This year, you've decided to buck the trend and take the vacation you've been putting off for years in fear you'd get back to work and discover your job has been outsourced to a small town in India with an unpronounceable name. Trouble is, you have no idea what to bring with you in the way of reading material since the last time you had a chance to peruse The New York Review of Books was during the Reagan administration.
Not to worry; your summer reading list is at hand. All you have to do is pack the books along with your sunscreen and summer togs. A word of warning: Though these works are among my favorites, they aren't current best-sellers. For that, you're on your own.
Let's start with my favorite writer of all time: Alfredo Véa. Why he is not more widely recognized remains a mystery. In my opinion, he deserves every writing award there is, as well as some still to be created. You would do well with any of his three novels: La Maravilla, The Silver Cloud Café or Gods Go Begging.
I'm currently rereading Gods, arguably among the best fiction available on the Vietnam War. The story moves seamlessly between Southeast Asia and San Francisco and centers on Jesse Pasadoble, a defense attorney struggling with the war's demons. The book is a lyrical masterpiece.
In Forever, Pete Hamill creates a mythical story around Cormac O'Connor, who arrives in New York from Ireland in the 18th century. An African shaman bestows on O'Connor the gift of immortality, but only if he remains on the island of Manhattan. Anyone interested in the history of New York will enjoy this one.
Set in Spain during the 15th century, Siguiriya, by Sylvia Lopez-Medina, tells the story of a family over several generations against the backdrop of the Inquisition and the expulsion of the Moors and Jews. It's a gripping tale and a testament to love, tolerance and respect.
Speaking of history: If you missed it when it first came out, take a look at City of Darkness, City of Light, by Marge Piercy. Set in France during the Revolution, the characters spring from the page. Piercy's writing is superb, as usual.
If short stories are more your speed, check out Contemporary Fiction: 50 Short Stories Since 1970, edited by Lex Williford and Michael Martone. In it you'll find works by Alexie Sherman, Sandra Cisneros, Jamaica Kincaid, Amy Tan and Alice Walker, among others. Each of the stories is a small jewel.
There are some nonfiction books you might consider. At the top of the list is Bill McKibben's Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age. The author tackles the thorny subject of genetic engineering and questions the limits to this technology vis-à-vis the future of the human race.
An earlier book by the same author, The Age of Missing Information, looks at the information gleaned from spending time in nature compared with 2,000 hours of videotaped television. McKibben believes that despite our so-called "information revolution," in fact we are ignorant of vital knowledge we possessed for centuries.
Although published in 1995, Jonathan Kozol's Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, is as relevant today as it was then. In his examination of the lives of inner-city children, Kozol makes a strong case for our failure as a nation to address their needs. A poignant and disturbing book, it should be required reading for anyone who holds public office.
A Mencken Chrestomathy, a collection of writings edited by the man himself, is a jewel of a book for anyone interested in the arch curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken. He pontificates on democracy, morals, crime and punishment, women, government and religion, among other topics. Acerbic and witty, it's a pleasure to read, especially if you don't take it to heart.
Howard Blum's Out There addresses the government's secret role in the investigation of unidentified flying objects. Well-researched and documented, Blum reveals some startling information concerning the role of the military and covert agencies you won't find in your daily newspaper.
If you've decided to finally take charge of your health, you would be hard-pressed to find a better book than Ultra-Prevention: The 6-Week Plan That Will Make You Healthy for Life. Besides providing a detox plan, the book contains a wealth of information on vitamins, metabolism, drugs, disease, nutrition and medical tests. Doctors Mark Hyman and Mark Liponis do an excellent job of dispelling common myths and providing information you should have before a physician's visit. At the time the book was published, in 2003, they served as co-medical directors of Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires.
I hope you'll find some measure of pleasure in at least some of these books. And if you come back from vacation to learn your position is kaput, not to worry; think about all the time you'll have for reading.