The ABCCs of Choosing the Perfect Summer Book

“Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”   P.J. O’Rourke*

That’s all fine and good, P.J., but in the summer I’m hoping I can be excused for reading lighter fare.  Why, summer madness has even driven me to publicly indulge in my guilty pleasure of trash magazines, something you wouldn’t normally witness outside the hair salon where I can claim temporary insanity due to chemical fumes.  Of course summer simultaneously provides the excuse for an acceptable disguise of large, dark, Jackie O sunglasses and wide-brimmed hat.  How convenient.

 So when it hit 80+ degrees today in my hometown, I visited  a NH Wal-Mart in part because I knew it would exemplify the crazy fun promise of summer’s unofficial start this Memorial Day Weekend.  Junk food, toxic-colored soda and ice pops, dayglo beach chairs, the small fireworks we loved as kids but that are banned in Boston and the rest of Massachusetts now.  Remember sparklers?  There are huge sparklers out there, up to a couple of feet that are dipped in some sort of neon casing but the sparkle part is still gold.  There are dozens of party poppers, from the New Year’s kind with the paper crown and toy trinket  to some new ice cream cone-shaped  mini-explosives.    I did not indulge, because besides being illegal, for me this weekend is about the quest for the best books of summer.

Many media and retail outlets capitalize on this with their lists of summer reading recommendations (not to be confused with the lists kids get from school and don’t start looking at until well after the first back-to-school-supplies commercials darken the screen.)  Every list has a personal agenda and typically does not include the piles I have stashed by my bed, so I developed a list of personal criteria and ask that readers let me know of any books that fill the bill or talk about their own summer must-reads and the reasons for choosing them.

Here are my 7 Criteria for the Perfect Summer Book:

  1. Light literally.  Paperback, must not weigh down a beach bag already teeming with 3 levels of lotions, potable/portable fluids, alternative clothing and footwear, fresh fruit, cell phone and camera.
  2. Light figuratively:  Nothing somber, depressing, war or disease related.  We recently lost author Robert B. Parker and that is a pity because not only was he a great guy from my hometown who once judged a talent show I ran, but also because his Spenser for Hire books  are the epitome of a great summer read, so great I’ve read them for decades in every other season, too.
  3. Looks fine with a little sunscreen and smuggled sand within its pages.
  4.  Complements the wild colors prevalent in a season of over the top flowers, beach balls, swim noodles and flop flops,   a season when dour New Englanders don’t look that odd in Hawaiian prints.  Note:  Looking for a book based on a cover that matches your bathing suit can be truly liberating.
  5. So engaging it could be read in one sitting, if only I had the time.
  6. Fiction, with one exemption – nice, non-fiction animal stories.
  7. It doesn’t need to make me “be” better, just ”feel” better after a long bitter winter.

Not feeling my list??  Try one of these.

NPR is currently building and airing it’s top summer reads and they do this using several helpful categories but since it isn’t available in a completed form yet.  I’m including last year’s list that may be a help if you’re a slow reader and missed some of their top 15 from last year.   http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127212916

This is kind of a chick list newly sent to me: DAILY CANDY’S TOP 10 SUMMER READS


The NY Times, anyone?


And let’s honor Oprah by including her list.  No matter whether you’ll miss her or not, or didn’t know she was leaving, she responsible for getting a lot of people reading.


There is such an overwhelming list of good books that I hope you’ll forgive me  if I just forego all the recommendations and simply  read To Kill A Mockingbird,  The Education of Little Tree,  and my entire well-worn Spenser collection, again.

*I chose this P.J. O’Rourke quote coincidentally and not because I have been sleeping with him or rather his book Parliament of Whores for the last week.

©2011 by Alison Colby-Campbell

7 thoughts on “The ABCCs of Choosing the Perfect Summer Book”

  1. Whatever the season my criteria stays the same. Literary fiction. Has the NYT deigned to review it? Am I intrigued by the first paragraph? Is it character driven? Is there a substantial amount of dialogue? And, YES, is it lightweight enough to hold above my head for hours at a time?

    Does it need to match my swimsuit? Only if P.J.O’Rourke is looking.


    1. I just think the match to your swim suit idea has some unique merits for finding a book through unusual means…..I want everyone to try it at least once. Thanks for your comments Lisa!


  2. Tim Dorsey. “Florida Roadkill” and “Hammerhead Ranch Motel” meet all of your criteria. Plus the covers tend to be bright and shiny and won’t look too bad smudged in SPF40 and covered with sand.


  3. Here’s a few to start with:

    Washington: Ron Chernow
    Tinkers: Paul Harding
    Blind your ponies: Stanley Gordon West
    The House at Riverton: Kate Morton
    Under the Dome: Steven King


    1. Thanks Leslie – please note the more recommendations I get, the less likely people will be seeing much of me this summer. That ought to get a few of you making fab recos a thousand times over.


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