This ain't your father's "beach reading"

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Roadside Picnic (Chicago Review, $15.95) is a dark and intriguing work of Russian science fiction that ought to contrast well with the bleach-bright sky as you loll in the sand. This book by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky came out in 1972 and gets the reverent reissue treatment. It begins with a given – that aliens have already visited us, and left relics behind. Little known outside the realm of hard-core science fiction fans, this book is a revelation to the rest of us, and another take on that bleak world of the cold war.


Summer is also a good time to get caught up with your dog. Do Dogs Dream? (WW Norton, $23.95) by Stanley Coren deals with a lot of those questions that keep us up at night: Do dogs really like to sniff crotches? Do dogs really use urine to communicate information? Can dogs laugh? Coren sets everything up in an easy-to-read Q&A format. Take a break from Frisbee with your dog to discuss.


If you think Florida politics has gone off the rails, you should be thankful you don’t live in the Lone Star State. As Texas Goes (Liveright, $23.95) by New York Times columnist Gail Collins deals with how the big-kid=on-the-block bullies the rest of the states into following its narrow and often retrograde agenda. The political analysis is astute.


This Fragile Life (Lawrence Hill, $24.95) won’t make too many other beach-reading lists, but Charlotte Pierce-Baker’s account of life with a bi-polar son is one of those books you need to read with care and precision. Don’t rush through this harrowing tale in bed at the end of a workday. This is a heartfelt cautionary tale of how Pierce-Baker and her husband missed the early warning signs of their son’s condition and how they came to deal with this emotional crisis.


More “beach reads” to come. Stay tuned.


William McKeen chairs the journalism department at Boston University and is the author of several books, including Mile Marker Zero, about Key West in the 1970s, and Outlaw Journalist, a biography of Hunter S. Thompson.

It’s that time of year when people start asking me about good “beach reads.” I’ve never been sure what makes a beach read. Is it a book you don’t mind getting slick with sweat and suntan oil (and perhaps an errant drop of beer)? Does that mean it’s a broken-spined, raggedy-ass old paperback?

I don’t know. But I thought I’d spend these summer-month blogs telling you about a bunch of worthwhile books to spend some time with during vacation season. Because that’s a “beach read” to me. It means that finally the assholery of work is left behind at the office and you have time to relax with a few good books.

Alas, Stieg Larsson is still dead, so there’s no new volume in the Lisbeth Salander series, but here are some things you might like (below). These are mostly hardcovers, so if you take them to the beach, use rubber gloves when turning the pages.

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  • SOPHIA LOREN and JAYNE MANSFIELD (from Breasts)

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History (WW Norton, $25.95) is a funny-but-serious survey of those things so often exposed on beaches. Reminds me of the great science writing of Mary Roach, who wrote Stiffs, about what happens to bodies after they are dead, and Bonk, about what it’s like to be in a sex study. This book by Florence Williams deals both with the science and the obsession and we learn a lot about humans and human nature. (Alert to dude readers: No, it’s not illustrated with those kinds of pictures. This picture with Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield is the best image in the book.)

Live Fast, Die Young (Summersdale, $13.95) gives the impression that it will catalog all of the great American burned-out rock stars during a cross-country road trip. Not quite. Authors Chris Price and Joe Harland are mostly concerned with one rock star, the late Gram Parsons. He came from Winter Haven, Fla., and ascended the rock’n’roll throne with the Byrds and then the Flying Burrito Brothers. He was a musical pioneer and genre bender, but seems most remembered for dying young and having his body stolen and burned in a dessert ceremony by friends. Key scenes take place at Gram’s Place in Tampa. It’s a fun book, but if you have a Gram fixation, stay tuned for Calling Me Home, a serious look at Parsons’ life and influence by Orlando-based writer Bob Kealing.

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