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This summer portends to be a turning point in my life. I may actually for the first time in years, be able to visit a pool with both my children and read without interruption for five to ten minutes a stretch. Who knows, maybe even more? Whoohoo! Now for those of you with little kids, you’ll understand my unadulterated excitement at neither having to get into the water when I’d rather be reading a book, nor having to keep my eyes peeled on the water when I’d rather be reading a book. 

And as we all know, reading is a cornerstone to writing.

I believe that the books we writers choose to devour will inherently affect the bodies of our work. In essence, we are what we eat. What we read will impact our writing style. Therefore, this summer I best think carefully about which books make for good sustenance.

These days there are two camps of successful books out there. In one camp you have the books grounded in well-written prose. In the other, you have the books that are written poorly but manage to have that secret sauce which propels them to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. Series like Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey are written abysmally. The fact that their authors are laughing all the way to the bank is proof positive that we’ve become a junk food nation in more ways than one. With that said, I admit I’ve read them and even liked them (more or less.) Yet, all the while I’ve wondered what is it about this formulaic dribble that entices us so? While I’ve gotten caught up in these books, inevitably after finishing them I’ve felt similar to having eaten a Big Mac – guilty.

Would I like to have a runaway best-seller like these? Hell yeah, but I’d much rather write beautiful prose that takes a person’s breath away. That’s just me though. To this end, as I look towards my summertime book diet, I must give thought to what will help me become a stronger, fitter writer. I must ferret out the super foods from the vast shelves of empty calories.

I regularly keep an online list of books “I plan to read” with the help of Amazon’s software tool Shelfari. From this list I’ve culled the top ten books I’d like to fill-up on this summer. Provided I don’t get too many “Mommy, Mommy look at me” pool-side requests, I should be able to chow down on more than a few. Here’s my list:

  1. The Book of Joe, Jonathan Tropper – I laughed out loud (this hardly ever happens) while reading his book “This is Where I Leave You,” and a friend tells me this one is also hilarious.
  2. Laugh with the Moon, Shana Burg – She wrote such a beautiful debut YA novel, “A Thousand Never Evers.” Her second novel arrives in bookstores on June 12th.
  3. Zeitoun, Dave Eggers I just finished reading “What is The What” and can’t wait to read more by him. He knows how to write about tragedy without making you want to slit your wrists.
  4. Isaac’s Storm, Erik Larson – An opportunity to eat local. Larson is one of Seattle’s best known authors plus he’s mastered the art of writing non-fiction like fiction.
  5. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon – We’re headed to Spain for a few weeks and this thriller is set in Barcelona.
  6. Liar’s Club, Mary Karr – She is a poet by training and her memoir “Lit” was a favorite. If you read my last blog post, you’ll understand my recent infatuation with poets and their prose.
  7. The Pushcart Prize XXXVI Best of the Small Presses, Bill Henderson Editor – I saw this while browsing at my local Independent bookstore. I never would have stumbled upon it on Amazon. This is why physical bookstores are so wonderful.
  8. Mudbound, Hillary Jordan – A friend whose tastes I like has told me this is one of her most recent favorites, and I like the cover. Very scientific selection process, I know. I often choose wine in a similar fashion.
  9. What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, Malcolm Gladwell – I don’t know if I buy into “Outliers” or “The Tipping Point,” but these are cherry-picked articles that Gladwell’s written for the New Yorker over time.
  10. I lied. It’s only a list of nine. You tell me what’s on your summer menu? What should my tenth pick be?