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Zen and the Art of Summer Reading

Opening a book in the summer heat is somewhat yin/yang.



With summer reading, we yearn for heightened consciousness on the one hand — an awareness of life's unquenchable thirst — counterbalanced by the weighty indulgence of doing nothing, absolutely nothing, except burying our toes in the sand, sinking into life's fleshiness and laughing at the hilarity of it all.

We asked a few literary gurus to offer up titles to balance our bookish paths: Lelia Taylor of Creatures 'n Crooks Bookshoppe, Ward Tefft of Chop Suey Books, Kelly Justice of the Fountain Bookstore, Patrick Godfrey of Velocity Comics and Kyle Coble of Barnes & Noble.

The Yin:

"A Long Way Gone" by Ishmael Beah. Brutal and haunting, this memoir leaves a lasting impression with its intelligent and unbelievable prose.  A true education about child soldiers and the nightmares of war. — Kyle Coble

"Flight" by Sherman Alexie. Zits, the 15-year-old protagonist, opens the story by reflecting on his life as an orphan and the 20 foster homes he's been in since his Irish mother died. His father was an American Indian whom he never knew.  On the cusp of committing an act of extreme violence, he is suddenly transported out of his body and into a mystical journey that chronicles the story of the Indian in America. Utterly, utterly affecting. — Kelly Justice

"Jamestown: A Novel" by Matthew Sharpe. Based on historical accounts of the settling of Jamestown, this curious book weaves the past and future with narratives by pre-Colonial Native Americans and post-apocalyptic settlers. — Ward Tefft

Osama Tezuka's "Buddha" (Vertical, Inc.). Comics and animation legend Osama Tezuka is regarded as the visionary "Walt Disney of Japan," and his series of eight books detailing the life of Buddha is among the most highly regarded of his work. — Patrick Godfrey

"The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Mohsin Hamid. Disturbing and thoughtful, this story of an ordinary Pakistani living in America and his path to fundamentalism in the wake of 9/11 gives any reader pause. — Kyle Coble

The Yang:

"Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement" by Rodney Rothman. If you're plagued by the dog days of summer and long for retirement, read this funny and thoughtful book first. Finding himself unemployed at age 28, Rothman decided to retire to Florida. He lived in a retirement village and interacted almost exclusively with other retirees. — Ward Tefft

"Gutsville" by Simon Spurrier and Frazer Irving (Image Comics). It's life in the belly of the beast — literally.  Survivors of a giant cruise-liner swallowed whole by an even larger sea monster try to build a society within the leviathan's body. — Patrick Godfrey

"Soon I Will Be Invincible" by Austin Grossman. The story of the daily trials and tribulations of supervillains and superheroes. This engrossing, action-packed saga is particularly entertaining when the author is exploring the life of Dr. Impossible, who has failed repeatedly to take over the world and wonders existentially "whether the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could with his life." — Kelly Justice

"The Paranoid's Pocket Guide to Mental Disorders You Can Just Feel Coming On" by Dennis Diclaudio. One of the funniest books ever, it needs no explanation. A classic example, discussing the neurological inability to recognize faces: "Prosopagnosia (who can be expected to recognize everybody all the time ... or anybody, ever?)" — Lelia Taylor

"Three Bags Full"  by Leonie Swann, coming out in June. This is a mystery in which a flock of sheep decides to investigate the murder of their shepherd. The character development of the sheep is terrific, and Miss Maple and her cohorts are sure to entrance any reader. — Lelia Taylor

Last, I offer my own personal favorite: "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. Written with honesty and wit, this book chronicles Gilbert's personal journey across Italy, India and Indonesia in search of life's meaning. Her observations are humorous, rich and intensely human — the perfect choice for all those looking to get their Zen on.

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