Shades of summer

By Bill Castanier

You can take a vacation through reading this season

This summer’s reading can take you to 1960s Greece, the Canadian prairie, Martha’s Vineyard, 1930s Paris, Michigan’s “up north” — or even to a cozy S&M torture chamber.

Thanks to a potential Eurozone meltdown, Greece is in the news nearly every day. But in the 1960s Greece was in the throes of a terrifying military dictatorship, and Natalie Bakopoulos’ “The Green Shore” reflects on an era of oppression, love, fear and day-to-day life in a Greece we’ve mostly forgotten about.

Bakopoulos looks at those years through the eyes and soul of one family: two sisters, a widowed mother and a poet uncle going about their lives in a world that is slowly closing in around them. The writing is lush, tinged with sexual longing and fear and with dreams that are interrupted.

“In April, fecund and green Athens erupts with life,” Bakopoulos writes. “The trees rustle in the wind and hyacinths and lupine bloom in the parks.” Then comes the reality of revolution: “Soldiers with rifles surged through the front garden, around the side of the house.”

A literary journey with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Michigan State University graduate Richard Ford will be a departure from the usual locales found in his Frank Bascombe trilogy (“The Sportswriter,” “Independence Day” and “The Lay of the Land”) to our neighbor to the north.

Ford’s “Canada” is a flawless piece of work (OK, some won’t like his detailed descriptions) and one you should expect from a writer of his stature. In “Canada” he follows an American family to their dissolution. We are able to watch in almost slow-motion a coming-of-age story in which the American dream becomes a Bonnie and Clyde nightmare for 15-year-old twins Dell and Berner after their parents inexplicably stick up a bank.

As a young man runs from his family’s past to the plains of Canada to start over, this becomes a story for those who liked “The Catcher in the Rye.” The book is more about how chance bounces us from wave to wave, and how even though we may seek shelter in another state or country, tragedy can stalk the best of us. It’s a safe bet “Canada” will be seen in the hands of many readers this summer. Ford’s story will resonate with many readers who have tried to move beyond a horrible childhood — and, as in horror movies, you want to cry out to the characters in “Canada,” “Don’t open that door!”

Another book will be widely read, although you might not “see” it since it is mostly read on e-readers. It´s “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E L James (along with its sequels, “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed”). These books have created a publishing phenomenon that may not have been seen since Henry Miller’s once-banned “Tropic of Cancer” was smuggled into this country in the 1930s.

Described as “mommy porn” (although huge numbers of unattached young women and men are reading the books, too) the “Fifty Shades” tales detail the sadomasochistic relationship between a virginal young woman (only for a short time) and a somewhat older man.

The writing is campy, the type you might expect from a “Twilight” fan-fiction site. What makes this book successful is impossible to explain, except in pop culture terms. Yes, sex (or erotica) abounds on nearly every page, but why not take a quick romp with “The Story of O” or something light by Anais Nin instead?

Unsurprisingly, a movie is in the works, and perhaps the Eurythmics´ “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” could be the theme song. “Shades” may end up as this generation’s equivalent of “A Summer Place,” or Jacqueline Susann’s “Valley of the Dolls”

Readers should also take a trip inside the mind of Reed City author Benjamin Busch, whose memoir “Dust to Dust” is unlike most memoirs you will ever read (ignore that it is not chronological). Busch who, at various points in his life was a combat Marine in Iraq, an actor, a moviemaker and an artist, has written a memoir that focuses on how the natural life and its elements have shaped him. Busch, the son of novelist Frederick Busch, claims he is not a reader. If that is the case his writing must come naturally.

Yooper and Michigan State University graduate Tom Bissell has a collection of his essays packaged under the title “Magic Hours,” but the subtitle “Essays on Creators and Creation” better describes the 14 pieces that delve into and dissect everything from writing to filmmaking.

In many ways, this book serves as Bissell’s own memoir about the creative process. Bissell, who resides on the West Coast, has found a home in essay writing. My favorite essay is “The Theory and Practice of I Don’t Give a Shit,” which is about fellow Michiganian Jim Harrison.

Other books that will help round out this summer’s literary tour are “Die a Stranger” from Edgar Award-winning author Steve Hamilton (“The Lock Artist”) about a Paradise, Mich. detective Alex McNight, Bloomberg News reporter Bryan Gruley’s “The Skeleton Box,” the latest in a continuing series about a small-town Michigan journalist and amateur detective and, as always, a visit to Detroit with private eye Amos Walker, who returns for the 22nd time in Loren Estleman’s “Burning Midnight.”

One unusual book you might actually see in the hands of the art and business community this summer is “The Art of Being Unreasonable” by Eli Broad. The self-help business book details the amazing success of the Detroit native and MSU graduate, whose name (along with his wife, Edythe´s) is attached to the MSU art museum expected to open this fall. Not only is the book about his business career, it´s also about his commitment to public service.

What would summer be without a trip to Martha’s Vineyard? Lansing City Pulse arts editor James Sanford has written an Amazon Kindle e-book, “Au Naturel: A Summer on Martha’s Vineyard” about his three-month sojourn on the island in 2009, which helped him to understand the culture of the Vineyard, to live more spontaneously — and to appreciate the wonder of lobster rolls.

Finally, Paris is just a time zone away in Paula McLain’s debut novel, “The Paris Wife,” which looks at the most famous member of the so-called Lost Generation, Ernest Hemingway, and his failed marriage to Hadley Richardson. This book turned out to be a surprise success story, hanging around on The New York Times Best Sellers List for nearly a year.

Paula McLain, a University of Michigan graduate, will visit Hemingway’s Michigan haunts next month as one of the featured speakers at the meeting of the International Hemingway Society, which meets in Petoskey June 17 through 22. The conference marks the first time the group has met in Michigan, and speakers from across the globe will discuss popular and arcane Hemingway topics and tour sites that Hemingway popularized in his writing. For more information, visit