Wednesday, May 16, 2018

My Summer Reading List

By Tim Smith

It’s time to compile that annual list of summer beach reads, the books you didn’t get around to reading when you were snowbound over the winter-without-end. The books you promised yourself you’d read, including the ones you received as Christmas or birthday gifts. Then there are the freebies from fellow writers, the ones you reluctantly agreed to read then post an online review.

The reading table next to my favorite chair has a continually revolving stack of books with bookmarks throughout. I have to be in a certain mood to read a book, mainly because of what I do all day. I’m the editor of a weekly newspaper, and I spend my days reading and editing the work of freelancers. I also have to write the occasional feature when someone bails on an assignment. This has caused me to not only ignore my own creative writing when I get home, but I usually don’t read anything longer than a newspaper or magazine article. This year, I’ve decided to get through some of the books that piqued my interest, while revisiting a few old favorites. Here goes, in no particular order.

“Dead Last” by James W. Hall. Hall is one of my favorite thriller writers, and I gravitated to him originally because we share a common theme in our writing. He lives in southern Florida and sets his stories in The Keys, like I do. His characters are well-drawn and his plots are suspenseful. No matter what his anti-hero, a former soldier of fortune named Thorn (no first name) gets into, it will grab my interest and hold it until the last paragraph.

“Dirty Money” by Donald E. Westlake, writing as Richard Stark. Westlake’s “hero,” a professional thief with a moral code named Parker (again, no first name) appeared in a dozen or so novels. Westlake/Stark had a way of depicting the action with a sparsity of words, and you actually find yourself rooting for the bad guy. In each installment, Parker is usually after someone from the gang who ripped him off after the robbery, and all he wants is his cut. His code of ethics is what sets him apart from other criminal characters, as in his assertion “You never kill someone unless they deserve it.” And in Westlake’s universe, someone always does.

“The Garner Files” by James Garner. I’ve enjoyed the late James Garner’s memoir since it was first published in 2011 and I still dig it out once in a while. Garner is one of my all-time favorite actors, and the backstage tales of his film and TV work, from “Maverick” to “The Great Escape” and “The Rockford Files” portray an average guy who never took himself or his work all that seriously. This is the only autobiography I’ve read where the main character gives all the credit to his co-stars. According to Garner, he never gave a good performance in his life and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I think his fans would disagree. 

Selected books by Raymond Chandler. From “The Big Sleep” to “The Long Goodbye,” Chandler gave us an iconic private eye, Phillip Marlowe. Marlowe wasn’t your typical gumshoe. He was middle-aged, world-weary, cynical about the human race, and distrusting of just about everyone he met until he got to know them better over a drink. He had a code he lived by, but he wasn’t above breaking the rules to crack a case. Marlowe’s personal credo when dealing with the opposition? “My favorite weapon isn’t a gun or a knife. It’s a twenty-dollar bill. Sometimes you can get more with that than you can with a gun.”

“His Guilt,” by Shelley Shepard Gray. This one showed up at my office one day, sent by a publicist hoping for a review. The book is labeled as an Amish romantic thriller, which caught my interest since I’ve never read one of those before. I skimmed the first few pages and was intrigued enough to give the whole thing a try. I’ll let you know what I think after I’ve read it.  

“A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway. Only because it’s part of a set of first edition Hemingway’s I inherited, and I’ve never read it, but I think I should.

“Hurricane Punch” by Tim Dorsey. This is one of those favors I mentioned earlier. I met Dorsey during an author gathering in Key Largo a few years ago, he autographed his book for me, I signed one of mine for him, and we promised each other we’d read them. If he’s read my book, I have yet to hear about it. I know how to keep a promise, though, even if it is overdue. 


  1. I have SO many books on my TBR list... Good think ebooks don't take up space, though there are still teetering piles of physical books in almost every room!

    I've read very little Hemingway. I know I "should". When you get to be my age though, you start questioning all those shoulds!

    Anyway, sounds as though you'll have an enjoyable summer.

  2. I've enjoyed many Westlake books in audio format from the library--they're great for entertainment on long road trips. The Garner Files sounds great; I may see if I can get an audio copy. Hemingway I've dabbled in--mostly his short work--but like you, more from a sense of duty than anything else.

  3. I don't like Hemingway's style...too sparse and choppy. Short sentences. Supposed to be deep. To me, it's insulting to men, to insinuate that they're only capable of reading/writing like that. Teachers are supposed to teach that he's like an iceberg, with only a bit above the surface, and the rest underneath. I don't think there's anything under, other than an outdated, macho, misogynistic view of life. So I'll pass.

    I, too, have massive piles of books everywhere. Husband used to regularly make me give away books, to used book sales, like at our library. Funny thing is, whenever there are sales, he likes to go and check out what's there. Then we end up carrying home more books than we gave away!

  4. I must agree with the Hemingway assessments, even though I do have a photo of me sitting at his writing desk with typewriter aboard his fishing boat the Pilar (it's on display at a huge sports fishing place in Islamorada, FL and I couldn't resist). Yes, his prose was lean and his heroes were macho and politically incorrect in today's world, but that's the way men were portrayed in his era. No further defense will be forthcoming.

    The other authors on my list, however, are a little more timeless. I'm surprised that no one commented on Chandler's Phillip Marlowe, a lone wolf if ever there was one. What saved Marlowe from being classified as a pig was that he did enjoy the occasional female relationship, and always said "thank you" the next morning. That and Chandler's way with words keep the stories fresh and interesting.

    If you'd like to continue this debate theme, I'll weigh in on Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. On the other hand, let's not.

    1. Hemingway has at least one redeeming quality -- he loved cats.

  5. This looks like quite a substantial list. Re Raymond Chandler, Kathleen Bradean (formerly of this list) was very familiar with him, since he lived and wrote on her home turf. Years ago, when we all wrote imitations/parodies of the work of more famous writers, she did a passage of Raymond Chandler that had me spitting coffee on the keyboard.


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