Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Backyard Agains

Long before we were lounging by the pool, long before there was a pool, we had a gorgeous pecan tree in our backyard. One of the branches arched out perfectly to support a hammock. Since we didn’t have air conditioning, long summer afternoons often found someone in the hammock reading, a bowl of frozen grapes slowly turning soft on the makeshift brick patio.

Such afternoons were perfect for Ann Tyler: Accidental Tourist, Breathing Lessons, or my perennial favorite, Saint Maybe.

Bee and Doug Bedloe have successfully raised three happy and healthy children and are looking forward to retirement. When their son Danny unexpectedly dies, they are reluctant to start all over in raising his infant daughter and two young step-children. But after Danny’s brother Ian wanders into the Church of the Second Chance, he realizes he must drop out of college to be the one to raise the children. Twenty years fly by and as Ian turns out tables as a woodworker, the tables turn on him. Although he still worries over the children, they start worrying over him.

Whether it’s a day spent at vacation bible school, a long walk to seduce the typewriter salesman, or a disappointing Christmas visit home, Tyler’s descriptions aptly evoke the skepticism of childhood, the despair of young motherhood, and the maddening quirks of family members long set in their ways. Mundane, yes. Engrossing, definitely.

More hammock reads for kids and teens can be found here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Hearing Richard Price extolled again and again on Fresh Air for his mastery of dialogue, I decided to venture into the section of the library where many of the dust jacket blurbs proclaim “gritty.” I begrudgingly picked up Samaritan and rushed back two days later for Lush Life.

Samaritan proves you can go home again but may get a severe concussion as a result. Ray Mitchell returns to his home town after a stint as a Hollywood writer and soon ends up in the ICU after being attacked in his apartment. He refuses to name his attacker but a childhood friend, now detective, Nerese Ammons is determined to make an arrest regardless.

Lush Life takes place on the Lower East Side, where every bartender has a screenplay under the bar and every waiter has a casting call after work. When a mugging goes awry leaving one up and comer dead, detectives aren’t sure who’s telling the real story and who’s just acting the part.

Can’t afford to go see the latest summer blockbuster? Price provides an action-packed thrill with dialogue you’ll probably be hearing in next summer’s box office hit.

Find another summer reading list here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Swimming Lessons

You’ve seen one dead man’s float you’ve seen em all.

While the kids are at their swimming lesson, dive into Philip Galanes' latest. Slender in size, Emma’s Table fits quite nicely in the tote between the sunscreen and Dora towcho.

As the kids are getting into the pool, you'll be diving into a tale of an Oprah-famous decorating maven trying to regroup after a year spent in jail. Did I mention this was ficition? One Nakashima table later, Emma subsequently befriends a rival bidder, beds her ex-husband, and belittles her talented but misguided daughter.

Vanity Fair compelling, this one doesn't require too much effort to keep up with the plot. That's a good thing since you know you'll be looking up every few minutes to make sure that's not your child refusing to get her face wet.

More summer reads here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sonic Youth

The air conditioner in my apartment sucks. This is June in Texas after all. So I pile the kids in the station wagon and drive down the block to Sonic.

Rolling down the windows lets in a light breeze tinged with the smell of the afternoon’s tater tots. Moments later our drinks arrive. I unwrap the extra straw to keep the nine-month-old occupied, hand back the strawberry shake to my daughter, and open The Red Convertible.

Louise Erdrich’s collection of short stories is part tart, part sweet, just like the cherry limeade in the cup holder. And I even manage to finish a couple of the stories before my three-year-old pokes a hole in the Styrofoam cup, and we find a use for all those extra napkins.

Looking for more summer reads? Try this list.