So, you've got yourself stocked up on all the great hardcovers, the
limited and importeds. But for some reason, you feel compelled
to go outdoors. Don't ask me why, I don't get those kinds of urges.
But in theory I can understand them. And I can help you continue
your reading habit in the great outdoors without endangering your
Precious, Precious hardcovers.
you touch my Neal Stephenson limited edition?
Now this might be something of an odd admission coming from a guy
who claimed to have read an $Umpty-ump.00 edition of Tim Powers'
'Last Call' by the side of Pinecrest Lake. But I'm a professional
hypocrite, so don't try those kinds of experiments at home. Heed
my warning. Leave the good stuff at home to read in the Quiet Hours.
Maybe that's not plural. Maybe it's not even measurable in hours.
The best way to read that Neal
Stephenson limited edition is to find
the rare Slice of Time in Safety (SoTiS) -- and to wear gloves.
But now, you're headed out of doors. (Let's not limit this to the
beach, fercrissakes, because the sun is so relentless, I can't imagine
why anyone would really want to read on the beach, though I see it
being done on the not-infrequent walks I take on my own nearby beach.)
You want to grab something that will grab you back. And you want
it to be something you haven't got round to reading yet, something
in trade or mass-market paperback. That will be the restriction here;
no hardcovers allowed.
Then step this way, readers, because there's a lot love out there.
Your first resort is to look at those lists of "best
books of 2003", because just about now, those books are
being issued left and right in trade paperback. If they were worth
your time in
hardcover last year, they're doubly worth your time in trade paperback
this year. And even if you bought the hardcover last year, you know
that these authors are worth owning twice. You can keep that hardcover
in place for your SoTiS. But for your rough-and ready hike from the
car to the picnic bench, thence to open the soda and watch the kids,
you can drag out the reprint, dog-ear the pages, break the spine
and perform all manner of mayhem on the poor dears that would be
verboten in the case of first-firsts. And should be in the case of
paperbacks as well, as far as I'm concerned. But I'm one of those
people who can read a mass-market paperback and never crinkle the
spine. But alas, no matter what I read I tend to get a bit of grit
on the pages.
The book that
started this meditation, the trade paperback that caught my eye and
said, "Hey, write about me!" was Mary Roach's
'Stiff'. Yes, you can now own 'Stiff', easily one of last year's
best books in a lovely trade paperback. What better way to combat
the light, sunny thoughts that you'll trend towards under the green
shadows of the trees, or listening to the sounds of pounding surf
under the umbrella? Mary Roach talks about death, death, and more
death, serves up heads on a tray and blows up bodies with an industriousness
that would be positively demonic were her writing not positively
angelic. 'Stiff' might sound like some sort of heavy-duty somber-a-thon,
but instead it's a light delight, stuffed to the gills with fascinating
tales of post-mortem mayhem and yet somehow -- smart, and simply
significant. Roach receives and delivers wisdom with a grace that's
bracing and far too often, laugh-out-loud funny. Try explaining to
those around the table why forty human heads in trays made you laugh
when you were offered a turkey sandwich. You might not be able to,
but you also won't forget or want to forget this lovely, lively work.
It's short, to-the-point, often exciting and always funny. But be
careful how you use all the fascinating facts you learn from this
slim volume. Your friends might start to wonder how you came about
such knowledge, and when you're done with this book, you'll be tempted
to tell them that it's all from hands-on experience. Just to get
a rise, entertain, and make them think; which is what the book will
do for you.
Once you've polished off death with the help of Mary Roach, you might
want to turn to matters slightly less weighty; for example the rise
and fall of galactic empires. Perhaps only in our inverted culture
would the fall of interstellar cultures prove to be lightweight reading
fare, but by now it's a well-established fact that space opera is
the quickest way to beam your brain into the no-rational-thoughts
zone. That doesn't mean your space opera has to be witless, though.
I could -- and certainly will --write an entire column on the State
of Space Opera. Short answer; damn good shape. Out of the fertile,
earthy loam of thousands of Star* novels, a veritable forest-killing
forest of fat, sassy and surprisingly smart books has grown. I'm
not going to talk about all of them. Read about the wonders of Alastair
Reynolds' series in this article, buy 'Revelation
Space' and get
ready to blow your mind. There are more Iain M. Banks' books than
even the most saintly of us deserve. And Neal Asher's 'Gridlinked'
is coming out as a US Mass market paperback in August. These are all fat reading satisfaction and
readers of this column had better already have them. If not, time
to sneak them in.
laser blast to read.
soon to this website.
Walter Jon Williams has two, count 'em two thirds of a series out
with the final installment due out in the UK, at least, in a beach-compatible
trade paperback in November. I read 'The
Praxis' in Hawaii. It deserves
Hawaii. It deserves Tahiti, Cannes and whatever beach it was that
Peter Benchley sent that homicidal shark to visit. 'The Praxis' gives
you all the blessed brain-burning tropes of space opera; galactic
travel, alien races, political intrigue, fleets of fighting starships
-- and it gives you an extra layer of light wit, like the perfect
sorbet. There's a hint of Wodehouse as the clever are forced to guide
the clueless. Complex but familiar flavors with a touch of class.
The first installment left me giddy with desire to read 'The Sundering',
and I've been jealously hoarding it for the perfect time. Funny thing
about Hawaii; the only beach that could give it a run for its money
is the one only a short walk away, on Monterey Bay. I'm ready to
deploy my super-secret space weapon. Now you can -- and should as
well. As summer fades, we can, in the long lingering light of autumn,
finish off a sumptuous meal with 'The Orthodox War'. That's a book
title, not a newspaper headline.
Unified theory of serial killers.
a sequel that plays out implications.
I often complain about the vagaries of US publishing, sometimes
I find myself happily on the receiving end of what
annoy me. Yes, I do think that Michael Marshall Smith should
get to put his whole name on a paperback book. And he certainly
a first-run hardcover. But I got a copy of the mass-market
paperback of 'The
long before I got round to buying the UK hardcover version.
But Smith's the kind of guy you do that for. And now, I
can get a UK hardcover copy of 'The Lonely Dead' to read during
any SoTiS. And I'm pretty damn happy that I can go out to the
store -- that's the kind of push Smith is getting -- and pick
up a mass-market paperback copy of 'The Upright Man'. I suspect
they're pretty much the same book, though there may be some
UK-centric spellings in the hardcover. I'll be happy to see 'em.
the first novel in what has become a series, and I now have
to re-read the first book in hardcover, at home in my SoTiS,
and then repair to the beach to enjoy the new entry in paperback
the hardcover is slowly crawling my way from the UK. Smith
can creep out the most impassive reader with remarkable ease. 'The
Man' will make the beach a very chilly place this summer.
I'm reading the hardcover version even as I write this column.
I found it used at Logos. Really! From the very fact
Clute reviewed it, I knew it would be interesting. But I
for how damn good, how inventive and compelling Kim Stanley
Years of Rice and Salt' would be. Now, I
know that you've
seen this described and reviewed as a science fiction alternate
That description is true, but it's not particularly accurate,
to my mind. As I read it, 'The Years of Rice and Salt' is
accomplished and coherent fantasy novel a reader could hope
to find on the science
fiction shelves. Here's the windup; the Black Plague kills
off 99% of the population of Europe -- and the culture it
Moslem and Chinese empires developed science, fought wars,
the New World and journeyed into the 20th century in 'The
World Without Europe' -- the novel's working title. What brings
Years of Rice
and Salt' out of the realms of typical alternate history
and science fiction itself is beautifully wrought and carefully
that seems to come from the world it creates. This novel
told as a series of novellas that span from the time of the
to sometime in our near future. But it's not our past, present
future. Robinson tells his tale with sequential karmic adventures
three characters try to make the most of their lives in his
utterly changed world. Each story is concluded by an interlude
in the "bardo",
where the characters reminisce on their past lives and try to move
ahead in the game of existence. Readers will positively thrill as
Robinson's characters discover the basic principles of science, politics
and human nature. Each scenario is beautifully described, the characters
fully fleshed, both within the individual novellas and across the
span of the novel itself. A large part of the fun lies in locating
the new incarnations of "B", "K" and "I" (or
sometimes depending on the time and location, "E";
you'll know) in each new novella. This is a substantial and
fantasy that's a moving fable and a remarkably intelligent
Best Years of Our Lives.
benefits from a bit of a chill, and the horror writers are busy putting
one together for you. For those of us
who -- with
a twinge of guilt -- miss the overkill horror of the 1980's,
some accomplished writers are mining the fertile grounds of
full-blown horror with entertaining results. Scott Nicholson has
shelves, and 'The Manor' waiting in the wings for a late
summer release. Nicholson, whose 'The
Red Church' was a Stoker nominee,
his horror with the regional feel of the Appalachian Mountains.
This sensibility gives a nice undercurrent of class to the
Pulitzer Prize nominee Thomas Sullivan has a nice slinky
entry titled 'Dust of Eden'. It's the rest home for the wicked
-- who deserve no rest and aren't going to find much in their
Faustian bargains and the serpent who is a man of wealth
and taste will make wicked fun for the reader. Readers would be
well advised to look up Sullivan's earlier work including 'Born Burning'
and the World Fantasy award nominee
And if you're looking
a nice little horror paperback, what would the summer be
R. Green's latest entry in his 'Novels of the Nightside'?
from the Night Side' is the first entry and 'Agents
and Darkness' the second.) This time around, John Taylor,
the man with
the power to find anything -- a power that Green is quite
clever about -- is listening to 'Nightingale's
Lament'. The problem
is that those near her tune tend to die. You know a standup
like Taylor isn't going to stand for this, you know that
there's a lot more to the damsel in distress than meets the
eye and you
that said damsel has a lot to meet the eye. Green doesn't
write 80's horror,
though. He's a thoroughly modern man, with his tongue lodged
firmly in cheek as he tours past the latest rounds of monsters,
those who are both. As much as I love the paperback versions
of these books, I'd pay big bucks for the limited hardcovers
by JK Potter. Now, none of these books is going to change
the world, change our life or change you. But they might
from sunburn time to those pleasant memories of page-turning,
brain-burning reading fun.
Of course, the
mystery and science fiction genres offer up similar treats. In the
world of mystery, maybe now is the
time for you
to burn through the work of David Corbett. 'The
been out in mass-market paperback for a while now, and the
time is ripe to pick up this and his soon-to-be-released
for Dime'. Corbett offers intense, complex character-driven
stories set in Northern California. 'The Devil's Redhead'
is a torrid
tale of love and drug-dealing gone horribly wrong. Dan Abatangelo,
based on the gentlemen marijuana smugglers that Corbett used
to work with as a private detective, is a keen and affecting
man, and Corbett's
gritty look at the NoCal drug world in the Delta is fascinating
and complex. Though 'Done for Dime' is not a sequel, Abatengelo
show up in this Chandler-eqsue land-scam thriller about the
death of a musician that leads to a cataclysmic scenario
in a perfectly-drawn NoCal hilltop neighborhood.
town in the summer time.
go of that ceegar you filthy varmint!
On the other side of the country, George Pelecanos is busy
unfolding one of the most compelling series of mystery novels in
recent years. You can now score all three novels in the Quinn/Strange
trilogy in paperback. 'Right
As Rain' starts off the story of these
two compelling detectives. 'Hell
to Pay' moves the story of the characters'
development into high gear, and 'Soul
Circus' finishes a beautifully
architected story arc, while, like all the others, being nicely self-contained.
To a certain extent, these books are too good for paperbacks, but there
they are: nicely racked and ready to read in back-pocket compatible paperback
As a contrast to the tone of
Corbett's and Pelecanos'
stark, compelling stories, if you want the best beach reading
that mystery has to offer -- so long as you're not embarrassed
out loud -- now might be the time to catch up with Joe R.
Lansdale's Hap and Leonard mysteries. Lansdale is stark, compelling and utterly hilarious.
Start with 'Savage
it up with 'Mucho Mojo', 'Two
Bear Mambo', 'Bad Chili', 'Rumble
and 'Captains Outrageous'. Consider this your warning that
once you start it will be hard to stop. My guess is that once
you start in on the paperbacks, the hardcovers won't be far
behind. This year's offering, 'Sunset
and Sawdust' is likely to land in your book-bag. Laughter is, after
Beyond the joys of space opera, science
fiction has its own light delights. Jasper Fforde's 'The
Eyre Affair' and 'Lost
in a Good Book' are perfectly
wonderful. They'll satisfy not only SF fans, but also mystery
For nice bit o' fluff, you might want to catch an 'Ill Wind'
by Rachel Caine. This tale of dueling weather wizards set
in a sort
present has a nice light touch and enough complexity to keep
you thinking more about the weather on the pages than the
which you're reading. Of course, there are certainly some
books you haven’t read. You can hope they're as good
Watch', his latest DiscWorld entry or 'The
Wee Free Men', which
is in the process of getting a follow-up in hardcover, 'A
Hat Full of
Sky'. Buying the former will guarantee that you buy the latter
-- but leave the hardcover at home.
Another book that
leaped up in my face and barked, begging me to write about it, was
incident of the dog in the
by Mark Haddon. Easily the most recommendable book of last
year, now you can buy a trade paperback that, when you loan
it to the
people who will inevitably want to read it, you won’t
mind not getting back. Haddon's clever story is a combination
easy reading, as an autistic pre-teenager decides to solve
the murder of the dog next door. Funny, heartbreaking, page-turning,
the book that will get read by the entire family. And the
neighbors, who will want to loan it to their neighbors.
year's big beach book.
Alas, I see I've already started to tread on Terry's territory.
So now, I'll turn you over to her for a look at books largely
Beach Books by Terry D'Auray
Rick has, I'm sure, somewhere above mentioned the absurdity
of reading at the beach. Beaches are for walking upon, not
what we're really talking about here are books – paperback
books – that you can take into the schmutzy outdoors without
turning your fine first in fine dj into an "else fine".
(It's been said frequently before, but bears repeating. "Else
fine" is an oxymoron. If there's an "else", it's not "fine").
And books that are compelling, engrossing and generally good
without being overly taxing, overly long or overly embarrassing.
These are the books I think you should take to the beach. They're
not on my list simply because I've read them already.
Mark Haddon's masterful 'the
curious incident of the dog in the night-time', the compelling story of an autistic child's search
for the killer
of a neighbor's dog with the help of Sherlock Holmes. Haddon
mixes heartrending compassion and laugh-out-loud humor in a truly
'Monkeewrench' by mother/daughter writing team P.J. Tracy, an
unusual serial killer novel with cops, cybertechies, and criminals
with exceptional pacing, meaty characters and great dialogue
that provides multiple opportunities, once again, to laugh out
till they die.
Island', Dennis Lehane's haunting and successful venture
into the realm of psychological suspense. Nothing to laugh at
here, but a story so compelling you may forget to go home.
'The Poet' by Michael Connelly, featuring FBI Agent Rachel Walling,
not Harry Bosch, because it's absorbing on its own and it's a
must-read in preparation for the newest Connelly hit (currently
'Dia De Los Muertos' by Kent Harrington. Only for the strong
of stomach, this book illustrates, with the life of Vince Calhoun,
agent, just how low low can be. Decay and rot, filth and dissolution,
ultimate redemption through noble self-sacrifice, all told in
visceral prose. Dark, nasty, noir like this is usually found
under rocks and
may not take well to sunshine. The lurid skeleton on the cover
will certainly keep away unwanted visitors.
Alice Sebold's 'The
Lovely Bones', a truly moving story that
starts out with a shocking crime and ends with life-affirming
joy. Not recommended
if you're embarrassed to be seen crying in public.
you like crying in public.
you like laughing in public.
'Burglars Can't Be Choosers' by Lawrence
Block. There just isn't
a better beach book than a Bernie Rhodenbarr novel from the great
Mr. Block. This is the latest such novel released in paperback,
preceeding 'The Burglar on the Prowl'. Tongue-in-cheek prose,
and solid storytelling all wrapped in a truly witty, funny, fast
'Gun Monkeys' by Victor Gischler. Bring it to the beach to read
its opening sentence and rest assured the balance of the book
to that standard. It's wild, funny, and violent and written in
superb, stylish prose.
These are the books that I'd take to the beach, all paperbacks,
all as yet unread, all screaming for their turn in front of my
Ken Bruen's new paperback, 'The Blitz', about a down-and-out
Southeast London police squad tracking a serial killer. I want
to see how Bruen
transitions from the moody-broody Irishman drunk, Jack Taylor
Guards' and 'The
Killing of the Tinkers') to London
suspect down-and-out might be the conceptual link here.
Giles Blunt's 'The Delicate Storm', his second novel featuring
cops John Cardinal and Lise Delorme from the atmospheric and
Words for Sorrow'. Set in the icy region of northern Ontario,
the frigid environment could help counter beach-heat.
'The Mammoth Book of Private-Eye Stories' edited by Bill Pronzini
and Martin Greenberg, a collection of short stories and short
novels that mix the best private eye writers from the '30s, MacDonald
Chandler, with contemporary masters of the genre, McBain and
Muller, all edited by two writers who most definitely know their
this territory. Short stories and beaches were made for each
Dangerous Road' by Kris Nelscott. Nelscott is Kristine Kathryn Rusch
about a Chicago PI in the
I want to find out why she's using this pseudonym and why
names start with a "K". While it's doubtful I'll
find out anything about here "K" obsession from
reading the book, the story sounds pretty good too. I enjoyed
her science fiction mystery, 'The
Disappeared'(another fine candidate for beach reading),
and 'A Dangerous Road' gives me a chance experience a Rusch
of pure mystery.
all looking for a reading Rusch.
'Samaritan' by Richard Price. (Or 'Clockers' or 'Freedomland')
Hailed as the master of urban grit by critics, wooed by George
to write for the HBO T.V. series 'The Wire' along with Dennis
Lehane, I can't believe I've yet to read anything he's written.
works at the beach only for those who would really rather not
be there to begin with. Price promises a whiff of home for urbanites
who miss screaming sirens and the smell of diesel bus fumes in
Thanks, Terry. That concludes our beach books for this
year. You read all these on the beach, you'd better be wearing
tanning lotion and have lots of vacation time stashed for use
in the here-and-now. By the time you finish this reading assignment,
the new fall books will be out -- for the most part hardcovers,
you can return to SoTiS reading in your favorite comfy chair.
Who needs to actually go out-of-doors anyway, when there are
books written about it that you can read in the in-of-doors?