If you want to read War & Peace while relaxing on the beach, I’m not going to stop you.  That is your preference.  Personally, like my drinking and clothing choices, I prefer to keep my summer reading on the lighter side.  I have a friend who likes to read US Weekly and other rags like that on the beach.  I would never stoop so low.  Instead, I present to you a small grouping of books that I have enjoyed in summers’ past.  

1) The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille (pictured above)

Believe it or not, I got through high school and college reading very little aside from what was “required.”  It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium when I was working in a small office in midtown Manhattan that a colleague presented me with a copy of this Long Island based classic that I finally started to read for the fun of it.  Nelson DeMille is an easy read.  This does not mean, however that it is not extraordinarily entertaining.  What’s not to love about a Waspy Long Island couple’s lives being turned upside down by the introduction of a Mafia Don to their sleepy neighborhood?  And it doesn’t hurt that the book includes plenty of sex, drinking,  murder, and DeMille’s dry wit.  I’ve read it three times.

From $0.01 on Amazon.com 

2) Summer People by Brian Groh

Boy gets a summer job working for an elderly woman at her home in Maine.  Boy meets cute nanny for the minister who lives next door.  Minister’s wife is manic depressive.  Minister likes to take midnight boat rides and drink a lot of beer.  Boy drinks lots of beer too…and wine, and liquor.  Boy and girl get together.  Sex happens.  Boy completely ignores duties to elderly woman.  Girl breaks boy’s heart.  Boy left with nothing.

It’s fairly typical, but Groh paints a beautiful picture of coastal Maine.  And don’t get me wrong, if I hadn’t enjoyed the book I wouldn’t have listed it.

From $0.01 on Amazon.com 

3) How Soon is Never? by Marc Spitz

Nope, not the Olympic swimmer.  This Marc Spitz is (or was)an editor at Spin, and this semi-autobiographical tale of a boy, Joe Green (nope, not Mean Joe Green) who is introduced to punk rock only to become obsessed with the Smiths, and later in life while working for Headphones magazine tries along with his boss’ sexy assistant to get them to play a reunion show.

This is another book I’ve read more than once.  It’s again, a fairly easy read, and entertaining, but it also reminds me a lot of my musical transformation as a youth, and of my days as a single guy living in New York City.  How the perfect girl isn’t always the perfect girl.  How your heroes can disappoint you.  How hair-of-the-dog margaritas may not be such a good idea.

From $0.01 on Amazon.com 

4) Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Mr. Russo won this little award called the Pulitzer Prize for this gem.  The story revolves around Miles Roby – a man living in the depressed Maine town of Empire Falls running the Empire Grill for mean old Francine Whiting.  Other characters include his brother, his ex-wife and daughter, his dad Max (portrayed by the legendary Paul Newman in the HBO two-part series), and a number of other colorful characters.  Miles’ role as Mr. Nice Guy thrusts him into all sorts of clashes with his not-so-nice contemporaries, even as the reader patiently waits for him to blow his top.  Numerous story lines keep you engaged, rather than confused as they all intertwine in one way or another.  He touches on love and marriage, lust and loss and small-town economics, and class resentment stirred into the broth.  His father clearly provides most the of comic relief to what is otherwise a serious, character driven story.

I watched the HBO series well after completing the book, and I am not afraid to admit that the movie is almost as good as the book.  But for our purposes, I highly recommend reading the book first.  It is touching and entertaining and happy and sad, and well deserving of the award it received.

From $0.01 on Amazon.com 

5) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

This story follows Josef Kavalier from Nazi Europe to New York City where he and his cousin Sam Clay become successful comic book writers.  The book is at times dark and brooding, and features Chabon’s signature gay character (he always has at least one), but is not without a bit of humor despite it’s being based in such a dark time for their family.

This one took me a little while to get into.  It starts off slow.  Then suddenly before you realize it, you’ve been sucked in to the story.  You feel for the characters.  You imagine the settings and the clothing and each comic character they create – The Escapist, Luna Moth, and more.

Chabon also won a Pulitzer Prize for this one.  I’ve read a number of his books, and this one is his absolute best.  Great read for summer, or anytime.

From $0.07 on Amazon.com 

Next…More summer obsessions, and happy hour at one of my favorite summer venues.