I realize, because reading is an important source of pleasure for me,1 that the First Book Of Summer is not a trivial matter and certainly not a selection to be made cavalierly.
There is no First Book Of Winter, Spring, or Fall. That would be silly.
Summer, however, is special.
Consequently, it is with considerable forethought, serious-mindedness, and humility that I recommend The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly for your consideration as First Book Of Summer.2
The First Book Of Summer Concept
I subscribe to the old-fashioned notion that ideal summer reading is a tad less ponderous and less serious than selections befitting a gray-clad December day. On the other hand, there is something sacramental about the first book and it shouldn’t be frivolous fluff, a how-to volume, or something based on a gimmick (e.g., the Solve The Puzzle And Win A Gazillion Bucks genre).
The first book one reads in the summer should, it seems to me, be one, unified work so a strong plot or narrative line that invites one to follow along, whether the subject matter is fiction or nonfiction, is essential. Collections of essays, poems, newspaper columns, or short stories need not apply. Joycean stream-of-consciousness style, excessive or inexplicable flashbacks, and magical realism are all wondrous stylistic devices, but they just won’t do for ones First Book Of Summer.
Similarly, I contend that any book that can legitimately be described as “lyrical” is automatically disqualified as a candidate for the First Book Of Summer.
Personal preferences, of course, must be respected. If, for example, one becomes somnolent whenever reading political biography or develops nausea and hives upon opening an example of dōjinshi (AKA doujinshi), even if one suffers from that nagging feeling that such intolerance bespeaks a deeply flawed character, the First Book Of Summer is not the time to coerce ones concentration in the service of a corrective crusade. That said, extending ones boundaries into areas of middling interest can result in disproportionately high benefit/risk ratios.
The Book: The Lincoln Lawyer
The Lincoln Lawyer3 was my Best Read Of 2005 — the book I couldn’t put down and that I was most disappointed to see end. I read books that were more profound, ultimately more absorbing, and more life-affirming. I read books with more intriguing characters and richer plot lines. I read books that were funnier and that were more moving. I didn’t read any other book that more effectively and successfully enticed me to turn to the next page. Heck, the first line is “There is no client as scary as an innocent man.” If that doesn’t pique your interest, then this may not be the book for you. And you may be in a coma; you should check.
The Lincoln Lawyer is a legal thriller that falls into the same category as and rivals the quality of Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent. The courtroom episodes are nothing short of fascinating and, according to the reviews written by lawyers, believable and revealing. The behind the scenes manipulations are, if anything, more remarkable. Connelly described his preparation for writing The Lincoln Lawyer in an interview with the Wall Street Journal:
It took me five months to write, but five years to hang out with lawyers and in courtrooms. I had a lot of reporting to do. I don’t do a lot of reporting for Harry Bosch, but I knew that with “The Lincoln Lawyer” I’d be out of my comfort zone. My old roommate at the Daytona Beach News Journal went to law school, and I reconnected with him. He allowed me to intrude in his personal and professional life over several years …
Connelly, best known for his series of detective novels featuring Harry Bosch, writes in a taut but not austere style. He elaborates where elaboration is useful, but there is no padding and no excess.
The story line has multiple twists and turns, but the movement of characters and plot is competently and carefully explained. Never is the reader left asking unsettling questions of this sort:
“How did he get there?”
“Is that even physically possible?”
“Didn’t she get killed 30 pages ago?”
“Is this still part of his dream?”
“What the heck?”
Mickey Haller is a Los Angeles defense attorney whose roster of clients is composed of various lowlifes. He is a bit world weary but still in the game; he is, for example, twice divorced, but one of his ex-wives manages his office, and the other is an Assistant District Attorney who is occasionally willing to share her office secrets and her bed with him. He openly attests to being motivated by cash ( “Don’t do the crime if you can’t pay for my time.”) and to being able and willing to play all the angles, although, as we soon find out, he remains true to a deeply ethical core. The story revolves around a client who, Mickey discovers in the course of preparing his defense, may be not only guilty but dangerous to Mickey and his family. His concern that he may have not recognized the innocence of an earlier client becomes intertwined with the current case, resulting in a dilemma which forces Mickey into a battle with many fronts: his ethical responsibilities to his previous and current clients, his concern for his own and his family’s safety, the risks to his personal reputation and livelihood, the cost of adhering to his own moral code, and the threats to his self-image.
The Setting For Reading The First Book Of Summer
The success of First Book Of Summer depends not only on the reading material but also on the setting.
The summer pertinent to The First Book Of Summer is certainly not to be limited by the whimsical dithering of Julian calendar dates but is rather a spiritual designation which may be safely determined by adhering to the I’ll know it when I see it criterion.
Since the optimal environment is outdoors, comfortable meteorological conditions are essential (don’t forget to consider wind velocity which is often overlooked, and a too-vigorous breeze can be quite distracting).
Milton’s sparkling “blue firmament” is desirable but not always possible, and even a mostly cloudy sky is workable as long as there are appreciable patches of blue.
While a beach can be magnificent, one should not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. A patio in the back yard or a condo’s balcony are dandy as well and, in fact, their convenience and availability may render them preferable, especially if more exotic locales require significant travel.
A comfortable chair is a must; I personally prefer an upright lawn chair with a footstool rather than a lounge chair which promotes a nearly horizontal posture that can be fatiguing when one holds a hefty hardback aloft for extended periods. I am especially fond of Adirondack chairs; not only are they comfortable and solid, but they also have those wide armrests that can comfortably support ones own limbs and also accommodate the book, reading glasses, and even a refreshing beverage.
And, indeed, a drink can provide a distinctive accent to the event although the wise celebrant will maintain an awareness of ones tolerance and fortitude and select the potable’s ingredients and their ratios accordingly.
Finally, one should arrange for at least one hour of uninterrupted time; even better is setting aside the end of the work day to allow that first read to begin without the irksome concern of a deadline curtailing the session.
Above all, the occasion demands that the setting, the book, and the reader fit into tidy complementarity.
- The converse is equally true; I am, in fact, the poster child for abibliophobia, the fear of finding oneself bereft of reading matter [↩]
- Full Disclosure: This is not my own First Book Of Summer since I’ve already read the book I’m recommending. While passing along titles of unread books based on their reviews or even the authors’ previous work is legitimate, making a recommendation for something so vital as First Book Of Summer to anyone else without reading it myself first would be irresponsible and perhaps unethical. [↩]
- The book’s title refers to a lawyer who runs his business out of the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car [↩]