The 12 books of summer

Half the fun of summer reading is the plans you make in spring

Mr. Reno says that summer is a great time to improve the mind …

Mr. Reno says that summer is a great time to improve the mind …

Photo By David Robert

For me, each summer presents an opportunity to read exactly 12 good books. My summer looks exactly like this:

June 20: I always dive into summer with a favorite author. For starters, I’m going to read Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn (Dutton, $23.95). She’s not my favorite; actually, I’ve never read anything by her. But some crazy friends back in Michigan have a monthly book club, and they’ve read all her books. They swear Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Virgin Blue are two of the best books written in the last 10 years.

I will probably fly to Michigan for their July book club, so I want to be prepared—it’s not too often that they let an outsider into the conversation.

June 27: The week starts on my two-year marriage anniversary, so I’m going to read a good, old-fashioned romance novel. Eileen Goudge is a sure bet, so I’ll read her new book, Wish Come True: A Carson Springs Novel (Signet, $24.95). Set in Goudge’s fictional California town, Carson Springs, this is the story of new-found happiness, love—and murder.

July 4: I’m going to eat barbecue this week. More barbecue than usual. When my friend Leigh met his wife Rorie’s father, he asked for the recipe to the family barbecue sauce over the phone. He said he could hear Rorie’s father cocking his shotgun through the receiver. This inspired Leigh to invent his own sauce. He bottled the roux-colored hot stuff and gave away jars at their wedding.

As I consume the remainder of my barbecue sauce, I’ll be reading a war-related book as a celebration of the 228th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. War books are out this summer in abundance, so I’ve chosen War, Morality, and Autonomy: An Investigation into Just War Theory by Daniel S. Zupan (Ashgate Publishing Company, $69.95). My best friend’s stepfather recommended this one and is lending me his copy.

July 11: This week I celebrate my 36th birthday, so I’ll read 36 Views: A Play by Naomi Iizuka (Overlook Press, $14.95). Apparently the title comes from a series of prints by Hokusai (1760-1849) called “36 Views of Mount Fuji.” Sacred Fujisan, as Mount Fuji is respectfully called, is 12,388 feet high. The play is about art and fraud.

July 18: By this week, George W. Bush will have liberated the Iraqis, the transfer of chaos—er, sovereignty—will be complete, and everything will be hunky-dory over in the Middle East. What better time to read The Iraq War by Williamson Murray and Major General Robert H. Scales, Jr. (Belknap, $25.95)? This one, too, is coming from my friend’s stepfather.

Unfortunately, the last thing to go through Mr. Reno’s mind when he suffered this freak reading accident was his library card.

Photo By David Robert

July 25: Coming off the heels of the war book, I turn to Cokie Roberts’ Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation (William Morrow, $24.95). Based on letters, journals, even recipes of Martha Washington, Abigail Adams and a host of other mothers, wives, sisters of our founding dads—I only wish I could sit down and have a discussion with Ms. Roberts when I’m done.

Aug. 1: Enter Augustus, first Roman Emperor. Some might think the American version of an emperor is the corporate CEO. It’s good week to pick up Testosterone, Inc.: Tales of CEOs Gone Wild, by Christopher M. Byron (John Wiley & Sons). The inside flap says this book “chronicles the Gatsby-like saga of the rise and fall of the celebrity CEO.” I will have a lot of bitching to do at the dinner table this week.

Aug. 8: Usually by this time in the summer I need a nice, thick historical book. My favorite period is the Reformation, so I’ll read The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch (Viking Press, $27.95). Not only was this when the Catholics and the Protestants split, but we’re still feeling effects of this period in our governing ideology.

Aug. 15: I’m going to need a healthy romance about now, so I’ll go with a known entity: Kaye Gibbons. Her new book, Divining Women (Putnam Publishing Group, $26), is about female oppression and liberation. Perfect!

Aug. 22: I’m setting aside this week for a book that recently showed up at the News & Review from Dial Press: The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason ($24). Ever since my sister and Billy Dee Williams co-authored Twilight together, I’ve found the dual-author concept fascinating. There’s a mysterious coded manuscript in The Rule of Four—I wonder if that’s how people co-write a book, with a mysterious coded manuscript that only they can decipher.

Aug. 29: Tomatoes. When I’m not harvesting tomatoes this week (or eating BLTs made from my homegrown tomatoes), I’m going to be reading I Love You Like a Tomato by Marie Giordano (Forge, $24.95). It’s about a young Italian woman growing up in Minnesota in the 1950s. The protagonist’s name is ChiChi, and she searches for love and happiness. Her grandmother teaches her to use the Evil Eye, and some dwarves teach her commedia dell’arte. Sounds sweet and touching. That’s what I need to go with my tomatoes.

Sept. 5: I’ll go historical one last time this summer and spend all of Labor Day weekend reading World War I Memories: An Annotated Bibliography of Personal Accounts Published in English Since 1919 by Edward G. Lengel (Scarecrow Press, $50).

Sept. 12: The last week of summer. I’m going to re-read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday). I bought the paperback in February at London Heathrow airport for $7. I proceeded to read it from London to Chicago, only occasionally glancing up to see bits of Lost in Translation. The pseudo-love-thriller story often dragged me out of the historical trance I felt from the Holy Grail story. I’m sure if I looked around, I’d find a dozen books that have the history without the storyline.

Spending summer with grammar

Eats Shoots & Leaves
Lynne Truss
Gotham Books

My favorite bit of punctuation is the semicolon; in fact, I find it utterly irresistible. I am a self-proclaimed grammar nut. I believe anyone caught misusing an apostrophe should be fined. Required reading would be former editor Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots & Leaves. She’s a stickler for punctuation, too. Of our breed, she writes, “We are like the little boy in The Sixth Sense who can see dead people, except that we can see dead punctuation." And we’re so underappreciated! Writes Truss, "In short, we are unattractive, know-all obsessives who get things out of proportion and are in continual peril of being disowned by our exasperated families." I can’t lose hope. I hope this book will put the English-speaking world on notice that something drastic must be done since grammar lessons have fallen out of the school curriculum and proper grammar has fallen out of vogue.