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JEAN LUC MORALES--GETTY IMAGES
Posted Sunday, June 25, 2006
When you were a grade schooler, you dreaded it. But the summer reading list is, in fact, one of the most reliable routes to a relaxing escape. Whether it's a visit to frontier-era Montana, a pulpy page-turner, or a trove of trivia, the notable books of summer offer a tour of territories unblemished, unearthly, and unexpected.
SOME NOVEL IDEAS
"One day before my third month into the 11th grade, I fell into a coma," says the character Miguel in the graphic novel Sloth ($20) by Gilbert Hernandez. "I can't give you any medical explanation for it. I just didn't wake up that morning, is all. Then one day, exactly a year later, I woke up." Nicknamed "Sloth" by the local bullies because he moves slowly (though it is also the name of his band), Miguel then resumes his life, becoming the third point in a love triangle with the bombshell Lita and the dreamily drawn Romeo. Full of David Lynch-like inversions, haunted lemon orchards and indie rock bands, Sloth is a tale you read once and immediately read again. The book is the first original graphic novel from Hernandez, who previously teamed with his brother Jaime to earn legions of fans with Love & Rockets, an alternative comic book series portraying the lives and loves of Mexican-American women.
A cross between To Kill a Mockingbird and the movie A Christmas Story, the novel The Whistling Season($25) by Ivan Doig transports readers to Marias Coulee, Mont. Narrator Paul Milliron recalls his childhood school year of 1909-1910, when kids rode horses to their one-room schoolhouse. His recently widowed father hires housekeeper Rose Llewellyn from Minnesota. She brings along her brother Morrie, an erudite, foppish University of Chicago scholar, and the two proceed to educate the Milliron children, both inside and outside the classroom. On every page, Season brims with nostalgic and charming homespun wit.
The Debutante Divorcee ($24) by Plum Sykes--a contributing editor for Vogue--is just as much a shopping list as it is a novel. "'The day of my divorce was sort of glamorous, actually,' said Lauren from under the wide-brimmed black sun hat she had found in her canvas Hermes tote. 'Like the hat? Yves Saint Laurent gave it to my mom in 1972.'" That Sykes meticulously catalogs such detail for every character, setting, and event is half the aspirational, escapist fun. The other half is watching newlywed Sylvia Mortimer fret over whether her groom will fall into the clutches of husband huntress Sophia D'Arlan.
When a dead American soldier washes ashore on Cuban territory, the tensions at Camp Gitmo rise to an explosive level in The Prisoner of Guantanamo by Dan Fesperman (July, $24). His efficient prose leads to a taut thriller full of sharp observations. (The Cuban janitor/double agent is "simultaneously benefiting from the economic theories of Adam Smith and Karl Marx.")
Even with cameras pointed at them 24 hours a day, the participants on reality TV game shows like The Amazing Race and Survivorare still largely inscrutable. In the novel Lost and Found($24), Carolyn Parkhurst takes you inside the minds of a group of competitors racing around the world for a prize. As they perform the show's scavenger hunt tasks, the contestants' inner demons are flushed out for the cameras. For instance, Abby and Justin, the married, "ex-gay" lesbian and gay man, try to use the show to spread their beliefs even as they waver themselves.
Explore the rebirth of New Orleans.