SUMMER IS OFTEN characterized as a time for doing light reading, snacking away at junky romances and escapist fare. Well, life's too short (and Tucson's summers are too long) to waste on disposable literature. An occasional banana split of a spy novel is OK, but one needs the brain-enriching fiber of a well-written biography or the protein of a political treatise to move ever forward intellectually.
(Apparently, one should never shop nor write when hungry.)
To help the reader maintain a nutritious balance of fact and fiction, humor and drama, we humbly offer a few reading selections. I've suggested one oldie because it will undoubtedly enjoy a huge resurgence in sales in the next few months.
Before the big movie comes out in late June, please read The Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger, a gut-wrenching account of unlucky fishermen caught in a monster North Atlantic storm and the unbelievable exploits of the Air-Sea Rescue team that gets swallowed up by the same maelstrom. Many have already read the book, judging by the fact that it's been on the bestseller lists for years. But if you haven't, shame on your John Grisham-readin' behind! It's a magnificent book, full of danger and sadness and amazing feats of real-life heroism.
The fishermen themselves are not classic heroes, larger-than-life seafarers doing battle with Mother Nature. They're ordinary guys, restless souls, barfighters and scamps who can make a year's worth of money in a couple months out on the water.
Alas, for the guys in this harrowing tale, the couple months in question included Halloween weekend of 1992, when three separate storms--a nor'easter doubling back toward New England, the first Arctic storm of the coming winter barreling down from Canada, and the remnants of a hurricane sliding northward along the Eastern Seaboard--came together to create a Super Storm, one of the worst in recorded history.
While the movie reportedly attempts to show what happened to the doomed fishermen, Junger's book only suggests what might have happened, an honest approach that makes their disappearance even more tragic. (You have to read it before you see the movie, lest you be tempted to view it as a novelization.)
Along the same lines is the just-released In The Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. It's the true-life account of the Essex, a 19th-century whaling vessel that does battle with one of God's creatures, an animal apparently confused about the order and direction of the food chain.
What happened to the Essex served as the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Real life is always creepier and crunchier than fiction, even classic fiction.
For the sports fans (and/or those who really appreciate the incredibly clever use of the word "ball" in any sports-related title), there are two books worth checking out: Fair Ball by Bob Costas and Loose Balls by Jayson Williams. (These are not to be confused with Balls by Dick Tomey's wife, Nancy Kincaid, or "Spaceballs," which is Mel Brooks' third- or fourth-funniest movie.)
The earnest Costas is a throwback, a latter-day Baby Boomer who still holds baseball in a reverence long-ago discarded by the rest of us. Through Pete Rose-colored glasses, he sees the game as a bastion of honor and discipline and all that is right with America. At the same time, he recognizes some of what has gone wrong over the years, and suggests several common-sense approaches to deal with the slippage of his favorite game.
I personally believe that baseball surrendered its exalted status decades ago through a concerted pattern of greed, disrespect and ineptitude among all concerned. But you can't fault a guy like Costas, who wears his passion on his sleeve and is fighting for what he believes in, even if it is the once-great sport of baseball.
Jayson Williams, on the other hand, is one of the funniest people in America. He also happens to be a member of the New Jersey Nets, which was an up-and-coming NBA team until a couple years ago when Williams suffered a broken leg (followed by a broken ankle and a broken foot). The Nets were a playoff team before the bizarre injuries, but have spent the past two seasons adrift in the depths of the Atlantic Division while he mends.
Williams has strung together a series of anecdotes and morality tales about life in the NBA to create one of the most enjoyable sports books in years. He shows utter disdain for today's hip-hop players who would rather be on a highlight film than win. He blasts rap music and groupies, and suggests a scandalous meaning for Father's Day among today's amoral players.
You'll race through this book and scream for more when you get to the end.
If you want biting humor on a different field of endeavor (I'm not sure whether politics is a higher or lower calling than professional basketball), try Al Franken's latest, Why Not Me?, just out in paperback.
The follow-up to Franken's mega-hit Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot (I didn't have to mention that book; I just like seeing those words in print), Why Not Me? is a fictionalized account of Franken's foray into the 2000 presidential race. Part satire, part farce, part dead-on political insight, this book is infinitely more interesting than the over-before-they-started primaries were and (sigh) than the general election is shaping up to be.
Great, funny book. Now, if only he could explain why his TV sitcom sucked so badly.
For something with local flavor, consider Bisbee-born J.A. Jance's Kiss Of The Bees, a dark thriller based in Tucson and the adjoining Tohono O'odham reservation. Fans of Jance's Joanna Brady mystery series should be warned that Bees isn't her typical case of murder-light solved by the doggedness and insight of the female sheriff of modern-day Cochise County.
This is often grim stuff, but it's kept moving and is ultimately fulfilling due to Jance's well-researched insight into the customs and legends of the desert-dwelling indigenous folks from out west of town.
Now get out there and read. And if we catch you with a Clive Cussler novel in your hands...well, it'd better be Serpent, about gold, crooked archaeologists, and a mythical fifth voyage by Columbus, and not Atlantis Found, which starts out great but then degenerates into a ho-hum shootout under the Antarctic ice shelf.
And if you want to know how I know these things, well, I was hungry for a banana split one night.