Hot Summer reads

It’s time to fill a big bag with the necessities and head for the beach. And don’t forget to include a good book or two from these summer reading options:

The always mysterious (and therefore damn-near irresistible) Thomas Pynchon has a new novel due later this summer. Inherent Vice is set in Los Angeles during the “psychedelic ’60s,” which might bolster the case some fans (or stalkers) make for his living in California. Or not. The main character, Doc Sportello, is caught up in a mystery involving a plot to kidnap the billionaire land-developer love interest of Sportello’s ex-girlfriend. It sounds a little Left Coast noir, but I’m betting more people talk about it than read (unless, of course, it’s much shorter and less opaque than most of Pynchon’s work).

One book that will be read (and you can take that to the bank) is the graphic novelization of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation. Illustrated by Tim Hamilton, whose simple style can carry a threat all its own, this version is likely to take off like, well … OK, I won’t say it. But couple a classic story like this with the graphic-novel format and expect reading to be a pleasure. We can start with, “It was a pleasure to burn.” And pass the sunscreen, please, because it’s really not a pleasure to burn your skin.

While we’re on the lookout for real summer reading—the escapist kind—consider The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second in the detective trilogy by the late Swedish activist and writer Stieg Larsson. The first of the books to be translated, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was a best-seller last year, and part of the reason is that Larsson was not only a gifted writer, but he also was also able to infuse the book with his passion for justice. It’s a great combination for a crime/mystery novel.

The best bet for summer horror won’t be out until September (fortunately, summer lasts that long in Sacramento), when the anthology The Living Dead hits the streets. A collection of the best horror, fantasy and sci-fi writers in the world—including Stephen King and Neil Gaiman—offer up their takes on zombie tales, including one from John Langan that’s a twist on the old high-school-theater standby Our Town.

In other science-fiction news, I’ll be waiting impatiently for the next installment of S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse series, The Sword of the Lady. Stirling has built a post-apocalyptic epic that melds elements of Western, Arthurian fantasy and traditional science fiction with political thrillers. Oh, and there are lots of sword fights.

And if you absolutely must read nonfiction during the summer, try the very topical When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Gay Marriage by M.V. Lee Badgett. She is the research director of UC Los Angeles’ Williams Institute for sexual orientation law and policy, and her book looks at the ways that the legitimatization of same-sex unions has transformed public policy. She uses the example of European countries where gay marriage is old news to offer some possibilities for the social and culture changes ahead once marriage equality is the norm.

Finally, Sacramento’s never-ending writer William T. Vollmann has yet another doorstop-sized tome out this month: Imperial, in which he spends better than a thousand pages riffing on and digging into the California county from which the volume takes its title. OK, so he’s wordy. The good news is he makes the most of them, and for aficionados of either the Vollmann oeuvre or California, this one is a must-read.