The idea of summer reading is to find a nice, indulgent beach bookbrimming with romance and mysterythat you can lazily sift through as you sip on some ridiculous coconut cocktail. That would be the smart thing to do if you wanted to relax and forget about the real world and all its dastardly environmental and political issues. As it turns out, writers and, specifically, journalists, tend to be a little more dark, nerdy and masochistic when it comes to picking summer reads. Who would have guessed? From the Indy staff and contributors we've pieced together a mix of picks from our summer of reading, from weird humor to sex, babies to logging. And, for the traditionalist, a little mystery. What more could you ask for?
Bringing up Bébé
When you're a parent in a place like Missoula, you end up thinking really hard about where you stand on every decision. Are you an attachment parent or a Ferberizer? Are you okay with feeding your baby formula or are you all breast? Do you think the cry-it-out method is cruel or merely necessary? Or are you somewhere in the middle? Wherever you land, if you are a parent, you can't avoid these discussions with other parents even if you try.
Bringing up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman, has been around for about a year, but it's still raising hackles on one side and parental praise on the other. Druckerman is an American living in Paris who notices that French children appear to be less prone to tantrums, more open to different foods, able to sleep through the night at just two or three months old, and fine to eat at a restaurant without chaos. Druckerman's fascinating quest to find the root of all this good behavior digs deep into the French psyche as well as the French childcare system. For instance, day care is run by highly paid, highly educated careerists, and it's free to attend. (Yep, socialism really sucks, huh?)
If you're just a little bit curious about other cultures, and can get over your desire to dislike the French, it's a good read. Even if, like me, you don't like the idea of giving your infant formula over breast milk, you might agree that at long last we should be teaching kids the art of waiting. Understanding that the world doesn't revolve around them allows children to eventually deal with the real world in a healthy way, which really does make them happier little citizens. (Erika Fredrickson)
The Stench of Honolulu and Flashman
The funniest book I read this summer was The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey, in which the hero mistakes several people who want to help him for his mortal enemies and one woman, who wants to kill him, for his love interest. Funny novels are rare. I had to stop reading this one in the burrito place because I was laughing and spitting rice on myself like a crazy person.
The second funniest novel I read this summer was Flashman, an adventure story starring a minor Thomas Hughes character, set during the first Anglo-Afghan war and written by George MacDonald Fraser, who also wrote Octopussy. Harry Flashman is a peculiar hero: Cowardly, steeped in the chauvinism of his time and relentlessly self-serving, he finds his destiny despite his character. Watching him pull it off is a cynical thrill. (Dan Brooks)
American Savage: Insights, Slights and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love and Politics
If I were in charge (a tantalizing thought, right?), Dan Savage would be required reading in every sex ed classand maybe every American government class, too. It's not just that his sex advice is unflinchingly honest, rational and kind, but that he's one of the best writers I can think of at using his own life and experiences to illustrate his points about politics. His brisk new book includes essays on everything from how the Catholic church influences government policy to the moment when his teen son, whom he adopted with his husband, comes out to them as ... straight.
Savage is popular among the "Daily Show"-type crowd, and no wonder: Like the show, Savage's writing is sharp, snappy and leaves you learning much more than you expected. (Kate Whittle)
No Second Wind
A dramatic later-life departure from A.B. Guthrie Jr.'s earlier western works, No Second Wind actually comes as the third installment in a five-novel mystery series from 1980 starring Sheriff Chick Charleston of the fictional burg of Midbury, Mont.undeniably inspired by Guthrie's hometown of Choteau. Forget your checkout-line Dan Browns and Sue Graftons for a moment. No Second Wind offers a thrilling-yet-humorous romp through a bone-chilling winter in the small-town West, as Charleston and his deputy seek answers to a murder in a contentious strip mining camp.
Guthrie happens to be my grandfather, and so I'd first picked up the Charleston mysteries years ago, eager for a taste of the lighter side of his writing. The series landed on my to-read list again this summer when it came up in idle conversation, and I quickly found myself devouring the set a second time, unable to stay away from wryly named characters like Doc Yak and Loose Lancaster. Each book feels like a slice of true down-home Montana life, and comes as a refreshing reminder that the big issues don't change much in these parts. No Second Wind is no exception as Guthrie writes of heated environmental hearings, cantankerous ranchers, wolves howling fear into the hearts of skittish localsfamiliar tropes even today. (Alex Sakariassen)
To Kill and Kill Again
In this book about Missoula's only known serial killer, Wayne Nance, the author at times comes across as condescending. He refers to Missoula, for instance, as a "palm-sized metropolis," one filled with smiling optimists. If one had never been here and read the first pages of To Kill and Kill Again, they might envision Missoula as something akin to a Mayberry of the Rockies. That said, the book provides juicy details into Nance's life and crimes, a series of brutal sadomasochistic murders that might spook you into dead-bolting your doors and locking your windows at night. (Jessica Mayrer)
Sometimes a Great Notion
From the front window of my house, I can see the outlines of ski trails in the far-off timber and every time I see them it reminds me of Ken Kesey's epic novel Sometimes a Great Notion, which I often revisit. The story of the logging Stamper family living and dying in coastal Oregon has a singular voice that questions and celebrates the notion of manifest destiny with prose that is so beautiful one might just to decide to give up writing forever. (Jason McMackin)