The myth of summer reading

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!