The best things to read while laying on the beach, by a lake, or just under the air conditioning vent in your apartment are either escapist and absorbing, or funny and not too taxing. Why work your way through some generic list of current-release books from the Huffington Post or whatever when you can read something that’s probably at the library? Now all you need is a beverage in the other hand. And maybe a hammock. I’ve always wanted a hammock. Can someone come set one up for me in my yard?
Despite the fact that it was released before some of you reading were probably even born, Bridget Jones’ Diary holds up surprisingly well. Even without the help of the movie, which I don’t think did it justice, you can just see Bridget’s mother after her makeover in those ridiculous, jewel-toned suits, or Bridget falling over in her bedroom trying to untangle a pair of tights that ended up behind her couch somehow. Whether you’re reading this modern, proto-chick-lit classic for the first time or re-reading it for the millionth, drink something Bridget would drink – cheap white wine from South Africa she found on sale. Chenin Blanc is always a safe choice for a South African quaffer, but I’ve really liked some of the Sauvignon Blancs from there I’ve tried lately. Both Riebeek Cellars’ and Man Family Vineyards’ Sauv Blancs usually retail for less than $10. Just don’t go overboard and wake up with one of Bridget’s signature ‘acidic hangovers.’ I’m still not really sure what that means despite basically drinking for a living, but it sounds terrible.
And speaking of hangovers, just reading about the characters’ lives in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch makes me feel a little drawn around the eyes. All the drugs and anxiety (I guess keeping a stolen painting hidden for a large chunk of your life will make you a little…high strung) and late nights with crazy Russian guys make me think of the kind of wine people bring out at the end of the night when that in an earlier, more sensible frame of mind, they’d leave in the wine rack. Usually this kind of wine is of the sweet and complex variety – and an unctuous sweet wine from France’s Loire Valley definitely fits the bill. Domaine des Baumards’ Quarts de Chaume might not be quite as awe-inspiring as the famous painting the book is named for, but it’s pretty damned delicious – like candied apricots that have been hit by a lightning bolt of tart acidity that will keep you reaching for another sip. Just sip slowly, because you’ve got quite a few pages to get through.
For Hunter S. Thompson’s first novel, The Rum Diary, rum would be the obvious choice, but when I travel, or even eat at a restaurant that has reasonably authentic food, I like to try the beer that’s native to that cuisine. See if you can find a Magna, the best of the cheap Puerto Rican beers that I’ve tried, not that they’re all that different from one another. It’s perfect on a hot day with fried fish and sand between your toes, but a heady first novel from a famous writer and party animal will do just fine, too. In his Serious Eats column on Puerto Rican beer, Will Gordon writes that it’s meant to “ease cheaply and gently out of one hangover and into the next.” I think Hunter S. Thompson would definitely approve of this strategy.
The Robber Bride is my absolute favorite Margaret Atwood novel, not because it’s the ‘best,’ but because it’s the most fun to read, and it’s proof that a book can be fun while not completely turning your brain to mush. And while, yes, art should move us and make us uncomfortable sometimes and bla bla bla, sometimes you really just want to be entertained, especially when the sky is blue and your biggest problem is some sand that’s accumulated in the crotch of your suit. What makes Zenia, the novel’s central character, such a great villain, is that she’s terrible, but also kind of great? Especially if you’re neurotic and guilt-ridden like me, when you read about, or better (worse?), meet someone like her, in addition to being horrified, you’re also kind of…jealous? Like, I wish I could be that. I also wish I could be the kind of person who can just crack open a bonkers expensive, unapologetically luxurious bottle of Champagne for no reason. Among wine geeks, Veuve Clicquot is decidedly uncool, but would any of them turn down a glass of La Grande Dame, their high-end vintage bottling? The answer is no, no they would not. The widow Clicquot herself was a bit of a risk-taking badass, and I think if she read about Zenia, she’d get it.
Truman Capote’s Music For Chameleons is the perfect book to dip in and out of all summer long. It’s filled with little vignettes and character studies of people, famous and not, that Capote knew. Of course the little piece on Marilyn Monroe is amazing, but my absolute favorite is the story that follows him and this woman he’s friends with, a devout Catholic who cleans houses for a living and happens to be a huge stoner. They get baked out of their minds in this wealthy couples’ house and eat their ice cream and then get caught. Hilarious. If pot is legal in your state, well, by all means, get in the spirit. I was once asked what wine goes with weed, and my answer was Gruner Veltliner, since it’s often what sommeliers pair with pungently green vegetables. You can appreciate Rudi Pichler’s Gruner Veltliner for its refreshing brightness, but if you stop and pay attention, you’ll realize how much more is going on.
What are your favorite summer reads?