I must confess, the whole concept of ”summer reading” troubles me. Is it something one does while sprawled across a chaise longue, nibbling greedily on bonbons? I?ve never been exactly sure what a chaise longue looks like.
Or is it homework for grown-ups, as those who lugged around last year’s prestige beach read, Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, are surely convinced? Now that this thick tome is out in paperback (Owl, $17), no doubt a whole new wave of readers will thrill to its mastery of 18th-century dialect, its elusive allusions, its intermittent bits of verse. The rest of us can get a speedy sop of Great Literature by thumbing through Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life (Vintage, $12), a cerebral riff on the self-help genre.
But if you’re serious about self-help, try Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety (Bantam, $12.95), by Robert Gerzon, since anxiety is apparently the mental disorder of the moment, nosing out depression by a hair. If Gerzon’s soothing ministrations prove a little too Deepak Chopra, you can always enter The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night (Quill, $15), by Anthony Haden-Guest, only to emerge (a) smug that you never engaged in such brain cell-sucking bacchanalia and (b) well prepared for the two hot summer flicks about Studio 54. Speaking of hot summer flicks, since you’re only going to be able to see Lolita if you have Showtime, the Sundance Channel, or a plane ticket to Europe, what about revisiting Vladmir Nabokov’s novel (Vintage, $13), an achievement that no filmmaker can ever hope to surpass anyway?
While we’re on the subject of movies, don?t let Wendy Wasserstein’s sorry script of The Object of My Affection dissuade you from the delightful Stephen McCauley novel upon which it was based (Pocket, $6.99). And while we’re on the subject of New Yorkers adapting for Hollywood, don’t let Amy Ephron’s tepid novelistic reheat of A Cup of Tea (Ballantine, $10), derived from the Katherine Mansfield short story of the same name and also headed for the big screen, dissuade you from discovering the marvelous Mansfield; a good intro is The Garden Party and Other Stories (Penguin, $10.95).
Short stories are flourishing nowadays in the hands of spry Southern writer Tim Gautreaux, whose Same Place, Same Things (Picador, $11) features small men with big problems; ditto for the gloomily absorbing Richard Ford, who transplants a like motif to Paris and Montana in Women With Men (Vintage, $12), three almost-novellas. Different place (Manhattan?s Lower East Side), very different things (film stars, fashion, Fran Lebowitz), equally captivating: the delicate prose madeleines of urbane Quentin Crisp’s Resident Alien: The New York Diaries (Alyson, $11.95). And if you find the Naked Civil Servant too gentle, why not get just plain Naked (Back Bay, $12.95) with David Sedaris in his dry, funny, brilliant anti-memoir of growing up gay and cynical — or with kooky Deborah Boliver Boehm as she recollects A Zen Romance (Kodansha, $14) at a Japanese monastery in the ?60s?
While memoirs may be on the ebb, every summer has its thick, memorable biographies: If you’re not having An Affair to Remember (Avon, $7.99), you might as well be reading about one, and it might as well be Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s, courtesy of the ever-persistent, perpetually silky Christopher Andersen. Stoics can tuck into A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax’s meaty portrait of Humphrey Bogart (Quill, $16) or brood over the communications-industry kingpins profiled in Ken Auletta’s The Highwaymen (Harcourt Brace, $13). As for that infamous Jerry Oppenheimer book that Hamptonites were hiding behind their Pynchon book jackets last year?well, let’s just say that Martha Stewart: Just Desserts is far easier to whip in and out of a tote bag now that it’s in softcover (Avon, $6.99).
And while the word ”desserts” still hangs in the sultry air, check out the toothsome morsels in Paula H. Deen’s The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook (Random House, $14.95), which bears John Berendt’s stamp of approval, if that means anything: peach cobbler, strawberry shortcake, and something vaguely chocolate-themed called ”Better Than Sex? Yes!”
At least I’ve got a handle on the bon-bon situation.
A Cup of Tea