I’m a big reader, and my girlfriends tend to use my large and constantly expanding book collection as a lending library. I’m always loaning things out and forcing novels upon people. If you’re looking for something to read at the beach (or the pool, or on your lunch break, or whatever) this summer, here are a few of the books I’m always recommending.
Generation X by Douglas Coupland (1991)
I’m a huge Coupland fan, and this unusual novel, his first, follows the banal lives of three twentysomething Gen-Xers wasting their lives away in the summer heat of Palm Springs. The margins are loaded with ’90s-topical definitions and dictionary-style illustrations, and the characters are funny, weird, and compelling.
Just Kids by Patti Smith (2010)
This memoir of Patti Smith’s early romance and lifelong friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe is one of the best things I have read in a really, really long time. It’s astonishing just how many influential people’s paths these two just happened to fall across, and Smith’s writing is haunting and almost poetry-like. This book will make your heart ache in a good way.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (1988)
This novel, one of my favorite books of all time, follows Art Bechstein as he spends the summer after college in Pittsburgh grappling with his life plans, his relationship with his mobster father, and his sexuality. The descriptions and dialogue of Art’s friends and lovers are delicious, and the way Chabon writes is magic. This book feels like summer in Pittsburgh; you can practically smell the hot concrete.
War All The Time: Poems 1981-1984 by Charles Bukowski
Is it uncool to be a Bukowski fan? It kind of feels like a hipster cliché, but I don’t care because I’m not a hipster and Bukowski’s work is incredibly appealing to me. This is my favorite collection of his writing. I’m not usually very into poetry, but the way he writes about the standard Bukwoski fare — drinking, women, L.A. and the horse races –– is so accessible and feels more like a vaguely inebriated stream-of-consciousness inner dialogue, a secret peek into his singular, crotchety, brilliant mind.
The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon by John “Bloodclot” Joseph (2007)
Even if you’re only a Cro-Mags fan in passing, this is a seriously awesome read. The sheer heft of Bloodclot’s autobiography is a little daunting, as is his tendency to go off on tangents for pages and pages, leaving you often a little lost in the sequence of things, but it’s worth it — this man has had a fucking crazy life and he remembers every minute detail, from his childhood spent with horrific foster parents to his early teen years as a homeless drug pusher to his days in the military (before he went M.I.A.) and work as a Hare Krishna. It’s kind of amazing that he somehow managed to fit in being the lead singer of one of the most influential hardcore punk bands in existence. Seriously, seriously recommended for any punk.
What We Do Is Secret by Thorn Kief Hillberry (2005)
They made this into a movie which I heard was really awful, but don’t let that dissuade you. What We Do Is Secret follows the Rockets Redglare, a barely-adolescent gay urchin roaming the streets of Southern California in the city’s punk rock heydey, shortly after the death of Germs frontman Darby Crash. The main characters are all fictional, but the gang’s all here — X, the Adolescents, and so on are all prominently featured, and the novel is a rare and private look at the secreted gay scene that informed L.A. punk in the early ’80s.
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell (2007)
If you like short stories I cannot recommend this book enough. Russell creates a hauntingly real-feeling world in the swampy southern backwoods and Everglades of Florida, with a cast of eccentric island characters and a series of incredible, unusual, real-feeling settings. Every story is a diamond, and Russell’s new novel, Swamplandia!, a continuation of the story “Ava Wrestles The Alligator,” is an excellent follow-up to this collection.
What are your favorite summer reads? Make me some recommendations!