Summer Picks 2013

We are back! Thanks much for the patience, the Cinema Language seminar was such a success we are doing it yet again in November. In the meantime, I want to give you a few recommendations to get you through the summer. No food this time, as we have a lot of food upcoming, including a ‘Food on the 4th’ menu.

It’s been a great Spring for reading, at least for me. I’ve been blessed with one terrific novel after another. What better time to have a few good books to read than in the summer! Here are a few good reads to get you through:


 I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

                                                                                                                           Hazel Lancaster


I am a little behind on this one. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green made a big splash last year and the film adaptation is in full swing. If you have not yet read it, Get. This. Book. It’s a stunner. Time Magazine’s #1 Fiction Pick for 2012, this book is frequently hilarious, wonderfully romantic and absolutely devastating, sometimes all at once. Yes, the novel is about a 17 year old girl, Hazel, who has cancer. But don’t let that deter you, it’s an easy, thoroughly enjoyable read. Easy as it is, the prose is beautiful and remarkably profound. The Fault In Our Stars was so good that when I finished it, I flipped back to page one and read it again. It’s that good.

A quick aside: this book makes me wonder who determines how books are classified. The Fault In Our Stars is marketed as a ‘young adult’ novel, yet it is one of the more adult and thematically mature books I’ve read in a long while. It’s not that teens shouldn’t be reading it! I’m thrilled they are reading it and that it was so popular. But the ‘young adult’ designation certainly deters some adult readers. It did me. Some people say the designation is because of the age of the main character. Hmph. Just because it’s about a 17 year old girl shouldn’t automatically make it a ‘teen novel’.  To Kill A Mockingbird isn’t a children’s novel just because Scout is a child. I’m curious about this, given so many ‘teen novels’ seem anything but. I said the same thing about the brilliant “Hunger Games” trilogy, a must read if you haven’t yet. That trilogy is one of the darkest and most morally complex stories in print. ‘Teen Novels’? No way. At any rate, do not let that designation cause you to stumble with Fault. Read this book!



NOS4A2, published in April, is also one of the most remarkable novels I’ve read in a long time. If I wasn’t so amazed at his talent, I would be green with envy over Joe Hill. This is his third novel: three novels in a row, each novel was one of the best of its year. Damn, can this guy write!

One of the coolest things about Hill? He’s the son of Stephen King. Yes, that Stephen King. Yet Hill doesn’t use his dad’s name and it wasn’t until well after the publication and rave reviews of his first novel, Heart Shaped Box, that people began to discover his lineage. I love that. Of course, as readers of this blog know, Stephen King is one of my favorite authors of all time. But at this point I can say Hill is an even better writer than his father, which much make the grand master proud.

Heart Shaped Box is a brilliant riff on the classic ghost story, beautifully written and scary as hell. Hill’s second book, Horns, is one of the most original and disturbing books I’ve ever read. It’s not classic horror but a book that begins with what I would term emotional horror. Yet by the end Horns is very moving. As is Heart Shaped Box! Somehow Hill can take characters who are potentially dislikable and make you care about them deeply, then surprise you with his insight into humanity and make tears come to your eyes before you even realize he has done so.

With NOS4A2, he has written a book more in line with his father’s than the first two. There are clever references to his father’s work throughout. This one, more than the first two, is a classic horror thriller, know that going in. But also know this: You. Can. Not. Put. It. Down. I tore through this book in a few days, even given it’s length, because I had to find out what was going to happen. The suspense at times was so intense I had to put the book down for a few minutes to walk around, clear my head, and gird myself to dive back in. In the midst of the suspense and terror, Hill again gets your heart caught in your throat through emotion and you might find yourself in tears repeatedly. As my good friend Bob emailed me as he was nearing the end of the book, “Who says you can’t cry while reading horror literature?” Hill’s technique is so assured and his narrative abilities so strong and confident, it’s a pleasure to let yourself go and get caught up in the dazzling world he creates. Hill is an author you can trust. His main character is a woman you will follow anywhere. The two villains? Just you wait. Wow.

Like his father’s 11-22-63 of last year, NOS4A2 is a masterpiece.



While we are talking the ‘King Family’, I might as well throw in a few of my favorites from Stephen (if only) as I recently went back and reread a number of King’s early novels that remain some of my favorite of all time. What is great about Stephen King is that there is something for everyone. If you don’t like scary books, no problem. Not only is 11-22-63 ultimately a grand romance with no horror at all, perfect for anyone who loves a great novel, The Dead Zone is also not horror and remains even now an incredibly moving, gripping tale with a surprising and satisfying conclusion. Cujo, perhaps his darkest novel, is also not horror but a relentlessly suspenseful tale that also examines with painful scrutiny a marriage in trouble.

And then there is Salem’s Lot. It remains a pinnacle, simply put one of the scariest books you will ever read. Even on repeat readings, this book is scary! It, too, is also a deeply moving novel. King has that same gift of writing about characters you love and want to be all right. His narrative strategy in Salem’s Lot is simple yet extremely clever. The repeated device of breaking away from the main characters to describe the ‘goings on in The Lot‘ remain some of my favorite passages in any book I’ve ever read. If you’ve never read one of these, or never read King but been curious, give him a try. He’s ain’t one of the most successful authors of all time for nothing.

What a family!


Music: if you follow me on Facebook, you know I was hired to teach a lot of yoga at Coachella, which included an all access VIP pass to the festival. Pretty cool. I heard many great bands, discovering some terrific music. Among many groups I enjoyed, I fell hard for Two Door Cinema Club, an indie band catching fire all over the world. Their music is a blast and perfect for summer.  If you want an idea of what their music is like, listen to ‘Wake Up’ from their wonderful album BeaconI love the depth of their harmonies and chords.

As for movies, the new Star Trek was a blast and I have high, high hopes for Man Of Steel. Fingers crossed. I’ve now watched the new Season 4 of Arrested Development twice through, and will watch it through again. Hey, I need to watch Season 4 four times through to catch up with the four times I watched Seasons 1-3 all the way through. Sure this new season was a little different from before but that was a positive for me. It’s so damn clever and extremely funny. I can’t imagine watching it if you have not seen the previous three seasons. It’s all well worth the time.

And I am yet again late to the party, having fallen belatedly in love with Game Of Thrones.


I powered through Season One this past week and am amazed by everything: acting, story, production value, etc. It’s terrific. If you, too, haven’t given it a try, watch at least the first couple of episodes to see if you connect with it. It’s dense. Friends of mine watch it with the closed captioning subtitles to make sure they get everything that is going on. However you watch it, GOT is also well worth the time.

If you have some picks for us for the summer, click on Comments and let us know!

9 thoughts on “Summer Picks 2013

  1. Tom, I am very intrigued! Especially by the first title. “Gone Girl” was my summer book last year and I haven’t found one yet for this summer. Adding it to my Kindle wish list!

  2. I was about to read an Oliver Sacks book, but am heading to the library tomorrow to check out Joe Hill’s books. How could I not known Stephen King’s son was writing novels? After all, I have read Christopher Rice’s novels. I think I have had my head under a rock for too long, first writing my novel, and then working on the documentary that is still not fully funded. TIme to start reading again. Thanks for your great blog, Tom! My daughter, Rachel is really big into Thrones and has read all of the published books. P.S. – Congratulations on your big success with the seminars!

    1. Mel, that is what I love about Hill, he avoids using his dad’s name. I think you will enjoy them, any of them. I’d read them in order: Heart, Horns, NOS4A2. Curious to hear your thoughts! Does your daughter like the TV Show GOT?

      1. Rachel loves the HBO GOT series. Unlike some purists, or those who think the books are not written well, she is bright enough to appreciate how difficult it is to create and write about another world, and also appreciate that television writers must satisfy the visual appetites of viewers. Thus, the addition of characters and sexual situations only enhances the story for her. As for Hill, I will let you know what I think. As you may remember, I am also a huge King fan, with The Shining, The Stand, and the Dark Tower series rating high on my list.

  3. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers is my favorite novel of the year. Loved FAULT IN OUR STARS. Watch TOP OF THE LAKE on Netflix. It was a mini series on Sundance Channel. Favorite movie this year was RUST AND BONE.

    1. Kevin! I will read/watch all of these, awesome. So glad you loved Fault as well. Can’t wait to check these out. BTW, have you ever watched The Staircase on Sundance? It’s a documentary series about a trial, I hear it is also terrific.

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