The mercury's climbing and the studios are hurling big-budget crap at the big screen faster than the naked eye can follow, and that can mean only one thing: summer's here, and with it, the fourth annual installment of the SDI Summer Reading List. A healthy mix of heavy brain-fodder and lighter fun, this years picks are sure to keep you entertained well into the changing of the leaves and keep you inside where it's cooler. So get started and feed your brain before the summer heat turns it into tapioca. If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, ravings, or cogitations, feel free to drop us a line.
Chuck Palahniuk -- Choke. Hot off the presses, Chuck P.'s newest novel promises to be every bit the mindbender that Fight Club was before it. A brilliant depiction of the life of a sex-addicted con artist, Choke covers pretty familiar territory for those that know Chuck P.'s work. And if you ever thought you had issues with your mother, this one'll make you feel better. The entire novel makes itself worthwhile with a simple statement in its early pages: "Art never comes from happiness." Choke is a bitter pill. Swallow it.
J.R.R. Tolkien -- Lord of the Rings. While it pains us to think that there are actually people in the world that haven't read this book (or books, depending on how you look at it), we would be remiss if it wasn't included this year, of all years. With Peter Jackson's film trilogy set to start this winter, it's an absolute must-read. Come see where the fantasy genre came into its own. Professor Tolkien wrote the book on how to do fantasy well, and this is that book. Still the benchmark for fantasy literature after nearly half a century, Lord of the Rings sets the bar high for all those that came after.
Roger Zelazny -- The Great Book of Amber. And while we're on the subject of must-read fantasy, Zelazny's Amber Chronicles spring to mind. Zelazny helped sci-fi and fantasy grow up in the late 60s and 70s, when the genre began to move beyond its pulp magazine roots. The Great Book of Amber, comprising ten separate Amber novels, tells the tale of Amber, the One True World, of which all other realms are merely shadows. Natives of Amber possess near-deific powers when walking in these shadow worlds. But a power vacuum has appeared in Amber, and the princes must now determine who the heir to the throne will be. Full of backroom political intrigue, assassinations, duels, manipulative machinations, and shady alliances, the quest to claim the throne of Amber is a compelling tale of the very human follies of these superhuman beings.
T. S. Eliot -- Complete Poems 1909-1962. Eliot was a titan in his own time, and has cast his shadow across the face of poetry and criticism well into the present. This collection (while no longer truly "complete," given the release of additional material after its publication date) presents what is largely considered Eliot's poetic corpus in one handy volume. No student or scholar of modern poetry should be without it, and if you picked up an English degree without reading several of the selections contained herein, your credentials are suspect at best. Hop to it. Old Possum would want it that way.
James W. Loewen -- Lies My Teacher Told Me. Ever wonder how much your history book left out? Curious to see what got quietly swept under the rug while everybody was waving flags and throwing confetti at the ticker-tape parades? Then check out Loewen's excellent investigative reporting on the real story of American history, and his illustration of how badly some premiere textbooks dropped the ball. How could all these scholars overlook such obvious problems in their account of history? Loewen offers a theory near and dear to the conspiracy theorist in all of us: "Perhaps we are all dupes, manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written as part of their scheme to perpetuate their own power and privilege at the expense of the rest of us." Preach on, Brother Loewen, preach on.
Malaclypse the Younger, Omar K. Ravenhurst, et al. -- Principia Discordia. If you've been keeping up with your fnord assignments thus far, RAW has already introduced you to this fnord book, or at least a great many of its fnord teachings. The Principia Discordia is the holy text of the fnord Erisian faith, and within are contained a great many fnord mysterees. To say more would be to spoil the fun, so go get your own. Hail Eris! And have a hot dog on Friday. Fnord.
Tom Robbins -- Jitterbug Perfume. Runner-up for title of Robbins' best novel (Skinny Legs And All), this book still stands head and shoulders above a great many. A tale of immortal kings, ancient Greek gods, perfumery, janitors, and the lost last words of the great Albert Einstein. As always with Robbins, the reader is less an active participant and more a strapped-in patron of Robbins' peculiar roller-coaster prose, but it's well worth it to simply throw your hands in the air and scream on the downhills. This book is a blast, and great summer reading fare. Pan is dead! Long live Pan!
Douglas Adams -- The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide. With great sadness, the world of science fiction bid adieu to its reigning court jester this year. Douglas Adams was an immense comic and sci-fi talent, a legend in his own time, and the hoopiest frood this side of the Milky Way. If you haven't already, or even if you have, go back and follow one Arthur Dent as he is dragged (usually against his best judgment) around the universe by a crew of galactic misfits and rogues. The only downside of the series is that it is now truly finished, and there will be no more additions to the inappropriately-titled Hitchhiker's Guide Trilogy. This edition contains all five novels and the classic short "Young Zaphod Plays It Safe."
Benjamin Hoff -- The Tao of Pooh / The Te of Piglet. Ancient Eastern philosophy as seen through the lens of everyone's favorite bear. Hoff uses the Venerable Pooh to illustrate the major tenets of Taoism, with Winnie's best buddy Piglet as the counterpoint in the second volume. A finer introduction to Taoism won't be found elsewhere. A great read for young and old, it goes a long way to helping Western minds understand exactly what Lao Tzu and his cronies were going on about.
Warren Ellis -- Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street. It wouldn't be an SDI Summer Reading List without some comic books. Ellis takes the spot this year with the adventures of Spider Jerusalem, renegade reporter and misanthropic columnist extraordinaire. Spider writes a little column entitled "I Hate It Here" for the city's biggest paper, The Word. Therein he spews his bile and disgust for ultramodern society, the dehumanizing influence of the metropolis, and his utter contempt for corporations, politics, and hypocrites of any other stripe. Ellis paints a picture of a future gone absolutely mad, but a future that looks more and more like the present every day. We can't urge strongly enough how important it is for you to get your hands on this series. Perhaps Spider himself said it best: "If you all loved me, you'd kill yourselves." Follow up with: Lust for Life, Year of the Bastard, The New Scum, and Lonely City.