There are some bummer stats from our Please Don’t Let This Be True Department. According to ParaPublishing.com (quoted on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop page), a third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives, and 42 percent of college grads never read another book after college. The National Endowment for the Arts says that 57 percent of Americans read for pleasure at least occasionally, which is more hopeful, but it still leaves a lot of people watching four hours of tube a night. That’s not just sad, it’s ridiculous. If you’re among the blessed 57 percent, here are my picks for the books you should tuck away in your Fun Bag when you head for the beach or that cabin by the lake.
The Millennium Trilogy, by Stieg Larsson
Lisbeth Salander is one of the great female characters in fiction, dangerous as hell in spite of her waiflike appearance; she karate-kicks as well as she computer-hacks. The best thing about the late Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is that the three books form one long, interconnected tale. And like Jo Rowling’s Harry Potter series, it’s a relentless, unputdownable narrative.
The Passage, by Justin Cronin
You’ve heard about this ripping (literally) yarn; summer’s the perfect time to read it. Zombie vampires called ”virals” overwhelm the world, and mankind’s only hope rests with an immortal little girl from Iowa. The book’s white-hot center is a rousing chase set on a train racing balls-to-the-wall through the Nevada desert. If it doesn’t raise your pulse, you’re probably a viral yourself.
The Unnamed, by Joshua Ferris
In this melancholy follow-up to Then We Came to the End, a lawyer named Tim suffers from a disease so rare it’s never been classified: He can’t stop walking. The novel is sometimes funny and often grim, but what makes it shine is the love story of Tim and his wife, Jane. That love is strained when Tim descends into an ambulatory hell, but it never quite breaks. This is a heart wrencher.
Strip, by Thomas Perry
Manco Kapak is a small-time bad guy who owns strip clubs where bigger bad guys launder their dope money. After Kapak is robbed while making a night deposit, he decides L.A. newcomer Joe Carver was the culprit. He’s wrong about Carver in all sorts of ways, and soon Kapak is in a fight for not only his business life but his life life. Alternately hilarious and creepy — you’ll meet a sexy thrill-robber named Carrie who’ll make your hair stand on end — Strip is notable for how, in Perry’s hands, the aging Kapak transforms from a flesh-peddling sleazebag to a guy you care about. And root for.
Storm Prey, by John Sandford
The latest Lucas Davenport thriller starts with a hospital drug heist in which an elderly pharmacist is killed, but the novel’s most absorbing passages deal with a surgical team’s fight to separate — and save — a set of infant twins joined at the head. A good thriller requires a good villain, and the latest Prey has one that would make a lovely mate for Strip’s Carrie: Caprice Marlon Garner, a motorcycle-riding killer. Sandford writes great, unapologetic guy fiction…but you guy-ettes will have a good time too.
Ordinary Thunderstorms, by William Boyd
Adam Kindred is an up-and-coming climatologist in London for a job interview. Then he picks up a forgotten briefcase in a restaurant and tries to return it to the owner. Before you can say ”Bad idea, dude,” he’s living on the streets, begging for spare change, and sleeping in an empty lot by the Thames. He’s been framed for murder and targeted by an unscrupulous Big Pharma company. Great suspense stuff here, told with flair, compassion, and a high sense of humor. Readers will cheer Adam’s survival techniques and never-say-die attitude; I guarantee that you’ll think of him every time you see a so-called ”street person” trolling for spare change or yelling about the end of days. All these books are good, but for me, Boyd’s deft combination of suspense and literature makes it the pick of the litter.
Now back to those troubling stats. If you’re part of the fortunate 57 percent who read for fun — with all the pleasure that entails — why not get a couple of these books and, after you’ve enjoyed them, pass them on to a reading-challenged friend. Hey, maybe together we can start a revolution.