Three Sultry Books To Savor With A Summer Cocktail

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I'm strictly a beer man, except for about seven weeks in midsummer when I switch to gin and tonics, the cocktail perfect for sipping in the hammock. It's a simple ritual — slice of lime, clink of ice, quinine-infused fizz — a marker that I've made it through the long Midwestern winter, if not unscathed, then at least with the capacity for joy still in my heart.

My summer reading season officially begins as soon as I taste the piney juniper of good gin. And each summer, it seems my taste in books shifts along with my taste in libations. Instead of diving into newly released titles as I usually do, I tend to reread the books I read the summer I turned 20, the summer of 1995, when I became serious about writing, when I went to Europe and met my wife. These stories are simmering with nostalgia, yearning and the high hopes of endless summer evenings.

Wilderness Tips: Stories

by Margaret Atwood

Paperback, 228 pages, Random House Inc, $14, published March 1 1998 | purchase

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Wilderness Tips
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Stories
Author
Margaret Atwood

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Set among the summer camps and rustic lakeside cottages of Ontario, Margaret Atwood's 1991 collection Wilderness Tips is anything but quaint; it has a strange surreal shimmer to it, especially tales like "True Trash" and the volume's title story. These fictions meander their way into a maze of gender-driven power plays, erotic obsessions and untold secrets, all in a manner that captures the thrillingly dark edges of pleasure and power. I first read these stories when I was 19, but with each reread, I find more and more twisted layers and quiet wisdom buried within them.

The Woman Lit By Fireflies

by Jim Harrison

Paperback, 253 pages, Pgw, $14, published October 5 2008 | purchase

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The Woman Lit By Fireflies
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In Jim Harrison's The Woman Lit By Fireflies, a middle-aged suburban Detroit housewife finds herself pulled by the indescribable power of an August evening in Iowa. In the middle of a long road trip, she abandons her husband at a rest stop, walking off into the endless rows of high, golden corn. What follows is an impressive, sensitive meditation on freedom found on the late summer prairie, peppered with Harrison's trademark wit and heart-on-sleeve emotion.

Platte River

by Rick Bass

Paperback, 145 pages, Univ of Nebraska Pr, $18.95, published March 1 2007 | purchase

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Platte River
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Rick Bass

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Rick Bass' Platte River, the second book of what became a 23-book career, features a title story that follows a group of men emotionally bruised by middle-aged ennui, on a high-stakes fishing trip in northern Michigan. As the men try their luck with trout, it becomes apparent that they are fishing not only for supper but also to add some sort of purpose to a swift, haphazard life. I read this book on the plane ride to Europe, where I was headed with a desperate desire to leave Detroit and find some kind of adventure. The longing of Bass' wild, unsteady characters seemed oddly connected to my own, in a way I'm only now beginning to understand.

When I am re-reading these three works of fiction, I feel as if I have returned to those endless, aimless afternoons when I'd read between shifts on the lifeguard stand. Or in bed when it was too hot to sleep or sipping cocktails on the sagging front porch of my house in Ann Arbor. In my memory, the sun was always brilliant that summer, and I went about in a constant state of desire, wanting, only, a small piece of that brilliance.

Dean Bakopoulos is the author of Please Don't Come Back from the Moon and My American Unhappiness. He teaches fiction writing at Grinnell College and Iowa State University.

Three Books... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman and Lacey Mason.

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