Read All Over: Summer Reading Picks
Summertime is the best time to catch up on some good literature.
Published: June 19, 2013
The Plot Against America
By Philip Roth; Houghton Mifflin Co., $26 (hardcover), 391 pp.
PHILIP ROTH IS one of those iconic authors that readers know can be counted on to include similar elements across nearly every story in his catalogue: Locales are typically set in New Jersey; there’s a healthy dose of Jewish angst; and requisite pre- or post-war economic hardship.
Most — if not all — those pieces are in his 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, but this book is atypical Roth in both its political fantasy and his take on historical fiction.
In Plot, the America we thought we knew has been turned on its head when aviation great, and real-life Nazi sympathizer, Charles Lindbergh — who was born in Detroit — runs for president on the Republican ticket in 1940 as the dove candidate, and ends up defeating the hawkish Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Plot’s story arc is narrated by a saddened older man who recalls a summer evening in 1940 when he and his older brother Sandy have gone to sleep while, in another room, his parents listen to a radio broadcast from the Republican Convention in Philadelphia.
While the real convention that year saw the GOP nominate a lawyer named Wendell Willkie, in Roth’s world, the narrator recalls a heated multi-count balloting process where Lindbergh’s name was tendered for consideration in the milieu. At 3:18 a.m. (Roth is fastidious about detail), Lindbergh makes a surprise appearance at the convention, which galvanizes the delegates; thus a new history is set in motion. As an aside, Roth didn’t completely fabricate the notion of a GOP embracing the Lone Eagle — some politicians did think of running him for president.
In the novel, Lindy is depicted as a Nazi sympathizer, which isn’t far afield from the flyer’s real-life considerations, where he looked upon American Jews with great suspicion and even accepted a medal from Hitler’s government.
Upon Lindbergh’s defeat of Roosevelt, the history of America is altered in a way that is simultaneously unbelievable yet frightengly plausible.
Like other contemporary American literary greats, Roth has taken the notion of “It Can’t Happen Here,” a seminal tome by Sinclair Lewis, by using the fascism scare of the 1930s as the vehicle to evoke terrifying “what if’s” that are both outrageous and seemingly within reach.
— B. Gottlieb
By Carl Hiaasen; Knopf, $26.95 (hardcover), 317 pp.
ANDREW YANCY IS a pot-smoking former cop who lost his badge after shoving a vacuum cleaner nozzle up the ass of his girlfriend’s husband, out in public, in front of hundreds of shocked tourists. And he’s the good guy in Carl Hiaasen’s latest novel, Bad Monkey.
Those familiar with Hiaasen’s offbeat humor won’t be surprised that one of his heroes is, shall we say, slightly flawed. As for those of you haven’t read
Hiaasen, well, get with it. The guy is a terrific writer.
A former investigative newspaper reporter who still pens a weekly column for The Miami Herald, Hiaasen has written 12 previous novels. A Florida native, his stories are routinely set in the Sunshine State, a place with more than its fair share of slimy scammers, dim-witted hustlers and whacked-out lowlifes.
A consistent theme for Hiaasen is a visceral disdain for developers of all sorts. That familiar territory is mined again in Bad Monkey, a murder mystery that begins when a tourist fishing in the Florida Keys hooks a severed human arm. That odd catch is loosely connected to a dead-sailfish scam that’s “based on a true-life scandal in Miami,” which Hiassen playfully points out in the usual disclaimer at the front of the book declaring the names and characters are all “either invented or used fictitiously.”
Yancy, who has been reduced to “roach patrol” inspecting restaurants after his ill-conceived application of the vacuum attachment, sets out to find the killer of the man that arm was once attached to, hoping that solving the crime will help him win back his shield.
So, if you are looking for some breezy fun while kicking back on a beach somewhere this summer, Bad Monkey is a good place to turn.
— C. Guyette
Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal
By Vern; Titan Books, $15.95 (paperback), 352 pp.
ACTION MOVIE FANS aren’t usually bookworms, but don’t they still deserve an entertaining read at the beach? How about “an in-depth study of the world’s only aikido instructor turned movie star-director-writer-blues guitarist-energy drink inventor, the ass-kicking auteur Steven Seagal”?
Self-described “outlaw film critic” Vern is a fresh voice, very well informed on Seagal’s oeuvre, obviously having watched each film repeatedly, but also knowing the backstories on production, even having read the books the movies were (in many cases loosely) adapted from. So he’s like a total scholar — on the totally badass films of Steven Seagal. But Vern writes in a loose, relaxed style, like some dude who dropped in, ripped some bong hits, snorted a few rails, and is now frantically, hilariously riffing on the films in your living room. Seagalogy will march you through Seagal’s “golden age,” “silver age” and the scads of direct-to-video works of his later years — along with detailed checklists for each film on such hallmarks of the mini-genre as bar fights, unusual weapons and broken glass.
All told, Vern is guaranteed to make you double over with laughter in much the same way Steven Seagal sends foes somersaulting through clouds of broken glass. For a taste of his style, see outlawvern.com.
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