A literary sampler of books that will help you forget the heat

When summer kicks into high gear and the heat makes you too exhausted even to complain about how hot it is, the best thing you can do, besides immersing yourself in several gallons of ice-cold water, is to practice the fine art of transference: Turn heat into something desirable — poetic, even. Or let a few great authors do it for you. After all, it doesn't require much energy to flip the pages of a book, even if the paper does cling to your sweat-soaked fingers.

Start with The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton, a novel about a farm family in western Missouri that takes place over the course of several scorching summers. "I'm so hot, I'm foamin' between the legs!" one of the characters exclaims. And, really, is there any better description of that awful kind of sweat that gets caught in the crevices of your joints?

But remember transference. Sweat is just inconveniently placed lubrication, and heat is another word for desire. In the middle of a Missouri summer, there are no dirty books, only sensual ones. Your attention span is short. Innocence by University City native Harold Brodkey is a short story, a mere twenty pages, and the two main characters are naked for about three-quarters of it, doing what naked college students do, described in exquisitely rendered detail. It's literature, so you don't have to feel guilty.

Also falling under the purview of literature is White Palace by Glenn Savan, which contains some of the most explicitly sensual scenes ever set in a small house, in Dogtown, involving White Castle hamburgers. (Not that this is an especially populated corner of the literary world.) It's also an affecting story about love, lust, loss and class differences.

If that's too much to deal with on a steamy afternoon, grab Chyna Black, Keisha Ervin's autobiographical novel about the life and times of a St. Louis high school dropout who becomes a single mother and a writer. Or, maybe one of the later volumes in Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, where romantic entanglements get a little more complex.

At night things cool off a little, but it's still hard to sleep. Generations of high school kids have found Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury to be a useful sleep aid in the summer months. (And lucky you won't have to participate in the obligatory discussion of the evils of censorship on the first day of school.)

Or better yet, imagine yourself lying on a raft, floating down the Mississippi, gazing up at the stars, just like Huck and Jim in some of the loveliest passages of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

St. Louis writers have made far fewer contributions to books about extreme cold — understandable, given that the heat/humidity double whammy is far more a part of our city's identity. The best thing to do — if you'd rather use the principle of transference to fight, rather than embrace, the heat — is to imagine yourself elsewhere. Somewhere cold. Like Russia. Plowing through Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov or Dr. Zhivago is an admirable summer project. Why, just one of them ought to last you straight through to fall.

Maybe long Russian names aren't your thing, and you prefer simpler monikers, like Ma or Pa or Mary. Check out Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter. After reading about how Laura and Pa spent entire days folding wads of straw into pellets to feed to the fire, which kept the family from freezing to death, your own toes might start to feel a little numb. But have no fear: The lovely St. Louis summer air will remind you that you are safe — and the book is fiction.

You also don't have to fight the elemental forces of evil, like the hero of Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising, another volume guaranteed to bring on chills on the warmest summer night, or the apocalypse like the characters in The Road by Cormac McCarthy. What's 95 degrees and 100 percent humidity compared to that? Do you think you'll be murdered in your bed like the Clutter family in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood? Just one more tale bound to make your blood, uh, run cold.

 
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