Long, hot summer reads

By Bill Castanier

When it comes to great summer reads, one man’s pornography can be a woman’s “Summer of Love.”

That should keep you guessing for a while. Each year around Memorial Day, lists of hot summer reads appear in the media. The list is usually as predictable as a Fourth of July fireworks sale: There is a Danielle Steele, a Norah Roberts, a Lee Child, a John Sanford, for sure a James Patterson (or two) and maybe one or two sleepers, like Jeffrey Zaslow’s “The Girls from Ames” or Doug Stanton’s “Horse Soldiers.”

To compile a somewhat different list, I asked some Lansing area-readers to name their best-ever summer reads. There were the usual suspects — “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” “Lolita,” “Summer Place” and anything James Bond (shaken, not stirred).

And then there were some were real surprises, such as “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” “You Cant’ Go Home Again” and “Gone with the Wind.”

Elllen Jones, a public relations executive for Delta Dental Insurance in Okemos, was drawn to “Peyton Place” when she found the book hidden away in an old desk of her father’s. She said at age 14, in 1967, she was familiar with the TV show by the same name starring Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neil. “As I began reading the book, I discovered the back-story, the heart-pounding details of illicit love, betrayal, murder and more. The summer heat had nothing over the steaminess of this story. The summer of 1967 had indeed been the ’Summer of Love,’” Jones said.

Lansing City Councilman Tim Kaltenbach recalled reading “Peyton Place” three times one summer. “It was like pornography,” he said.

Several named illicit reads, like Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” or Jacqueline Suzann’s “ Valley of the Dolls.”

Emily Gale, promotions manager for Schuler Books & Music in the Meridian Mall, said she learned something very important one summer as a 12-year-old in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Gale’s mother was a friend of author Sue Harrison, and one summer Harrison dropped off a manuscript of what was to become “Sister of the Moon.”

Gale already knew Harrison’s books were offlimits. She said any books her parents deemed “too mature” sat on a living room bookshelf, where it would be noticed if they were missing. But the manuscript was something else. “After Sue abandoned it, the box of manuscript pages remained unguarded on our kitchen table,” Galer said. “When my mother wasn’t sitting absorbed in the pages, it was almost too easy to sneak small snacks of the novel to take them somewhere private.”

Gale said the book wasn’t exactly “bursting with explicit sexual encounters,” but she did learn something from the main character. “When you are told what you want is off limits, it only becomes more alluring. And what is more sexy than that?”

Well, how about “Cowboys Are My Weakness,” by Pam Houston, recommended by another Schulers employee, Holly Frakes? Frakes describes the book as “fun and irreverent stories that are comparable to a bag of Lays potato chips; bet you can’t eat just one of these salty stories.”

Rakes also suggested a ride with author Tara Janzen, who in her first book of a four-part series, “Crazy Hot,” writes about sexy car thieves turned covert agents. “This book will keep you sweating,” she said.

Kelly Rossman- McKinney, a local public relations executive, said as a teenage girl she was “mesmerized by “Gone with the Wind.” “I loved Scarlett O’Hara,” she said. “Don’t get wrong, she was a total ‘B,’ much of the time and she was good and bad all mixed together. A great read for a teenage girl.”

Linda Heard, a publicist for Lansing Community College, said she has several books that fit the bill of great summer reads, depending on the different stages of her life. “My first was ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,’ probably because it’s a comingof-age book that I read while I was coming of age,” she said. “I was fascinated by the thoughts and feeling of Francie, also a budding writer, who lived such a different life than I. I have such a vivid picture in my mind of that lonely tree that grew by the sidewalk outside her window.”

Some of the answers pointed to more traditional books. Tom Plasman, an avid reader and book collector from East Lansing, named “Moby Dick,” Agatha Christie mysteries and James Oliver Curwood’s adventures as some of his favorite summer reads. “This past week, the late 1940s and 1950s came back to life when reading Bill Bryson’s ‘The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid,’” Plasman said. “[It was] everything I had read into one reading experience.”

Gabriel Dotto, director of Michigan State University Press, paid his respects to David Foster Wallace with his suggestion for summer reading. Wallace recently committed suicide after fighting depression much of his life. “I stumbled across ‘Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,’ not a collection for the faint of heart, but a stylistic tour de force,” Dotto said. “His command of technique is simply astonishing, and the simultaneous layers of narrative can be breathtaking.”

One of the more unusual and, at the same time, fitting suggestions came from Ed Dore, a lobbyist for the Lansing law firm Dykema Gossett.

Dore, who is a Harley Davidson owner, named “Hog Wild,” by Richard LaPlante. The book follows a British screenwriter who, as Dore describes it, “completely flips out over bikes.” “He ends up maxing out his credit cards and ends up broke and broken beside the road on a ride from New York City to Las Vegas.”

Not a bad way to spend a summer. Now get your motor running.