Guaranteed Excitement

By Dave Barry

I came to love summer reading back in the 1950s when I spent my summers at camp. We campers had four major activity options: sports, nature, crafts and reading. I ruled out sports, which consisted primarily of swimming in a lake filled with a murky, dark-green waterlike substance. You couldn't see what was in there, but you knew it was hostile.

I tried nature briefly, but it contained an enormous amount of dirt. I learned this on overnight camping trips during which we slept in bedrolls made by folding three blankets together. When you climbed inside them, they instantly disassembled. Meanwhile, our counselor would tell us bedtime stories about ax-wielding maniacs who had escaped that very day from the nearby mental hospital. Then we'd enjoy a relaxing five minutes of sleep while we waited for dawn.

After nature, I tried crafts. The main craft item was an authentic Indian tom-tom, which we made by stretching pieces of rubber over the ends of industrial-size lima-bean cans. Unless you are involved in an actual tribal war, there is only so much you can do with a tom-tom.

So I took up reading. The camp "library," a musty old storeroom, contained one of the nation's largest collection of bats. This made the book-selection process exciting: you'd dart into the library, snatch a book, then dart back out to see what you had. Summer reading was an important way to avoid accomplishing anything useful.

Speaking of useful, over the years I've picked up some practical hints that can help you decide which books to take on your vacation. If you want guaranteed excitement, you should buy a book by Stephen King or some similar author, the kind of book we in the business call "novels of Gothic horror" because we are reluctant to call them "novels wherein people's brains are occasionally eaten by snakes." They create a mood. You could be reading on the porch of a peaceful country cabin, but after you read 50 pages of Stephen King, even the squirrels will seem menacing. I end up lying awake at night. It reminds me of my youth.