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(Pat Wellenbach)
(Pat Wellenbach)

A Globe Books special

It's summer, not dumber Add to ...

Hadani Ditmars is author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and, this year, the Wallpaper City Guide to Vancouver.

REX MURPHY If the ideal summer read combines lightness with worth, then S.J. Perelman is your man. He is one of the most rarefied stylists in U.S. letters. His essays are jewels of wit and intelligence.

If you read enough Perelman (and it is quite impossible to read too much of him), you will be gradually introduced to a portrait of the man in his own sublimely arch words. Parodying the (now archaic) prose of Time magazine, he offered this cameo in an introduction to a collection of his essays: "Button-cute, rapier-keen, wafer-thin and pauper-poor is S.J. Perelman, whose tall, stooping figure is better known to the twilit half-world of five continents than to Publishers' Row. That he possesses the power to become invisible to finance companies; that his laboratory is tooled up to manufacture Frankenstein-type monsters on an incredible scale; and that he owns one of the rare mouths in which butter has never melted are legends treasured by every schoolboy."

In another feuilleton (his own word for the inimitable twist he gave to the humorous essay), he offers a variant: "I guess I'm just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation's laws."

These sprigs should offer the flavour of the Perelman manner, a mandarin command of the English sentence allied with a highly distilled, idiosyncratic range of reference.

Perelman does not stale. He is a hyper-gifted wordsmith with the most extensive and outré vocabulary of any 20th-century essayist. He is also a cunning satirist, a great and early scourge of dimwitted Hollywood. If Nabokov were "atom-smashed" into Wodehouse, Sidney Joseph Perelman might be the outcome.

Chicken Inspector # 23, which occupies my July, is one of his many collections, and an excellent appetizer to the Perelman feast.

Rex Murphy's Canada and Other Matters of Opinion will be published in September.

ANDRÉ ALEXIS For me, a "summer book" is one is I'm reading for diversion, for a break in the serious - and sometimes more deeply pleasurable - reading I do for my work. Here are two books, both read in summer, that have pleased me a great deal: Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses and Dava Sobel's Longitude.

Both are works of non-fiction; my favourite summer fiction would be something by Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or Time Out of Joint, or, maybe, Frank Herbert's very entertaining SF classic Dune, or Confess, Fletch by Gregory Mcdonald.

Sobel's Longitude tells its story without a wasted word. It gives you a sense of the intellectual adventure involved in John Harrison's solution to the problem of determining longitude when one is at sea. Harrison, who lived in the 18th century and was a "mere" clockmaker, had some interesting enemies, among them the almost psychotically proud Isaac Newton, but Harrison's story has a fair ending, and the book is in every way a pleasure.

Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses isn't great by dint of the information it imparts. What held me is its fantastic suggestiveness. It allows, or encourages, the reader to think about the pleasures the senses provide, to imagine what "rough" means, what "sour" is or how sound influences us. It's a guide through one's own sensual life with a docent who is, at times, over-enthusiastic, but always interesting.

André Alexis's most recent novel is Asylum.

DAWN ARNOLD Summer reading must be instantly engrossing and engaging. To me, that means no complicated books in translation, no short stories and no bizarre syntax. I want to be transported and transformed - and I want to care about the characters. Summer reading is also all about pleasure. I think it started when I was a kid, and I spent my carefully accumulated allowance in used bookstores along the way to the beach. I splurged on all kinds of novels, and buried my nose in books I didn't have the chance to read the rest of the year.

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