Stephen King’s summer reading list
Oh God, it’s August. Ads for school supplies have started showing up in Staples. In the pharmacies, they’re offering big discounts on sunscreen, not to mention those crappy plastic toys that always get left behind at the beach when Mom and Dad pack up the little ones and drive back to Greater Suburbia. And once more your promise to yourself that this summer you really would kick back and do some reading went unfulfilled. You got to the new Harry Potter…but everybody got to Harry. Do not fear, little Nell (or Nelson); it’s your Uncle Stevie to the rescue. Below is my Great Late-Summer Reading List, every book guaranteed to please the mind, eye, and heart. And before you go moaning that summer’s practically over, let me whisper a secret in your ear: Summer doesn’t really end until Sept. 22, so you’ve got plenty of time to check these out on the porch with a glass of iced tea nearby (hammock optional).
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Recommended to me by novelist Kelly Braffet (Josie and Jack), Battle Royale is an insanely entertaining pulp riff that combines Survivor with World Wrestling Entertainment. Or maybe Royale is just insane. Forty-two Japanese high school kids who think they’re going on a class trip are instead dropped on an island, issued weapons ranging from machine guns to kitchen forks, and forced to fight it out until only one is left alive. Royale bears some resemblance to Richard Bachman’s The Long Walk. You probably won’t find it at your local bookstore, but you can order it online. ”No prob,” as Takami’s Springsteen-quoting teenagers are fond of saying.
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
If you’ve been avoiding McCarthy because you’ve heard he’s a tough read, this is the place to start. No Country is instantly involving and unrelentingly suspenseful. The villain, Chigurh (pronounced Ch-GRRR), is the scariest literary creation since a certain cannibal psychiatrist from Baltimore. Each sentence in this brutal punch-to-the-throat of a novel is a tiny polished bone; the entire work is a skeleton you’ll find grinning at you when you turn out the lights.
Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller
If I tell you this is a short novel about a 15-year-old girl’s affair with a 53-year-old man, you might shrug and say, ”Been there, done that, got the Lolita T-shirt.” But Sue Miller has a uniquely American voice, and few women have ever written better about families (maybe Jane Smiley, early in her career). Daisy’s descent, triggered by the death of her adored stepfather, is so harrowing that I literally had to put the book aside on a couple of occasions. You can call it family drama if you want to; the proper name for this stuff is probably nitro.
The Breakdown Lane by Jacquelyn Mitchard
This definitely comes from the ”men are such beasts” school of writing, but I couldn’t quit. Julieanne Gillis writes a popular advice-to-the-lovelorn column. What she fails to see in her own home, however, is that her husband (Leo the Louse) has decided it’s time to go on permanent vacation. He leaves Julie in the lurch with two teenagers (one with learning disabilities, one with a developing slut complex) and a toddler. While Leo joins a commune to find himself, Julie also finds herself — first nearing financial insolvency, then with multiple sclerosis. What makes this book so entertaining is how funny it is — particularly the sections written by Julie’s teenage son, who is Holden Caulfield with a spell-checker.
Hello, Darkness by Sandra Brown
Okay, Sandra Brown is not Eudora Welty, but if you want romantic suspense that has teeth — big ones — she’s your gal. This one features a Beautiful Disc Jockey With a Secret in Her Past who starts getting calls from a psycho named ”Valentino” on her late-night show (tunes for lovers — forget the playlist unless you’re deep into Barry White). A great deal of violence and steamy, graphic sex ensues. And ensues. And ensues. The finale is a shocker worthy of Agatha Christie…although I don’t think there was ever an Internet sex club in any of Dame Agatha’s books.
Killing Floor by Lee Child
There are nine novels about Child’s loner hero, Jack Reacher. All are ripping yarns, but since this is the first, it seems the logical place to start. Be aware, though. That Child. Writes in tiny sentences. Like this. Killing Floor wins awards for Best Corrupt Southern Town in a Summer Novel and Best Exploding Warehouse.
Mystery, So Long by Stephen Dobyns
This is a slim, can’t-put-it-down book of — get ready for it — poems. And if you think poems can’t be riveting, you need to check this out; your pal Steve would not steer you wrong. Dobyns has written numerous novels (like the well-received The Church of Dead Girls), and many of his poems have a nice narrative line. They are also madly funny and sorrowfully ironic. How can you not like a volume containing a poem titled ”Old Farts’ Ball” or this almost offhand observation: ”Even a certain kind of day/will bring it back, a wet city street, crowds of people/pushing toward some bright moment, the one to make/their lives complete — the wail of a car alarm, a tangle/of yellow cabs, a pigeon in the gutter crushed by a bus.” It may not be Wallace Stevens, but it ain’t shabby. And come on — wouldn’t you like to say you got your summer tan while reading not only J.K. Rowling but Stephen Dobyns’ new book of poems?