Beach Reads

arts2 literatureA guide to summer books and literary events

Summer is here, the days stretched long into siestas, six packs, sunsets and barbecues. It’s impossible to ignore the clarion call to daydream. There’s no better leaping off point for the season than a really good book—or several. With that in mind, here’s a roundup of some great events and titles that will see every kind of reader through family vacations, weekend escapes and lazy afternoons.

Extrapolate a bit on the theme and you have Books & Brews, Bookshop Santa Cruz’s summer book group series, occurring once a month through September. Held in breweries and pour houses around town, these events allow you to lounge with hipsters and talk books with fellow readers, craft beer in hand. You’ll also meet a fascinating author, have the chance to win a $150.00 gift certificate, drink awesome beer, and buy books on the spot. Did I mention beer? The first event will be a mixer at Discretion Brewery on June 24, filled with stimulating summer reading suggestions, happily in paperback—so you can stuff them in your bag and drop them in the sand.

The second event is a standout. On July 28, at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, join war correspondent, surfer, and New Yorker magazine writer William Finnegan to discuss his new memoir, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. It doesn’t matter if you lack a surfboard or plane ticket. Finnegan will place you in the curl, with stories of countries and cultures that surround and support surfers worldwide. Travel with him from California to Hawaii, the South Pacific, Asia, Australia and Africa, as he searches for perfect waves and finds them, not only in remote locations but right next door. Spanning history, obsession, and the far reaches of adventure, his story is a lesson in how to pursue the passionate life.

The third event, on Aug. 10, is a discussion of Laline Paul’s enormously creative novel The Bees. In the tradition of Animal Farm and Watership Down, The Bees shrinks the reader down to size, as we explore the yearnings, rewards and dangers of the hive. Our guide is a lowly sanitation bee named Flora 717, who conjures the courage and defiance to realize her true potential. Based in science, empathetic without being sentimental, and unnervingly timely, this is both cautionary tale and tribute to the complexity in our own backyard.

Here are a few more new and soon-to-be-released titles, in no particular order, guaranteed to captivate:

For anyone who has ever listed To Kill A Mockingbird as a favorite book, the publication of Harper Lee’s newly discovered novel, Go Set A Watchman, is cause for celebration. Written in the 1950s and submitted to publishers before To Kill A Mockingbird, it deals with Atticus Finch and Scout 20 years later, and was thought to be lost for decades. With Harper Lee’s blessing, it promises to flesh out the lives of characters we’ve known and loved for a lifetime.

The Water Knife, by Paulo Bacigalupi, should prove especially resonant to those of us living with drought. Set in an all too plausible future where rain dries up before it hits the ground and water rights are more valuable than gold, this dystopian thriller races across the desert landscape between Las Vegas and Arizona, laying out a water war to end all water wars. Blending cyberpunk with a heat index we can already feel, Bacigalupi shows us just where we might be headed. NPR put it best: Think Chinatown Meets Mad Max.

Patricia Park’s charming debut novel, Re Jane, leaps off the pages of perennial classic Jane Eyre into territory all its own. Instead of English moors, we journey from Queens to Brooklyn to Korea and back with a heroine who is spirited, orphaned, and half Korean. With truths to tell about love, identity, and fitting in, Re Jane is the 21st century story of colliding cultures, stumbling blocks, and one young woman who manages to shake off other people’s expectations in pursuit of her best sense of self.

A heist book in the tradition of Ocean’s 11, Among Thieves, by John Clarkson, pits a group of ex-cons against big wigs at a Manhattan brokerage firm, along with the Russian mob, NYPD, illegal arms dealers and the requisite shadow government agency. When Olivia Sanchez runs into some questionable multi-million dollar transactions at her place of employment, the discovery leads to assault and termination by her boss, a partner in the firm. Her cousin and protector, Manny, would like to see him dead, but Manny’s associate and fellow ex-con, James Beck, has a better idea—beat the brokers at their own game. Punctuated by dark humor, sharp twists, and non-stop action, this has all the makings of a badass franchise.

Another winner for armchair travelers is Layne Mosler’s infectious memoir, Driving Hungry. After her dreams of opening a restaurant fall apart, she travels to Buenos Aires and turns to a local cabdriver in search of a perfect meal. One life-changing steak later, she has found her path and the basis for her popular blog, Taxi Gourmet. She eventually ends up in New York City, becomes a cabdriver herself, and heads to Berlin, where she develops a passion for the city and its residents. Funny, joyful, and above all, game, it demands that you set out, with no destination, to see where the road might lead you.

Finally, what’s a summer reading list without a pirate book? Robert Kurson’s Pirate Hunters is structured like a mystery novel with one big difference: it’s true. Follow along as two commercial divers search for a rare shipwreck captained by infamous pirate Joseph Bannister. It’s a race against time, resources, other treasure hunters, and even their own psyches to discover what lies hidden below.

So take some time this summer to read, not because you have to, but because it inspires you to daydream—which is among the most important and underrated of skills. After all, daydreams are where the most revolutionary ideas are born.

PHOTO: Community book group Books & Brews will discuss Laline Paull’s enormously creative novel The Bees on Aug. 10 at Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pour House in Soquel.

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