I’ve been playing hooky with the blog, admittedly. This is partly because I have been working hard on a writing project in the hopes I’ll have a decent first draft completed by next NaNoWriMo. I’m writing an article for a bar association journal (the text of which I’ll upload here when I’m done). Also, I’ve been reading and re-reading the fabulous Scalia footnote from City of Arlington v. FCC because it may hold the key to the secrets of the universe. If only I were just a little smarter.

So I’ve only got time for a quick post. Let’s talk about books, or more specifically, summer books. Depending on who you ask, a good summer book is either 1) interesting and challenging (like Judge John M. Woolsey, who read Ulysses on his vacation in preparation for drafting the opinion ruling it not obscene); or 2) pulpy and so formulaic that spilling one’s margarita over two-thirds of it makes little difference (like seventy-five percent of what’s sold in bookstores today). I prefer the former. This summer I think I am finally going to suck it up and read Middlemarch, and possibly finish the Henry James I started a couple of summers ago before I drank too many margaritas. But if Georgian realism is not to your taste, I humbly offer up the following suggestions:

1) The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream, Thomas Dyja

and

City of Scoundrels: The Twelve Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago, Gary Krist

I’ve been on a Chicago kick ever since I read Devil in the White City. Both of these are eminently readable, although you may learn to fear fire.

2) The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, Stephen Greenblatt

This has been out for a while. If you haven’t yet read it, you should; it will change the way you understand history.

3) Embroidered Ground: Revisiting the Garden, Paige Dickey

and

The Writer in the Garden, Jane Garmey (ed.)

My backyard runs, roughly, at about a seventy degree angle to my house. The whole neighborhood is hilly. When we moved in I had to re-engineer everything I knew about landscaping. Dickey is a celebrated gardener who writes lovingly about her relationship with her garden, how it has developed and changed with time and with her advancing age. The Writer in the Garden is an anthology of essays by writers including the likes of W.S. Merwin, Andrew Marvell, Katherine Mansfield, Vita Sackville-West and Jamaica Kincaid.

4) The Stockholm Octavo, Karen Engelmann

A smart, dense historical whodunit.

5) The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

and

Make Good Art, Neil Gaiman

Both books are food for creatives, or for people who would like to be more creative. Also, if you don’t know who Neil Gaiman is we probably can’t be friends.

6) The Virtues of Poetry, James Longenbach

I know you won’t read it, but I wish you would. I wish everyone would.

7) Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

An aging man’s love letter to his young son, and to life. Robinson’s writing is the literary equivalent of cool, clear blue water and a fragrant breeze. I go back and forth about what book is my absolute favorite, but Gilead is always in my top three.

8) The Night Train, Clyde Edgerton

and

Train Dreams, Dennis Johnson

Two very different books united, but a train runs through them (apologies to Norman Maclean). Night Train is a coming of age story set in the deep south, as television brings “race music” to a small town. Train Dreams ranks up there with Gilead in my mind. I won’t tell you more than that. You will love it.

9) The Barbarian Nurseries, Hector Tomar

and

These Dreams of You, Steve Erikson

Both are novels about disintegrating families, the recession, and the ways that immigrants experience America. Both are ultimately hopeful.

10) The Devil’s Tickets, Gary M. Pomerantz

For the lawyers who can’t leave the office behind. Pomerantz relates the true story of Myrtle Bennett, who shot her husband to death in 1929 for calling her a “bum bridge player,” and her lawyer, James A. Reed. A little knowledge of how bridge is played is helpful but not necessary. The real story concerns nascent feminism in a nation on the cusp of the Great Depression.

Let me know if you have your own suggestions or if you like (or hate) any of mine. Happy summer!

summer-reading