Mystery and the Wicked Humor of 'Flashman'

Whether it's the indulgent hours or lighter genres, summer reading is characterized by its reverie. In My Summer Books, NPR hosts and reporters share their memories of summer reading and books. Today, Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep.

Do you have an all-time favorite summer book?

I don't read any differently in summer, and oddly enough I think some of my best memories are of reading in the winter. But let me suggest a favorite book that is a traditional summer read: Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser. If you like an adventure mixed with wicked humor, it doesn't get any better. It's the completely twisted story of a British guy in Victorian England who is the most vile, cowardly, lying, untrustworthy person you would ever meet, and who nevertheless travels the world and becomes hailed as a war hero. Hard to stop reading, hard to stop laughing, until the moment when — well, read it.

By the way, Flashman became a cult figure, and Fraser put him in a whole series of books, which, like most sequels, were less compelling than the original.

Summer reading is a way to escape the everyday and travel to distant places. That's something you do for Morning Edition. Is there a genre you turn to for escape?

After the 9/11 attacks, I read somebody's op-ed column saying that he found Raymond Chandler and his stories starring detective Philip Marlowe inspiring — the stories of an American, speaking a very American language, and trying to do the best thing in a brutal and violent world. This reminded me that I had started reading Raymond Chandler when I was about 12 or 13, The Big Sleep and The Lady in the Lake and all the rest. On summer days I would check them out of the public library in Carmel, Ind., and take them home and keep them way too long and pay a fine. I was not old enough to understand everything that was going on, but I loved the way he wrote.

Because of that vivid memory, and the article I'd seen, I started buying Raymond Chandler books, which I took along to read during five extended reporting trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. For each trip, which lasted a month or two, I'd pick up a paperback copy of one more Chandler book. Late at night, when the day's work was done, I'd read a few pages of Chandler, which I remembered vividly — and yet which also made me feel as though I was reading them for the first time, because I was so much older. It was really comforting. It took me to a place different from the overwhelming locale that I was in.

Are there other books from other summers that have stuck with you?

Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut. I didn't read it in summer, but rather during a family vacation in Florida when I was 17 or so. I found it on a shelf in a condo we'd rented, and ended up reading everything Vonnegut ever published.