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Zaleski: An early start on summer reading

We’re into the season when kicking back with a good book can be done in a lazy hammock, on a squeaky porch swing or in a lawn chair in a flower-scented backyard. Here are three recommendations for light (and not so light) summer reading.

“Inferno” (Doubleday, 2013) is Dan Brown’s latest religious/

conspiracy/mystery novel that incorporates themes from the myths and lore of the Catholic Church. Set initially in Florence, Italy (Brown writes a virtual travelogue and architectural history of the ancient city), Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon of “The DaVinci Code” fame is back. He’s joined by a beautiful doctor, Sienna Brooks, whose past is integral to the mystery; and by a cast of marvelously improbable characters, good and evil.

The plot weaves interpretations of 14th-century poet Dante Alighieri’s vision of hell from his masterpiece “The Divine Comedy” into a madman’s plot to unleash a plague to control the Earth’s population. Langdon, at first unwillingly, is drawn into the conspiracy. The story unfolds in twists, turns and revelations that keep the pages turning.

It’s a typical Brown romp through history, the meanings of religious art and the sinister operations of secret societies. Good read. Good fun.

“Under the Dome” (Scribner, 2009, 2013), Parts 1 and 2, is not Stephen King’s best work. The two-volume saga reveals what happens to the people of a small Maine town when a huge transparent dome from who knows where falls on the town, trapping the population inside. It’s as much a social and psychological study of stressed people as it is typical King horror and science fiction. Yet, by Part 2 it stalls.

King’s best work taps into deepest human fears. The dome saga tries but stumbles on itself – overly long and (as I plow through Part 2) seemingly unable to close the deal. Still, it’s worth the effort for its imaginative and troubling assessment of the human condition – and for a couple of memorable characters.

“Profiles in Courage” is John F. Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning study of eight U.S. senators who risked careers by standing against the popular tide. I come back to the book every few years in order to be reminded that there was a time when political leaders had the character and vision to defy popular convention for the greater good. I’ve recommended it before.

There is credible evidence that JFK’s speechwriter Ted Sorenson helped the president-to-be write the book. Sorenson has always denied the allegation. Nonetheless, the stories of the statesmen are examples of the kind of leadership and sacrifice seldom seen among today’s senators.

“Profiles” might not fit the bill as light summer reading, but at a time when personal courage among politicians has been supplanted by pander and polls, JFK’s most famous book (later made into a television series) is disturbingly nostalgic. It should be required reading for anyone concerned about the malaise and opportunistic pettiness that afflict American politics.