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Kevin's Strange and Wonderful Summer Picks

May 31, 2013 | Kevin Wilder

Ever wonder what makes a writer an author? Are they born with author genes, or does it have more to with family life, personal discipline, or what kind of cereal they choose every morning? An aspiring author himself, Kevin explores the ins and outs of what makes writers tick — whether they write books, movies, lyrics, or poetry.


As summer kicks into high gear, it’s time to align our bookshelves with reading material for the upcoming months. Sometimes the best way to let off a little literary steam is to choose offbeat books that add a little excitement to the hot season. The titles have served me well in the beginning of the always sweltering South Florida summer.

We Live in Water – by Jess Walter

Jess Walter has built a reputation of writing bigheartedly, in a wide range of styles. I’m a newcomer to his work after seeing him in Best American Short Stories 2012, but thought these stories were great. In “Anything Helps,” a homeless man saves up cash to buy his son the newest Harry Potter book. In the title story, a lawyer searches a small town in Idaho for his missing father. There’s also zombie story here, titled “Don’t Eat Cat,” which surprised me by being more enjoyable than annoying. (A hole opened up and he had to know what was inside it. So he picked and picked until the hole was huge, and then everything sort of … fell in, him, his wife, his kid, and this fragile life they’d built at the edge of this hole.)


Trout Fishing in America – by Richard Brautigan

What is Trout Fishing in America exactly? Is it a leisurely pursuit? A book title? The name of a character? A hotel? It’s this and more in Brautigan’s counterculture odyssey. In the first chapter, the narrator offers commentary for readers on the book jacket cover in their hands. Later he assures that the book will end with the word “mayonnaise.” It’s often difficult to determine whether anecdotes are nonsensical or stuffed with profound metaphor in this experimental book from 1967 — and, somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter. Like when waterfalls are sold for $19.00 a foot, for instance. (“Excuse me,” I said. “I thought you were a trout stream.” “I’m not,” she said.)


The Time Machine Did It – by John Swartzwelder

To a comedy writer, John Swartzwelder is the stuff of legend. After serving as head writer on 59 episodes of The Simpsons, Swartzwelder turned his attention to writing books. He’s written one every year, in fact, since 2004. The first installment of his nine self-published novels about an unlikely detective is packed with laughs on every page. (Frank Burly is my name. Okay, it’s not my name. I lied about that. My name is Edward R. Torgeson Jr. I changed it for the business. You’ve got to have a tough sounding name if you want people to hire you …)


The Fun Parts – by Sam Lipsyte

Sam Lipsyte is my favorite fiction stylist from recent years, and could very well be yours too. Some put him alongside greats like George Saunders. He’s one of the finest in fiction, I think, and I’m currently reading everything he’s written. He writes perfect dialogue and sentences that beg to be read repeatedly. This collection of stories about strange misfits includes “The Wisdom of the Doulas,” about a male companion to pregnant mothers, and “The Worm in Philly,” about a junkie writing a children’s book on a famous boxer. (“Nobody wanted my woe. Nobody craved my disease. The smack, the crack, the punch-outs and lockdowns, all those gun-to-my-temple whimpers about my dead mother and scabby cat – nobody cared anymore. The world had worthier victims.”)


Kevin Wilder is a technical writer for pay and a creative writer for fun. He lives in Tampa, Florida, where he generally pays his bills on time and chips away at a debut novel.

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