Women may think I'm checking them out as I walk on the beach. (Of course I am, though in that low-key Butler way.) But it's not how they look in a swimsuit that catches my eye. Not first, anyway. My initial curiosity? That book they're holding.
If a woman is working her way through a "beach read" --- a paperback novel that requires no mental strain --- I lose all interest. I'm sorry to sound like a snob, but I just don't understand a book that is designed to be the literary equivalent of a network TV sitcom: fake people in a fake situation, saying and doing fake things on their way to a fake conclusion.
Granted: Any book you read is better than all the books you don't. Even if you move your lips while you read. As I say in my still-being-writ novel, "There's no woman more beautiful than a woman reading a book." So read anything. Just read.
But I'd like to make the case for an odd idea: Do your meaty reading in summer and slack off in winter.
Maybe it's because I was a bookish child who used summer vacations to read books that were much more challenging than my grade level. Maybe it's that I think life is short. Maybe it's because the New York winter can be so discouraging that a light, frothy book is very welcome in January and February.
Consider: The weather is lovely now. You can sit outside with a pitcher of iced tea. And, with a faint breeze to calm you, you can embark on your heaviest reading in the best of moods.The books on my Summer Reading List are "serious," but also lively, challenging and satisfying. Read some of them and you won't feel that you goofed off this summer. Read some of them and have something original to talk about at parties. Read some of them and impress the boss, the friend, the longtime partner who secretly fears you've run out of curiosity. Or read some for no reason, just because.The House of Mirth: Edith Wharton constructs a plot as tight as a Grisham. Only her subject is a different kind of criminal case: a society that puts a noose around the neck of a woman if she's 29 and unmarried. Will Lily Bart escape? I dare you to put this down.Snopes: The Hamlet, The Mansion, The Town: three novels by William Faulkner that trace the rise of a capitalist who makes Trump look like a punk. No one dared to say "You're fired" to Flem Snopes. You'll read on eagerly, hoping for his ruin.Love in the Time of Cholera: How long would you wait for someone you loved? And when he or she was finally "free" again, how would you convince him or her that you weren't insane? What a fantastic love story this is! And what writing!
Waiting for the Barbarians: Coetzee's scariest allegory. You see injustice. You speak out. And then they come for you. This will haunt you.The Things They Carried: Vietnam stories. There is a price you pay in combat. And another you pay after. Unforgettable people, vivid storytelling. A masterwork.The Garden of Eden: OK, there has to be one sexy novel in this list. How's this: A young writer marries a rich young woman, and she goes gay on their honeymoon. Not a book you would have expected from Ernest Hemingway.Diane Arbus: She photographed freaks and giants, the mentally damaged and spiritually bereft. What drove her? And why did she think that these were really the Beautiful People?Bird by Bird: A book that teaches you to write? No such thing. But a book can teach you how to think about writing, and what you want to say, and before you know it ...Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom: Count on an Irish priest to reconcile the worldly and the divine. This book reassures you that being human is a sufficient achievement in this lifetime, and that it's closer at hand than you may suspect.Thich Nhat Hanh: Essential Writings: Thich Nhat Hahn is one of the most enlightened beings on the planet. His advice is simple and sound. He doesn't want your money or your allegiance. Breathe in, breathe out. Walk. Pay attention. The Essential Rumi: The world's most widely read poet, with good reason. This isn't language, it's speech --- Rumi just talks to you. And gets right in your face: "Why do you stay in prison/when the door is so wide open?"Jesse Kornbluth is a New York-based journalist and founder of Head Butler.com, a cultural concierge site and free daily e-mail featuring information on new and classic books, movies and music.