It’s not officially summer yet, but we’re getting there. For now, here are some pre-beach reads: new books, light books, books that feel like adventure or vacation. Books that remind you that reading is fun and not hard.
The sidewalk café read
I thought I asked the library for Alphabetter Juice: Or, the Joy of Text, by Roy Blount Jr., who’s coming to Concord this summer on tour with it. Turns out I was mistakenly requesting his previous book, Alphabet Juice, which is from 2008 and is just now arriving at the library. God knows when they’ll get the new one, which came out in May. But I’m delighted with Alphabet Juice and the new one is reputed to be more of the same — brief essays on topics relating to word usage and meaning — so I recommend either one. You’ll be reading excerpts to your artsy friends over cappuccinos, like this, from the entry titled “hmmmmm”: “Many English words are similar to hmmmmm: hum, ham, him, hymn, hem, ahem, helm, homonym, honeymoon, hum, hump, hymen, home, humble, humor, humus, human. ... Swift’s Houyhnhnms. And how about whom? And humuhumunukunukuapuaa (a trigger fsh with a snout like a pig’s). And humph. On a desert island with someone, you could probably get by with just those, and plenty of winks and inflections.” It’s a wonderful book for anyone who likes to, I don’t know, read. You will find delight and laughs in Blount’s commentary on people’s ways with words.
The backyard hammock read
If the front of the book didn’t say so, you’d never know that Horton Halfpott, or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor, or, The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset, by Tom Angleberger, is from the guy who wrote The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (which, by the way, has a sequel coming out in August). Both are kids’ novels. Horton Halfpott is a classic Victorian novel — no, wait, it’s not. It’s what happens when the guy who wrote The Strange Case of Origami Yoda writes a classic Victorian novel for kids. It suffers from more telling than showing, and a lack of scene-setting, but the fun with words and manners is good. And the central conceit, that a loosening of the matriarch’s corset leads to a general loosening around the manor, is clever. I give you the opening line: “There are so many exciting things in this book — a Stolen Diamond, snooping stable boys, a famous detective, the disappearance of a Valuable Wig, love, pickle éclairs, unbridled Evil, and the Black Deeds of the Shipless Pirates — that it really does seem a shame to begin with ladies’ underwear.” My only real complaint is that Angleberger spreads his ideas a little thin. I say give us a whole book of pickle éclairs, and another on snooping stable boys, or bigger chapters anyway. But this is a nice diverting little read, with capers and romance and the hardscrabble underdog winning the day.
The tropical sand read
Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray, is Glee meets Survivor plus Miss America. A plane full of teen beauty pageant contestants crashes on a remote island, and Miss Texas elects herself leader of the survivors, ’cause that kind of take-charge gal. Miss New Hampshire, Adina Greenberg, is sort of the Daria of the story. (Miss Nebraska: “Oh. I didn’t know they had any Jewish people in New Hampshire. You should make that one of your Fun Facts About Me!”) Why is Adina even in a pageant? To expose it from within. Also because it provides a diversity of characters and a foil for the ones who are sincerely superficial; so sue the author. That’s also why there’s a butch lesbian from Detroit. As for the others, there is a fine line between clueless and gutsy — Miss New Mexico never complains about the airline tray embedded in her head. The pageant’s role model is Ladybird Hope, “bikini-clad meteorologist, small-town talk show host, lobbyist, mayor, and Corporation businesswoman with her own clothing line.” But Ladybird is secretly conspiring with a loopy dictator to sell him arms in a weird setup by which she hopes to win the presidency. It’s fast-moving and zingy and all you-got-your-politics-in-my-infotainment and it features a kickass Miss New Hampshire. Break out the coconut-scented tanning lotion and the Doritos and commence reading.