Summer is the guilty-pleasure season. Hot days. Short nights. Corn dogs. Leaving town. So summer reading should be guilty-pleasure reading. Books (except maybe the Bible and The Lucky Bones) are escape mechanisms any time of year, but summer is the season of escape. And nasty, nutty, sexy, sneaky, self-indulgent books are best read at high temperatures in salty, sandy, beer-for-breakfast places where nobody knows your name.
But if you've already exhausted Rihanna's 2010 coffee-table book Rihanna and all 620 chapters of the One Piece manga, what to read? Try these brand-new and soon-to-drop releases in all your favorite guilty-pleasure categories:
Fantasy/mysteries in which Sherlock Holmes lived well into the 20th century as a middle-aged, married beekeeper: Set in 1924, Pirate King is the latest in Edgar Award-winning Santa Cruz-area author Laurie R. King's "Mary Russell" series. Peppered with the lexicons of sea and stage — "the fore mast was fitted with four yards that the sails dropped down from, the aft massed possessed a long yard from which the mainsail would be lifted" — this adventure sends spunky Mary and her super-sleuth spouse to Morocco, where they speak "the glorious language of the Qu'ran" and wrangle with real buccaneers.
Unbelievably self-conscious literary Westerns whose heroes are villains but sensitive, poetic villains: In Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers, Charlie and Eli Sisters are Gold Rush-era hitmen ordered by an enigmatic boss to slay an enigmatic prospector. Deaths ensue. A horse has its eye gouged out with a soupspoon. Charlie, the bloodthirstier and more alcoholic Sisters, counts his own father among his victims. Eli, the fatter Sisters, narrates with ponderous diction — "He only wished to fight and cultivate an anger toward me, thus alleviating his guilt, but I would not abet him in this" — that some will scorn but others will adore.
Autobiographical graphic novels charting their authors' sexual histories in intimate detail: Holding hands with Joseph at age eleven. Tongue-kissing Erik at twelve, thinking "Oh my god, my privates are wet!" First blowjob: Geoff, at fourteen. ("What are those THINGS under his balls?! Dingleberries!") Billy, also at fourteen: "I didn't think his penis would fit in me." Sex on speed at sixteen. Threesomes. Girl-on-girl. Set mainly in Marin County, punctuated with the occasional puke ("BLEAUGH!"), illustrated in sleek black-and-white, the blow-by-blow goes on and on in MariNaomi's Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Résumé, Ages 0 to 22. You know you want to know.
Self-help books whose most frequently used word is the F-word: In her bestselling 2010 memoir If You Have to Cry, Go Outside, hotshot Manhattan fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone — her company, People's Revolution, has represented Vivienne Westwood, Paco Rabanne, and Bulgari — set the tone for this year's followup, Normal Gets You Nowhere, an autobio-how-to hybrid advising young women on passion, compassion, human and animal rights, how not to celebrate holidays, and (as one chapter is titled) "The Kella-Sutra: If You're Not Getting Fucked by Midnight, Go Home."
Research-backed books claiming that half the New Testament is forged: Charging that the Apostle Paul wrote only a fraction of the texts attributed to him and that the Apostle Peter never wrote anything, Bible scholar Bart D. Ehrman is making Christians mad as hell with Forged: Writing in the Name of God — Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. "From the first century to the twenty-first century, people who have called themselves Christians have seen fit to fabricate, falsify, and forge documents, in most instances in order to authorize views they wanted others to accept," writes ex-evangelical, now-agnostic Ehrman. The Old Testament's problems "are even more severe."
Books that you ostensibly buy for others but secretly read over and over and/or even keep because they let you look at incredibly cute pictures of babies and animals: Not just any animals, either, but baby animals. World-renowned photographer Rachael Hale McKenna paired up infants with their own pet puppies, kittens, bunnies, chicks, ducklings, and lambs to create the squealingly spellbinding Best Friends Forever. The babies look truly happy patting and cuddling their furry and feathery pals. As for any tail-pulling, nose-biting, and hissy scratching — McKenna left all of that out.
Thrillers in which America is under highly sophisticated, wildly futuristic, yet plausible attack by evildoers whose allegiances and agendas comprise a broad-based amalgam: Thus you can safely conclude that everybody is actually out to get us. In Steve Martini's bestselling The Rule of Nine, a low-level political staffer is murdered in Washington DC by "the Mexicutioner," a brilliant hitman from ... guess where! He's in cahoots with a cabal fueled by jihad, radical leftism, nihilism, greed, and crooked politics. It puts the "guilt" in "guilty pleasure" because it's a mass-market thriller. As for the pleasure — well, terrorist plots aren't really in the works right now, are they?
Novels ostensibly written for tweeners that are so heartwarmingly wholesome that reading them makes adults feel healthy: Like a day at the spa or a hike in the park. Rich in grown-up subtexts, National Book Award winner Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks at Point Mouette evokes those early-to-mid-century series The Bobbsey Twins and The Happy Hollisters, in which many-siblinged families embrace boisterous adventures, usually beside the sea. As the lively Penderwick sisters explore the rocky Maine coast, will their talented pal Jeffrey learn his father's identity?
Illustrated informational volumes that serve as crash courses in serial murder: Come home from your summer vacation knowing the exact ways in which Albert Fish cooked and ate his young victims. In Serial Killers: Murder Without Mercy, Nigel Blundell examines slayers who intrigue him because they "show no compassion, [and] kill without a hint of regret, without penitence, without shame. ... Their lack of conscience is evident because they do so not once but over and over again." Chapters on too-famous figures such as Charles Manson and the Yorkshire Ripper augment those on lesser-known figures such as Germany's "Beast of the Black Forest," Heinrich Pommerencke.
Books that glorify California while somehow managing to draw together Brahma, Vishnu, tai chi, the first law of thermodynamics, and Tyrannosaurus Rex: In Rise of the Ranges of Light: Landscapes and Change in the Mountains of California, scholarly globe-trotting mountaineer David Scott Gilligan uses his own journeys as springboards for somewhat spiritual, stunningly scientific, fact-packed ponderings on every aspect of California's natural history — from subsurface rhyolitic magma to Convict Lake. Do you need to know all this? No, but it will make you feel smart the next time you complain that eucalyptus aren't native plants.
"Where are they now?" celebrity roundups that go one step farther — beyond the grave: As America's most famous psychic, Sylvia Browne is frequently asked not only what her high-paying clients' futures hold but also what their favorite dead celebrities are up to. In Afterlives of the Rich and Famous, Browne reveals that John Belushi performs comedy for his also-dead parents, Bob Marley belongs to an otherworldly "peace council," Albert Einstein performs the works of Brahms "at small salons," and Elvis Presley was reborn as a blue-eyed blonde in 2004. More than forty such updates allegedly come courtesy of Francine, Browne's long-dead Aztec spirit guide.