Stuffing the beach bag for a summer full of reading

The Twitter History of the World by Kelvin MacKenzie and Chas Newkey-Burden (John Blake, $9.95). On second thought, don’t take up space in the beach bag with this book. It’s basically a couple of viral jokes and memes you’ve already seen on Facebook and Twitter, only not done as well.

The Best Film You’ve Never Seen by Robert K. Elder (Chicago Review Press, $16.95). Good idea: ask a lot of great young directors about their favorite semi-obscure films. This will be the book that launched a thousand Netflix queues. Nice to see young directors appreciating something strange, such as The Swimmer, and to see that the grave and immaculate Man for All Seasons has informed the work of Kevin Smith.

Questions to Which the Answer is “No!” by John Rentoul (Elliott and Thompson, $19.95). At first, we’re hoping this is like those “two-minute mystery” books they used to sell us when we were kids. So we’re envisioning this as a collection of two-minute episodes of “Mythbusters.” Instead, it’s something pulled together from the blog of an English journalist, and, honestly, not that interesting. Toss it out of the bag.

Full Upright and Locked Position by Mark Gerchick (W.W. Norton, $24.95). Work on your tan locally. You don’t want to read this excellent book on a beach in Rio with the thought of a return-flight hanging over your head. Gerchick looks at every aspect of plane travel, from safety to security to comfort. What he finds ain’t pretty.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood (W.W. Norton, $26.95). What a perfect story in which to get lost. Two women, one at the end of the Great War, the other at the dawn of the New Frontier, wrestle with the mysteries of love in a literary romance that would never be confused with a bodice-ripper. This is a stunning and gracefully written book with insights and connections you don’t always see coming. A terrific novel, utterly absorbing.

Love Him Madly by Judy Huddleston (Chicago Review Press, $16.95). This is a well-written memoir of life as Jim Morrison’s girlfriend during the peak of The Doors’ fame. Huddleston became a writing teacher, published in a variety of literary journals, which makes this a more compelling read than most such memoirs.

Helga’s Diary by Helga Weiss (W.W. Norton). At age 12, Helga Weiss was sent to a concentration camp, along with her parents. A couple of years before, Helga had begun keeping a diary — a detailed, insightful account of her daily life. We read her story, from the days before the Nazi invasion of her native Czechoslovakia until she was released from the camp at war’s end. This is a remarkable child’s-eye-view of the 20th Century’s greatest atrocity. This should become required reading.

A former faculty member at the University of Florida, McKeen now chairs the journalism department at Boston University. He is the author most recently of Mile Marker Zero, Outlaw Journalist and Homegrown in Florida.

Time to load up the beach bag for summer reading. Here’s what I have so far, with some new additions:

Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris, and the Renegades of Nashville by Michael Stressguth (It Books, $26.99). This is a great book idea whose time has come. The hit television series Nashville tells tales of the singer-songwriters trying to make their mark in today’s Music City. Outlaw is a group biography of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, mostly about their formative years in the early 1960s and their attempts to break away from the city’s mainstream music industry. We can forgive the occasional error (Streissguth puts the venue Panther Hall in Dallas, not Fort Worth), because Outlaw is a wonderful narrative about three wild and original talents.

Give Me Everything You Have by James Lasdun (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25). This is a real-life horror story rooted in that sometimes odd and obsessive relationship between teacher and student. “Relationship” is not quite the right word to describe the fantasies and imaginings of an obsessive student who creates an alternate universe in which she and her mentor have an affair. Lasdun tells us how he rebuffed the student, who then launched an assault on his character. Reads like a thriller, though this story is true.


Springsteen on Springsteen by Jeff Burger (Chicago Review Press, $27.95). Think you have enough Springsteen books? Think again, Bubba. Until the boss writes an autobiography, this is the next-closest thing: a collection of interviews, speeches and the occasional letter to the editor by Bruce. A highlight: his beautiful speech inducting Bob Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. It’s a superb collection.

That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick by Ellin Stein (W.W. Norton, $27.95). This is a terrific narrative of the comic revolution at the dawn of the 1970s. The book focuses on the epicenter of this comedy, National Lampoon, and its stars, Doug Kenney, Michael O’Donoghue and P.J. O’Rouke. The Lampoon was wickedly funny then and this well-crafted saga ought to help you appreciate the breakthroughs. One complaint: no illustrations. What’s up with that?

Lee Marvin Point Blank by Dwayne Epstein (Schaffner Press, @27.95). It’s time to revisit this movie tough guy, who’s been gone now for a quarter century. Epstein covers Marvin’s early life, his war record, and his steady rise from tough-guy and heavy roles to brutal leading man. Seems that Marvin excelled in every role he attempted, even as a singer in “Paint Your Wagon.”

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