Summer Reading Unplugged
A handful of good reads for your off-grid enjoyment
By Michel Cicero 05/24/2012
Believe it or not, there are forms of entertainment that don’t require electricity. Yes, we were equally stunned to discover portable worlds known as books that are entirely independent of the grid except when you’re using a device to store them. They fit nicely in a handbag, backpack, carry-on, picnic basket or even, in some cases, back pockets and offer escape from the trials and banalities of everyday life (read: texting, Facebooking, Yelping). They are sometimes used to gain knowledge and they go nicely with shady trees, beach towels and airplane seats. Not only that, there are entire stores — 5,000-square-foot, two-story buildings — devoted almost exclusively to them. Be forewarned, these “books” can get a tad pricey but it turns out you can buy them used for less than the cost of a meal, and get this: something called a public library exists in nearly every city, where, for the negligible price of membership, you can actually borrow them, meaning you don’t pay.
Lately, we’ve been spending considerably more time unplugged, and in our effort to help others do the same, we’ve vetted some new and newish works that are worth your time, pennies and eyeballs.
By Cheryl Strayed
March 2012, Knopf Doubleday
Publishing Group, 336 pages
Women are more likely to resonate with this memoir than men are, but that shouldn’t dissuade male readers from taking a peek, anyway. Broken by the loss of her mother, the dissolution of her marriage — her doing — and drug addiction, Cheryl Strayed does what most 20-something women would do: buys a backpack and heads for the Pacific Coast Trail, alone. A resourceful enough camping enthusiast who has never actually been backpacking, she picks up a guidebook to the sometimes treacherous PCT, a foot trail that spans the West Coast from Mexico to Canada. Rather than focus on the minutiae of such a journey, Strayed spends most of her time mentally and emotionally processing her gargantuan grief. An insightful, amusing and compelling page-turner.
(WHILE FULLY CLOTHED AND TOTALLY SOBER)
By Harlan Cohen
April 2012 by St. Martin’s Press,
Our list’s token self-help book takes a decidedly unemotional approach to solving everyone’s No.1 problem besides money. Leaning toward the pragmatic, tough-love end of the “what-is-wrong-with-my-life-and-how-do-I-fix- it” spectrum, syndicated advice columnist Cohen asks readers to accept this basic principle: thousands of people will want to date them — but millions will not. Following a series of tasks and guidelines — including parading in front of the mirror in nothing more than a thong — he pushes readers to accept the truth about themselves, ultimately leading to empowerment and the kind of self-honesty that allows for few unhappy surprises and potentially a lot less heartache in the dating game.
CAN FIX WHAT’S WRONG WITH AMERICA
By Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch
June 2011, PublicAffairs, 288 pages
The editors of Reason magazine offer a hip, user-friendly introduction to Libertarian principles while presenting the notion that we’re all Libertarians; we just don’t know it yet. They also do a good job of explaining why a two-party system equals failure, and politics itself is destroying our country. “Each and every one of us has been authoring a personal declaration of independence, a statement about how we want to be free to live and love, to buy and sell, to enter and exit.” An easily digestible must-read in this election season.
By Alice Walker
April 2011, The New Press, 208 pages
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer (The Color Purple) Alice Walker is a little attached to her chickens. The Nor Cal novelist and poet who has a soft spot for all God’s creatures (or Earth’s, if you’re an atheist) found herself falling into a curious kind of love with her fine feathered friends, whom she individually named (hence the long book title). A light, spiritually nourishing work perfect for porch reading — freshly squeezed lemonade at the ready.
By Moshe Kasher
March 2012, Grand Central
Publishing, 303 pages
Comedian Moshe Kasher has been through a lot. The son of deaf Jewish parents who divorced when he was very young plunged into substance abuse at the age of 12 — having already survived eight years of psychotherapy. It only gets worse from there. Then better. An amazing cautionary tale written with tremendous humor in an edgy, youthful voice, it also features illustrations by Oakland street artist Ezra Li Eismont. Parents and young adults will find it equally engaging. Think David Sedaris having coffee with the Beastie Boys.
By Christopher Moore
April 2012, HarperCollins,
Not necessarily the best entry into Moore, but if you’re already a fan — or perhaps a student of impressionism — then by all means give it a whirl. With his Tom Robbins-meets-Woody Allen style, Moore loves to take on sacred cows. In his latest novel, it’s the impressionist movement that’s in his sights, specifically Vincent Van Gogh’s strangely timed suicide. Maybe not quite as funny as previous works by Moore (though there are those who disagree), it’s still very much worth investigating.
By Nick Santora
April 2012, Mulholland Books,
Lake Sherwood resident Nick Santora was a lawyer who dreamed he was a writer — and then became one. The co-writer/co-creator of Breakout Kings has also contributed to The Sopranos and Lie to Me. This, his second book, is a crime thriller (go figure) set in the world of high finance and law. “Is it really insider trading if you’ve been an outsider your entire life?” asks Santora with the story of a handful of blue-collar office boys who learn the secrets inside the papers they’re filing and concoct a get-rich-quick scheme that invites trouble. It’s been described as taut, riveting and gripping à la John Grisham.