Procrastination 101 

The best way to avoid all deadlines? A really good read.

Best Book to Inspire You to Get Out of Town on Vacation: If you think Graham Greene’s fiction is all spiritual agony and bitter politics, you’ll be surprised by Travels With My Aunt, a witty little novel that Greene wrote, he said, just for the fun of it.
BEST BOOK TO INSPIRE YOU TO GET OUT OF TOWN ON VACATION If you think Graham Greene’s fiction is all spiritual agony and bitter politics, you’ll be surprised by Travels With My Aunt, a witty little novel that Greene wrote, he said, just for the fun of it. Retired bank manager Henry Pulling lives alone and fills the days tending his dahlias. When Henry’s equally drab mother dies, her long-lost sister appears at the funeral. With the first words out of her mouth—”I was present once at a premature cremation”—Aunt Augusta reveals herself as a lively eccentric who threatens to unsettle Henry’s staid life. And she does just that, beguiling him into accompanying her on a series of dubious journeys, from Paris to Istanbul to Paraguay. As they travel, Augusta tells tales of her scandalous life, and Henry finds himself gradually drawn into a world of passion and chaos that he never knew existed. The year is 1969, so there are the obligatory drugs and sojourning hippies, and the Iron Curtain still casts its shadow. In a nod to Greene’s fans, the CIA makes a cameo appearance, as does a questionable priest. Greene’s voice, channeled through the awakening Henry, somehow manages to be both innocent and sardonic. There’s a tender core to the story, which keeps the mob of characters and their nonstop dalliances from seeming merely antic. The ending has a touch of tragedy, but it’s as darkly funny as the rest of the novel, and at least leaves Henry saved from the dahlias. —Maria Browning BEST OCEAN NOVEL (AS DISTINCT FROM ‘BEST BEACH NOVEL’ BY HAVING EXPONENTIALLY GREATER DEPTH) Peter Matthiessen is rightfully accounted one of the finest environmental writers of our time. He is also one of our finest novelists. His 1975 novel Far Tortuga relates the adventure of nine Caribbean fishermen pitted against the power of “de bleak ocean” in search of the vanishing green turtle. It is a tale of courage, joy, tragedy, failure and fate. The story is deeply metaphorical and written in a dream-like poetic style that will take your breath away. The poetry is cinematic, and the book’s style—even its design—is unique among American novels. The story’s thematic antecedents lie in Heart of Darkness, The Old Man and the Sea, Moby-Dick and, according to James Dickey, Homer. As time passes, it may become known as one of the enduring novels of the last century. Far Tortuga, still in print after 30 years, is simply unforgettable. —Wayne Christeson BEST BOOK ABOUT SUMMER DRINKING AND DINING IN A GENDER-BENDING KIND OF WAY Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden is an odd little book. Published posthumously in 1986, it was cobbled together from some 1,500 pages of manuscript, and its themes—open marriage and gender bending—separate it from the rest of the Hemingway canon. The novel documents five weeks in the lives of Catherine and David Bourne, whose brief yet blissful marriage deconstructs when both become obsessed with Marita, a young woman who, ultimately, is too mysterious and alluring to share. Set primarily on the Côte d’Azur in the 1920s, The Garden of Eden’s un-Papa-like subject matter is probably the result of time the author spent with libertine expatriates on the French Riviera. Though the book’s spicy topic makes it summer read-worthy, it’s Hemingway’s sensual descriptions of life on the northern Mediterranean that really earn The Garden of Eden its place beside the chaise. As the trio’s relationship disintegrates, the reader gets to experience any number of summery pleasures, from brioche with red raspberry preserve and soft boiled eggs, to bracing skinny dips off the beach near the hotel Grau du Roi—all written in the same lingering prose that distinguishes more consistent, if less libidinal, Hemingway titles such as A Moveable Feast and A Farewell to Arms. —Paul V. Griffith BEST OLD-TIME THRILLER TO SHIVER AT BY CANDLELIGHT ON A SCREENED PORCH Sometimes, air conditioning is only skin deep. Even if you’ve spent the summer hopping from refrigerated interior to climate-controlled car, eventually your body and soul cry out for something more profoundly chilly—like the icy thrill of a truly disturbing novel. Rebecca is your book. Published in 1938 by Daphne du Maurier, who wrote some of the most addictive, disturbing stories of the 20th century, Rebecca is both a period piece and a masterpiece. The novel’s unnamed protagonist marries the devastatingly glamorous widower Maxim deWinter and goes to live with him as mistress of Manderley, his Cornish estate. Alas, nothing is easy for the second Mrs. DeWinter: Rebecca, Maxim’s gorgeous and charismatic first wife, casts a long shadow, and our heroine is too shy, too young and too self-conscious ever to dream of challenging her ghost. As the delicious dénouement (which, incredibly, is played out for dozens of nail-biting pages) unfolds, you’ll realize that though the temperature outside breaks 95 for the umpteenth day in a row, the cold and gloomy Cornwall coast has suffused your bones. Rebecca will keep you awake long after the lightning bugs have called it quits. —Fernanda Moore BEST BOOK ABOUT A SUMMERTIME, SMALL-TOWN PACE OF LIFE Marilynne Robinson has published just two novels in 25 years, and it’s a good thing, for her prose is the sort than lingers in the mind, and makes the mind linger, reading and rereading passages in which little happens but much is communicated. Gilead, for which she won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, is the story of Reverend John Ames, an Iowa minister from a long line of Iowa ministers, looking back on his life from its closing chapters. The book, set in the 1950s, is framed as a letter from Ames to his son, born too late in Ames’ life for him to raise. “If I had lived, you’d have learned from my example,” he writes. “So I want to tell you where I have failed.” Violence plays a central role in Ames’ life: his grandfather was a John Brown acolyte, “afire with old certainties”; his father turned Quaker and eschewed all violence in response, a posture that created its own problems. Ames has spent his life trying to resolve this inherited tension, and in doing so also make sense of the misbegotten life led by his namesake, Jack Ames Boughton, the son of his best friend. When Jack returns home one day and begins to ingratiate himself with Ames’ young wife and son, Ames is forced to contemplate the agonizing possibility of Boughton’s taking over for him after he dies. Gilead is a short book, short enough to read in a day, assuming all you need to do that day is turn off your cell phone and make your way out to the hammock. —Clay Risen BEST BOOK TO MAKE YOU LAUGH OUT LOUD, EVEN WHILE SLAPPING MOSQUITOES In 1861, Samuel Clemens headed west with his brother on what he planned to be a three-month excursion. He stayed six years, wandering frontier America, trying his hand at anything he fancied—silver mining and newspaper reporting, among others—and studiously observing everything else. When he returned east, Clemens had become Mark Twain, up-and-coming author and humorist. In Roughing It, the book that chronicles this epic journey, Twain relates his often wild adventures in a series of vignettes, capturing the wide-open atmosphere and peculiar characters of Nevada, California and Hawaii. The book has no real object, no particular theme, other than the pure enjoyment and awe that a great storyteller can inspire. Some of its funniest moments were republished as short stories, so readers may have encountered the story of the old ram or the exploits of a cat named Tom Quartz in other venues. But in Roughing It, the audience is treated to the full effect, the strange but wondrous mixture of truth, exaggeration and outright fibbing that made Twain a household name around the world. Some of the language may seem quaint to modern readers, and Twain was not always politically correct, but anyone who can ride along on a stagecoach with him as he meets the “sociable heifer” (not a cow) and not laugh out loud is in desperate need of a vacation. —Chris Scott BEST BOOK TO MAKE YOU FEEL NOT SO BAD ABOUT POUNDING BACK MARGARITAS ON A TUESDAY Say the word “chick-lit” to a reader, and he or she (although, let’s face it, it’s a she) will instantly think of shoes, diets and bad first dates. But what about the woman who doesn’t care whether the devil wears Prada or Gucci, or how many cigarettes Bridget Jones smoked this week? What about the woman who burns her leg on the exhaust pipe of a strange biker’s Harley outside a St. Augustine beach bar, or the woman who finds severed heads in plastic bags just lying on the street in her crack-infested neighborhood? NPR commentator and Creative Loafing columnist Hollis Gillespie comes to the cynical, anti-shopping woman’s rescue with Confessions of a Recovering Slut, the follow-up to her debut book, Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch. Confessions first finds Gillespie fighting her way though the dating scene: “I bet there are better ways to test your boyfriend’s affections than to fake like you’re considering breast implants, but I was winging it, people.” Later, she’s a single mother who sugarcoats nothing about the joys of pregnancy: “I feel like a walking trash bag full of pig fat.” Gillespie writes honestly and flamboyantly, with the kind of flair usually reserved for drag queens and Liza Minnelli. This is the book to read when you want to laugh out loud in the sun, not because a beautiful butterfly just tickled your forearm or a light breeze caught your sundress, but because Hollis Gillespie is learning to kill people with a Q-tip swabbed in rattlesnake venom. —Claire Suddath BEST BOOK ABOUT A TRULY MISERABLE VACATION Redmon O’Hanlon’s Into the Heart of Borneo can make your summer descent into in-law hell seem positively delightful next to his 1983 journey on foot through the mountains of Borneo. When this pudgy reviewer of British history books (picture Rumpole of the Bailey in a pith helmet) discovers that an uncle carried out secret World War II missions in the Sarawak district of Borneo, he decides, on a whim, to see the place for himself. First, at a military training center straight from a Monty Python sketch, O’Hanlon schools himself in the ways of pit vipers, parasites and headhunters who decorate their dingles with painful bamboo piercings. Halfway ’round the world, with requisite comic sidekick in tow, he sets out on a series of jungle misadventures involving floods, giant insects, poisonous plants, head-splitting native alcohol and silly dances. Despite being wholly unsuited to such a trip, O’Hanlon eventually staggers toward the goal of the book’s title, a place so wild as to be literally off the map—his map, anyway, which warns “No cover; area unsurveyed; relief data incomplete.” At one of the nicer stops en route, O’Hanlon dozes peacefully in a longhouse hammock, dreaming of Harrison’s leeches who “when they sense the presence of a victim…stand up stiffly on the hinder sucker with the straight rigid body at an angle to the vertical.” What’s not to love? —Michael Ray Taylor


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