Tuesday, May 15, 2012

10 Good Books to Read During the Summer of 2012

I don’t just write my face off consistently, I also read it off.

I believe that reading is essential for our humanity. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, what we read is less important than the act of reading itself. We communicate better, we love better, we listen better, and we act better when we’re thoughtfully engaged in reading words someone has put in front of us.

My favorite time to read will always be summer. Summers used to mean I could shake off whatever dry textbook I was reading in school and voraciously devour books I wanted to read. Now, summer reading means putting the work day aside, grabbing a glass of white wine, scotch, or summer ale, soaking up the long hours of daylight left, and reading until my eyeballs fall off. 

For those of you like me, here are 10 recommendations to get your summer reading started on the right foot. Feel free to comment with recommendations of your own, or find me on Twitter @danielfford

Tolle Lege!
My mini-library at work.

Love in the Time of Cholera

One should always be reading this book. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful, haunting, and human books ever written. From the poetic first lines to the soul-crushing finale, this classic makes you hunger for more of Gabriel García Márquez’s perfectly formed words.

Favorite line: “This is what you get for fucking around.”

Fun trivia: According to one of my professors at Queens College, Márquez is said to have enjoyed Queens College professor Gregory Rabassa’s translation of his other masterpiece 100 Years of Solitude more than the original Portuguese edition.

The Art of Fielding

Yeah, this one had me written all over it. And it did not disappoint. I think it had a kind of Field of Dreams-like romance to it. It’s a book about baseball, but more importantly it’s about the characters that were brought together by the game. Great themes such as sexual identity, growing up, and friendship are on pitch perfect display.

Favorite line: “The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of the defense. He projects this stillness and his teammates respond.”

Born to Run and Unbroken 

Both of these books are going to make you put your sneakers on and run out the door. And if they don’t, I don’t want to know you. 

Born to Run not only sheds light on a master race of runners in Mexico, but also calls into question how we started out as a civilization and the methods we use to run in this day and age. I ate a salad for breakfast for a week after finishing the last page. 

Favorite lines: “”Lesson two,” Caballo called. “Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one—you get those three, and you’ll be fast.” 

Unbroken is one hell of a survival story. It illustrates how man can go from a high of competition to completely broken in a time of war. However, it is also a story of forgiveness, understanding, and compassion. There’s a reason it was at the top of the nonfiction bestseller list for so long. 

Favorite line: “A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.”

Woe Is I 

Get in touch with the English language this summer. Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is all fine and good, but this readable and fun reference book is still my go-to for anything grammar related. Well, when I’m not ranting about how we need fewer rules for grammar, not more.

Favorite line: “When a tiny word gives you a big headache, it’s probably a pronoun.”

The Art of Racing in the Rain

I’ve never wanted to be a dog more in my life. The book is told from Enzo the dog’s point of view as he is dying of old age and looking back on his life with the people he loves. It is more than likely it’s going to get a little dusty wherever you read this book, but it will also have you pumping your fist in triumph as well. 

Favorite lines: “I've always felt almost human. I've always known that there's something about me that's different than other dogs. Sure, I'm stuffed into a dog's body, but that's just the shell. It's what's inside that's important. The soul. And my soul is very human.”

Hitler’s Army

Maybe this isn’t a beach read, but is an important and challenging history book you should tackle. 

The general consensus among historians regarding the German army during World War II has been that troops were bound together in professionalism and had only a vague connection to the National Socialism of Hitler’s regime. This consensus formed soon after the war ended with German troops trying to find some explanation and justification for their actions during the war. First hand accounts from soldiers from the Western front seemed to prove historians correct when they wrote that they had no idea of the atrocities that were being committed by Hitler and that they fought mostly for their fellow soldiers, not for any ideology. In Hitler’s Army, Omer Bartov defies the conventional wisdom and makes a compelling case that the Wehrmacht was more closely intertwined with Nazism then previous thought. Focusing on the murderous Eastern Front, Bartov explains that the demoderization of the army, the destruction of the “primary group,” the effects of the army’s discipline, and the distorted reality experienced by the soldiers all prove that German troops fought for more than just each other. 

Favorite lines: “In June 1941, the Ostheer’s 3,600,000 million troops attacked with 3,648 tanks out of a total German stock of 5,694; one again only 444 of these were of the relatively advanced Panzer IV model. Facing it in Western Russia were 2,900,000 million Soviet soldiers supported by no less than 15,000 tanks out of total armed force of 24,000, more than all the tanks in the rest of the world put together.”

The Civil War: A Narrative 

Okay, it might take you 10 summers to get through this trilogy. However, reading Shelby Foote’s narrative is as good as having his Southern drawl speaking to you from across your kitchen table. He makes even the most minor actors in the war colorful and memorable characters, and his exhaustive coverage of the conflict makes one wonder how our country ever got over being torn apart.

Favorite lines: Everything President Lincoln says.

Nobody’s Fool  

Richard Russo won the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, but I loved Nobody’s Fool infinitely more. I don’t know if it’s because I bonded with my mother over it, how Russo crafted all of his characters, or the movie version with it’s perfect casting of Paul Newman as the main character Sully. My senior AP English teacher in high school put it in my hands and it will always be one of my favorite reads of all time.

Favorite line: “Clive Jr.’s fear of Sully was always rewarding. But Sully wanted to be fully awake and not hungover to appreciate it.”

Crossing to Safety  

I love everything about this book—and not just because one of the main characters is named Sid. It is truly a masterpiece based on love, friendship, and marriage. One should read it sitting on a back porch, surrounded by endless forest, listening to John Hiatt’s "Feels Like Rain" on repeat, and have a lover close by. God, I love this book. 

Favorite lines: “I didn’t know myself well, and still don’t. But I did know, and know now, the few people I loved and trusted. My feeling for them is one part of me I have never quarreled with, even though my relations with them have been more than once been abrasive.” 

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