Summer reading

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Every year a new crop of “summer beach read” lists springs into being. Most, like the essential summer book list I just glanced at on The Huffington Post, look as if they have as much to do with publisher marketing offensives as actual readers, but maybe that’s just me.

If you were to ask me to name a couple of good books to help time pass on the plane or in the cabin, few would be of the hot-off-the-press variety.

Depending on what I think would suit you, I might suggest “No Country for Old Men,” “Confederacy of Dunces,” “The Maltese Falcon” or something along those lines. Classics, recent or otherwise. “Luckiest Girl Alive” or “What She Left Behind” are on Huffington’s list; they might be wonderful books, but they aren’t anything I would be likely to recommend.

The whole idea that people have more time to read in the summer strikes me as optimistic. There are lots of things to do besides read while the weather is nice.

Have I ever read a book at the beach? When I was in college, I used to visit my mother in Florida over summer break and would indeed read books at the beach, or sitting on the patio, but it’s been a while. And I did once read “The Scarlet Letter” beside the pool at what turned out to be a clothing-optional Jamaican resort where Carol and I went on our honeymoon.

But as an annual summer ritual? Nah.

I have been reading quite a bit this summer, late in the evenings and early in the morning, usually lying in bed. Here are the books I’ve enjoyed since about the time the frigid and wet Iowa spring made its usual instantaneous transition into the scorching hot and humid Iowa summer:

  • “The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders.”
  • “Get Serious,” Dr. Brett Osborn’s book about fitness and weight-lifting. Good stuff.
  • “Cuckservative,” by Vox Day; a book critiquing conservatives’ habit of self-sabotage.
  • “There Will Be War Volume V,” an anthology of essays about warfare alternating with science fiction stories concerning same.
  • “How to Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big,” by Scott Adams, the Dilbert-cartoonist. It’s sort of a speculative self-help book in which Adams discusses his many failed ventures and how each one of them was an opportunity to learn something valuable. He offers life tips about a variety of subjects, including diet, exercise and conversation. I’m not sure Adams has a coherent philosophy, at least not one he pitches as such, but he’s quite intelligent and has penetrating layman insights into how our brains work. Much of it revolves around this observation: We tell ourselves we look at facts, draw logical conclusions, and then act on them — but mostly that’s all a big fat lie. Adams doesn’t think we are at all rational. A trained hypnotist, he understands better than most reality is plastic, and that we can lead ourselves, or be led, to believe about anything by the sort of person he calls a Persuader.
  • “Escape from Ambergris Caye,” my friend Joan Mauch’s new mystery.
  • “Awaken The Giant Within,” by Tony Robbins. I’m a little embarrassed to admit to reading this, but the book was on a reading list Adams posted on his blog to clue people in on how Persuaders do their work. (I’m not as interested in being a Persuader as I am in knowing when one is working his mojo on me.) Robbins is associated with something called Neuro-linguistic programming, which I understand has somewhat fallen from favor. He generated controversy recently when some people who walked across hot coals at one of his seminars burned the hell out of their feet. The thing Robbins does well in this book, which I started reading yesterday, is present the case that much of the world is what we tell ourselves it is, whether we know it or not. How we each decide to frame our experiences, objectives and fears are under our control, for better or worse, to a large degree.

What are you reading this summer, at the beach or elsewhere?