WINGED CHARIOTJune is here, and so are the summer reading lists… and, always, as I scan these lists, at my back I hear, Time’s winged chariot drawing near ….

And I’m bored to tears.

Maybe I’m getting old, or too jaded from compiling lists like these for the Times for many a season, but nothing seems to spell tedium or wasted time more than the lists that media outlets want you to use to fill up your vacation time.

To borrow from another myth, I’d rather roll a boulder up a hill and down again, and then up again and … you get the idea.

What these tiring (and tiresome) lists and random sets of suggestions remind me of is something else:  how the old cyclical nature of publishing is completely gone.

Traditionally Spring and Fall have been the big seasons for the book business. That didn’t mean that Winter and Summer were dark — only that the titles with the greatest chance of spectacular success, financially and intellectually, usually didn’t appear then.

I know what you’re thinking: There are more windows of opportunity now. A writer who didn’t appear in the Spring/Fall now has a better chance of finding an audience. You’re right. I couldn’t agree more, especially since I share that hope.

But what I’m simply responding to here is how dull and dry the summer reading lists look this year! Various newspapers, magazines, and online publications are telling us to indulge this season in wild, juicy, carefree reading like it’s an adulterous affair or a drug habit.

The problem is, most of the lists that I’ve found — aside from J.P. Morgan’s interesting “billionaire’s” list leaked recently — seem far from offering anything wild or, more important, worthwhile. If you’re a Stephen King fan, I suppose you have to read “Mr. Mercedes” — but what I recommend is shunning the summer lists altogether. Do some research on your own. Search the smaller presses for something admirable that would otherwise fall below the radar and plunge into it when you’re not plunging off a diving board or a dock.

And that gives me an idea for my next post: a list of small presses worth your time and consideration. Maybe some titles, too? Coming soon!

I’m sorry for the curmudgeonly tone, my friends, but what do you think? Am I overlooking any forthcoming titles that I should treat like the crack of the literary world?  Let me know. Onward!



  1. Yes, yes, yes! Ding ding ding! Give that man an award! I agree completely. Do your own research. Ask a friend what they’re reading. Go to the library and talk to a librarian. Go to your local bookstore and ask them for recs. Talk to a real person. Find something interesting and off the beaten path. Take the road less traveled by—something I’m thinking about right now. 😀

  2. Thanks for your feedback Janet —- regarding the NYTimes list, I felt the same way. Underwhelming, right? The summer publishing season feels like hardly a special occasion and just monotonous. Your taste in summer reading is terrific, by the way.

  3. I’ll confess it right here. I’ve never selected reading from a list. The closest I’ve come is taking a suggestion or two from book bloggers I trust, who often do challenges in the summer. This year, I have my eye on a Japanese literature challenge, and a Spanish writers’ challenge. For the Japanese, I’m reading a trilogy – one scholarly, one novel, and one memoir – about the Yakuza. And, for the Spanish, I’m reading Sandra Cisneros’ “Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories,” just because I often cross Woman Hollering Creek on my way to the Hill Country.

    I do have two books coming to me from Copano Bay Press here in Texas. One is von Roemer’s account of his travels through Texas in 1845-1847. The other is a limited edition concerning the Great Hurricane of 1900. Copano Bay Press specializes in bringing back out-of-print books of historical interest — great press.

    I guess I’m just not very good at following fashion trends — of any sort! Besides, I figure I have about twenty good years left, and plenty on my own to-be-read list.

  4. It sounds like you have a terrific reading list for the summer, shoreacres. Far more in-depth than anything on the “summer must read” lists that I’ve skimmed in the past few weeks. I’ll be curious to see how the challenges go, especially the Yakuza one. Good luck!

  5. Couldn’t agree more- I always make my own little ‘summer reading list’ of wonderful titles that have been sitting on my shelf begging to be read for a while. Best time to take advantage of the longer nights, and get to work on some of the backlist.

  6. I agree. Summer is the perfect time for the backlist, which has more interesting titles than what I’ve seen in newspaper summer reading lists. thanks for your response!

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