The Ottumwa Courier

July 5, 2013

The Search ... for summer reading

Preparing to relax in the sun can be hard work

Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — Before you venture outside on the deck, turn up  Bob Seger and soak up some rays, you need to find some good summer books.

Good reading is essential to a good tan. It’s essential to enjoying summer.

Relaxing isn’t easy

When preparing for summer reading, don’t get caught up in that “Can’t find your keys” mode where you walk around your house aimlessly looking for the towel, the shades, the CDs. By the time you get outside, it will have clouded up. Remember, this is Iowa!

But once you’ve got your suntan lotion, CDs loaded in your disc player in shuffle-mode, drink prepared, your towel on the lawn chair, a rawhide bone for your lab ... I know it’s a very complicated production. Relaxing is harder than it looks. But then ...

Books vs. e-Books

What book format will you be reading? A physical book or an e-book on something like Kindle?

E-books take some getting used to for traditionalists. Page-turners? There’s no actual page to turn!

I was talking to a store check-out clerk about book ideas for a gift. She said she has a Kindle but really enjoys holding a real book. There’s really no comparison, she explained.

Most people I’ve talked to agree, but there’s not a lot of bookstore options in smaller towns and the convenience of getting books on Kindle has that as an advantage.

The check-out lady also said she feels a little guilty getting books on Kindle because then she can’t pass them along to her mom, who’s not into e-books.

By the way, what are we going to do in the future with all of these empty bookcases? Maybe I’ll write a book about that.

Book category?

Now, what kind of book are you looking for? Do you want action, intrigue, romance? Something historical? What?

If you’ve got time on your hands, you could always pick up James Michener’s sweeping sagas like Alaska or Mexico. His books start out with “When the Earth cooled ...” It’s called background. You should get a great tan reading his stuff. By fall, you’ll start to get into present times.

If you’re into westerns, there’s Larry McMurtry. His books have really compelling characters who travel about 1,000 miles and hardly anyone survives by the end. Kind of like a Vegas trip. Want to be a character in one of his books? You bet you don’t!

Most important is to pick out something that takes you away from your everyday worries.

A good book title

What’s in a book title? Well, everything, really. If that title doesn’t grip you, you’ll just keep on walking.

That’s why you need a title that sticks the landing.

John Grisham always has these simple but kind of ominous titles: The Client, The Chamber, The Partner, The Last Juror, The Appeal. Ooooh! So dramatic!

I was thinking with all of the political signs in yards around town for the Wapello County Recorder election, maybe a good book title would be The Recorder.

Ooooh! Who wouldn’t read that? People will be thinking, what’s the deal with this recorder? What are they recording anyway? And why? I’ve got to read this!

So if I write a book, I’m going to keep the title simple and dramatic. With a Grisham-type title, people will read it. Examples:

The Sofa.

Subhead: Just when you thought it was safe to sit down!

Readers will read this book standing up. Or ...

The ‘Low-Flow’ Bathroom. An ominous title!

Subhead: Once you pull that flush handle, your life could change in an instant.

Then the synopsis on the inside book flap would say: “What is wrong with the bathroom plumbing? Is it evil? Haunted? Possessed? Besides a shower and sink incapable of rinsing, what about The Toilet? Five plumbers have tried to fix it. Three of them left the business, one died suspiciously and one went insane.

“When Charlie bought the house, he wondered why it was so cheap. He pondered why the realtor kept trying to distract him when he walked by The Bathroom. He remembers the realtor mentioning words like “low flow” and “environmentally friendly.” Low flow? He didn’t like the sound of that! Why not a flush that sounds like a jet engine?

“Instead, The Toilet, constantly backing up with its low-flow flush, mortified dozens of dinner guests. When you have to return to the dinner table asking for a plunger, it’s really not even an option.

“Starting a bathroom blaze and running out screaming, ‘Fire! Fire!’ is about your only way out. This page-turner is not for the faint of heart.”

Incidentally, most suspicious fires at dinner parties are because of this very reason — no plunger.

I think we all have some unreliable piece of equipment that we could write an ominous book about, be it a riding lawn mower, a phone, a car. Just put “The” in front of it: Instant best-seller.

The Mower. Subhead: The grass-cutting nightmare that KEPT BREAKING DOWN!

Remember, the simple, dramatic titles are always the best route.

Read to relax

Reading to relax takes tiresome planning. It doesn’t just happen! Put your relaxation supplies in a basket so you’re ready to go at moment’s notice.

When you see that sun peek out from the clouds, there’s no time to waste. Move it! Move it! Get out there and relax! What kind of lollygagging relaxer are you?

Best Summer Books of 2013

So let’s take a look at the “Best Summer Books of 2013” by Publisher’s Weekly (sounds like a fly-by-night organization). But, let’s take a look anyway.

Ghost Moth by Michele Forbes. It says this Northern Ireland book was turned down with 38 rejections in the UK and Ireland before taking off. Thirty-eight rejections? After 35 rejections, I usually pass.

 Today is the last day of the Rest of your life by Ulli Lust. Listen, Ulli, I don’t need to read your book, I live it.

Doll Bones by Holly Black. Description asks “What’s more scream-inducing than a malevolent China doll made from the bones of a murdered girl?” Did you see last year’s Iowa football season? Let’s move on here.

Burial by Claire Donto. It’s one of these “hallucinatory meditation on grief   seems like a strange summer” reads. That’s so Claire!

Forty-one False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcom. First of all, most of these artists and writers are a bunch of recluses and psychos — but you probably already knew that. Read at your own risk.

Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea. Description says she’s an “adult” “wild-ride” writer. “Crazy stories.” You might want to pick this one up.

Byzantium by Ben Stroud. Says this author is an inspiration to “dexterous magicians” who are “boldly ignoring the ‘link it’ command given to almost every writer of short stories hoping to build a collection.” This guy’s clearly insane. Sounds good.

The Graphic Canon, Vol. 3: From “Heart of Darkness” to Hemingway to “Infinite Jest” by Russ Kick. Sounds good, Russ. Title’s a little short though.

A Land Without Sin by Paula Huston. This is the Fred Hoiberg story about Boys Town North at the Iowa State Basketball Complex, where second and third chances are the norm. Just win, baby! No, actually this book explores the mysteries of the human heart.

Read up, Ottumwa!