written by SABINA ASHBAUGH
July and August are quiet months when New Yorkers can flee the airless subway platforms and sizzling cement of the city by commuting to weekend houses in beach towns along the coast. For everyone else, however, the end of the summer can be a time to indulge in the luxury of staying in, or, for those without air conditioning, a time to seek out the indoor public spaces that offer refuge during the 102 degree heat waves.
When incentive to go outside wanes with every degree, reading is a way to stay entertained during weeks of self-imposed exile. In the midst of stifling humidity, you may find yourself unable to resist the easy mindlessness of the season’s reality television or blockbuster hits. Summer, however, doesn’t have to be a period of mental idleness. When avoiding crowds and too much direct sunlight, easy summer reading offers an escape from the boredom that can come from shutting oneself away.
This summer, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy could be spotted on subways and beach towels across Manhattan. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good hot weather choice when the temperature makes it all too easy to toss away anything dense before the end of the first chapter. The novel follows Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, an outcast by choice and perhaps the novel’s most winning character, as they investigate corrupt corporate officials and creepy family histories. Larsson’s characters are endearing, and the author’s clear and economic prose moves the story forward quickly. The novel’s many plot twists will impel readers to keep turning pages even when attention spans seem to dissipate with the heat.
Roberto Bolaño’s sprawling 2666 is just long and layered enough to make it difficult to finish during the busier months of the year. The novel, which is divided into five parts, traces the legacy of the fictional author Archimboldi and the lives of those searching for or connected to him. Bolaño zooms in on the violence of both WWII and the murders of the women of Santa Teresa, a thinly veiled reference to the deaths in Ciudad Juárez, to draw unexpected connections between the lives of the novel’s many characters. Sections such as those describing the Mexico deaths are difficult to read, while other parts are strangely lyrical—eerie descriptions of people and events that blend the distinction between the realistic and mystical. 2666 is an intricate work that will keep readers immersed in Bolaño’s world and out of Manhattan’s humidity.
Summer also provides the opportunity to read the lesser-known works of beloved classic authors. Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is a great summer choice for those who cherished The Sun Also Rises or A Farewell to Arms. As in his other works, Hemingway’s prose is stark and ingeniously simple. The novel’s protagonist is Robert Jordan, an American fighting against the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway’s account of the guerilla leaders in the mountains portrays the complexity of those who sacrificed for the Republic even as it began to fall. The story also revolves around Robert Jordan’s relationship with Maria—a love fraught with the complications of the war, doomed from the start. Hemingway’s book moves forward quickly, but the recollections of past cruelties and the perpetual uneasiness of the protagonist stays with the reader long after the final chapter. For Whom the Bell Tolls is a great summer read for long time Hemingway fans or those new to the author’s distinctive style.
The Internet offers perhaps the widest range of easy distraction at easy disposal. To keep your mind from completely melting, however, avoid hours of StumbleUpon and an online browsing to sites that require at least some mental activity. Most newspaper and magazine articles can now be found online, and the proliferation of blogs means almost everyone can create a list of fast daily reads. Literary sites like McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, which offers a variety of short and often hilarious works, are a good way to stay entertained while surfing the web. Book reviews like The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review are also available through the Internet. Reviews keep readers up to date on the latest publications while also giving them a sense of which books they’re more likely to enjoy. Twitter offers distraction in less than 140 characters, and comments from public figures like Roger Ebert can provide comic relief throughout the day.
Reading isn’t limited to being a stressful aspect of classes. It can also be a relaxing way to leave summer in the city behind. Reading for pleasure is an easy luxury reserved for the warmer months that serve as a hiatus from New York’s usually frantic pace. Use the heat as an excuse to browse local bookstores or check out new blogs while basking in the AC. Before the temperature dips below the 40s, enjoy the tail end of summer indoors by embracing the seasonal slow pace without dulling your mind.