Summer Guide: Books

Although I played with the idea of reading this summer, I just don't think it's going to work out.

I know it's what all my friends are doing; right about now, I bet every one of them is scanning the new-release tables at brightly lit bookstores, measuring up one brightly colored clever cover against the one next to it. With a chocolate muffin in one hand, they're leaving rich brown smudges on all books that look interesting, relate in any way to liquor, or have Tim Gunn on the cover.

But when I thought about it, I realized all I really wanted to do this summer was sit outside and eat chips and dip. That's my idea of a good time, frankly, and it requires a great deal of focus. The last time I lost my concentration whilst feeding, I walked around with a chunk of refried beans on my boob until it was jammie time because some people apparently felt that the inappropriate placing of a pinto bean may have been intentional on my part, perhaps in hopes of attracting a man, a baby, or a reputable dry cleaner.


New Times Summer Guide

Summer Must-Reads

Three essential books for summer if you would like to more than crack a smile:
Notes from the Underwire by Quinn Cummings. A solid collection of essays from a tired mom and former child star, Quinn Cummings, who launches into one parenting disaster after another with cynicism, wit, and confirmation that I made the right decision by remaining childless.

If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster. Delightful, funny romp about what happens when an urban couple who don't own a hammer convince themselves that by watching HGTV, they can work miracles in the upscale money pit they foolishly buy in suburban Chicago.

You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl by Celia Rivenbark. Life in the South with more than a bit of bite. Rivenbark's humor is like the salt on the margarita glass; it's sometimes surprising, but it's always the best part. Fantastic beach read.

Laurie Notaro's new collection of essays, It Looked Different on the Model, is scheduled for release on July 26. She will be reading from the book and signing copies at Barnes 480-538-8520) on July 26, and Changing Hands Bookstore (6428 South McClintock Drive,Tempe; 480-730-0205) on July 29. Call for times or check

Chips and dip require all hands on deck, and if I have one of those hands on a book, chances are good to excellent that I will grow a bean nipple or at least look homeless by the end of the page. This is especially true if the book happens to be Wicked, because I had just bought tickets to the show and thought I needed to prep by reading it. It was all going well until I got to the munchkin/animal orgy, where a little guy goes all cellie on a lion and my mug of hot hot hot coffee completely missed my mouth and hit my neck instead.

I am here to tell you that you that 1) there's nothing like being past 30 and having cashiers look at you like you have a hickey; 2) the scar healed, but the image of the scene still burns; 3) I lived in fear for three months that my husband would realize I spent our weekly grocery allowance on a pocket-size fetish show.

So, no. Reading is out. Snacking takes precedence. No reading this summer.

And aside from that, reading can make you blind if you do it too much. It's totally true. Last summer I was outside reading Notes from the Underwire by child star Quinn Cummings (yes, I swear. She wrote a book and it was hilarious) when I looked up and all of a sudden, everything went white. Initially I thought, "I knew I put too much salt on my lunch! Sandwiches don't need salt! They don't need it!" But then, after I cried "Help!" several times and no one answered, even though the windows were open, my sight gradually returned to the point that I thought could see my husband's shadow staring at me from the kitchen window. I returned to reading the book after making sure I had a pulse, looked back to the window, and blindness struck again.

"Dammit!" I said. "How many strokes can one person have in a day? It was just a little salt! It's not like I ate a Lean Cuisine! Plus I had a vegetable yesterday!"

Until I realized that I was book blind. Scientifically, I don't know the specifics of it (although I once watched a NOVA all the way through and didn't wake up with drool on my cheek), but armed with an hour's worth of NOVA knowledge, I theorize that the rays of the sun reflect off the book and then char your retinas like a steak on a grill, complete with a photo negative imprinted on the back of your lids.

And I don't want that. I mean, I enjoyed the book very much, but the last thing I want to do is read the same page of Quinn Cumming's book every night before I go to sleep because it's been branded there for foolishly believing that books and nature went hand in hand. Maybe I'd be better off with an iPad, but truthfully, I see what a grease trap my iPhone is and I hate myself after each time my French fry of a cheek leaves a rainbow effect on the screen. No way am I going large with that oil spill. I'd have to keep a bottle of Dawn in my purse at all times.

These were all things I was telling my friend Sebastiane on the afternoon we had just returned from seeing Wicked, and she asked me what I was planning on reading this summer.

"Nothing," I answered briskly, then jumped up to run to my bookshelf. "Do you know people thought I had a bean nipple? But you have to read If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster. I just got an advance copy. It's awesome."

I found the galley and handed it to her.

"So you're not reading anything?" my friend questioned suspiciously. "At all?"

"No, not one book," I confirmed, pulling another book off of the shelf and brought it over. "Here's Celia Rivenbark's You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl. You'll love it. But don't take that the wrong way. And here is the one I was telling you by Quinn Cummings."

"Isn't that the one that blinded you?" Sebastiane asked.

"Yes, and I know page 86 by heart. I read it every night while I'm waiting for my Ambien high to kick in."

Sebastiane squinted. "Were you on Ambien when you read the little-person sex scene? Because, you know, that wasn't in the play. I kept waiting for the pygmy nudity. Even the flying monkeys kept their clothes on."

"I'm so glad I didn't read that page in the sun!" I informed her. "But that scene is as real as the coffee scar on my neck."

"That's a scar?" she questioned. "Because I had a different take on that all together."

"Are you going to read the Tina Fey book? Because I think you should read it and then tell me all it," I advised. "And Abandon, by Meg Cabot? That sounds so good. I think you should read that, too. It's about a dark angels and dead girls. And Geraldine Brooks has a new book out. Who doesn't love Geraldine Brooks? You should read that. It's called Caleb's Crossing. And Ann Patchett! I love her. Get her book, please. Please read her book. State of Wonder. There are cannibals in it! Cannibals!! Will you promise to read all of those? And then will you tell me all about them?"

Sebastiane sighed. "I'll try," she agreed. "But I think maybe you need to skip the chips and dip, stay inside, and read all of the things on the summer reading list that you supposedly don't have."

I shook my head. "I can't," I admitted. "I have a book due in September."

"Oh," my wise friend said. "I see. So the stuff about snacks, the fear about book blindness, the grease on an iPad were all lies? Well, except the iPhone part, it really is disgusting. You could send Morse code with that thing, it's so shiny. Those were all lies you were telling yourself?"

"No. Those were all lies I was telling you," I clarified. "But yes. Did you hear anything of what I said? Dark angels? Dead girls? Cannibals? This summer is contaminated with fascinating books! If I start reading any of them, I won't stop. I can't stop. And then I won't make my deadline. And then I'll have to get a job. And I don't like jobs."

"In that case, I have an idea," Sebastiane said. "Let's get a bib, some chips and dip, go sit outside and make your reading list for September."

"Deal," I said.


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