick up The Extra Man, Jonathan Ames’ droll, original novel of manners about a dapper fellow (with a thing for dressing up in women’s clothes, but who’s counting?) who becomes the roommate of an older, even more dapper fellow (the gentleman of the title, who makes a living escorting wealthy elderly ladies to dinner parties), and in so doing learns more about New York City mores than any of Amy Vanderbilt’s etiquette books could ever convey.
Inspired by Ames’ Fitzgeraldian perfume, you’ll probably want to luxuriate in Everybody Was So Young, Amanda Vaill’s enticing biography of those charismatic Fitzgeraldian muses Gerald and Sara Murphy. And then perhaps it’s time for a complete change of pace. Something crunchy and unusual like The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, Paul Hoffman’s unexpectedly engrossing biography of the eccentric mathematician Paul Erdos, who kept huge equations in his head and lived out of two ratty suitcases. Or something gritty and utterly undainty like Tough Jews, Rich Cohen’s pungent history of Jewish gangsters, from Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel to the cigar-chomping types that Herb, the author’s father, knew about back in the old days in Brooklyn. (Another guy from Herb’s neighborhood: a kid named Larry Zeiger, who became suspender-wearing celeb-ulist Larry King.)
From there you’re only a cream soda away from enjoying The Inn at Lake Devine, Elinor Lipman’s pickle-spicy comedy about one young Jewish woman’s lifelong fixation on a bucolic New England resort that has been daintily excluding her people for generations, and how it shaped her romantic life. And while Lipman’s heroine, Natalie Marx, storms the ramparts of WASPy Vermont in 1962, April Sinclair’s soul-sister heroine Jean ”Stevie” Stevenson dives into the hot-tub lifestyle of 1970s San Francisco in Ain’t Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice.
Gritty? Louise Rafkin knows about grit. I’m wary about books that entwine art with tattling, but I’m involuntarily charmed by Rafkin’s musings on mess — dug up during her years as a housecleaner — in Other People’s Dirt.