Before The Title Past

By Jeff Shelby


"A Few for the Road"

My wife and I are heading to Key West for a little sun, sand and relaxation.  Maybe a margarita or two.  Or twenty.  Regardless, I am facing the same dilemma I face every summer when we take off for a vacation – what do I take to read?

I am a notorious overpacker – 19 pairs of shorts, 27 t-shirts, eight pairs of sandals and 47 books for a six-day trip.  I have vowed to lighten the load for this year’s trip, particularly in the book area. 

While I’m considering what to take with me, here are a few suggestions for you as you pack your bags for your summer trips:

1.  Poker Nation:  A High-Stakes, Low-Life Adventure into the Heart of a Gambling Country by Andy Bellin

Hands down, one of the best books of the last couple months, Bellin takes us inside the surreal world of secret poker clubs and high stakes tournaments.  Bellin takes the time to explain the game to those that are unfamiliar with the intricacies and language of poker.  His descriptions of the characters that he regularly encounters at his weekly games are priceless and the chapter on Benny Binion, one of the fathers of Las Vegas gambling, is worth the price of the book alone.


2.  The Last Dive:  A Father and Son’s Fatal Descent into the Ocean’s Depths by Bernie Chowdhury

A compelling, but ultimately tragic story, that takes the reader inside the world of deep wreck diving.  Chowdhury, himself an expert diver, focuses on Chris and Chrissy Rouse, a father and son diving team that seek to push the limits of deep water diving while searching undersea wreckage.  The author expertly ties his own near death experience to the Rouses fatal final dive, while providing us with vivid details of what happens below the ocean’s surface.

3.  Faithful Travelers:  A Father, a Daughter, a Fly-Fishing Journey of the Heart by James Dodson

This book was originally published in 1999 and deserved to be a big seller.  Dodson, an award winning golf writer, details a summer trip that he takes with his seven-year-old daughter, Maggie, and their dog, Amos, as the author struggles through the emotional difficulties of an amicable divorce.  They travel the country in an old truck, seeking out some of the finer fly-fishing spots around, and as they do so, establish a bond that is both humorous and heartfelt.

4.  You Cannot Be Serious by John McEnroe

McEnroe is a love him or hate him type guy – I happen to love him.  Probably the most compelling athlete ever in the sport of tennis, Mac writes candidly about his career, both on and off the court.  The title is taken from one of his more famous on court explosions (I spent years as a kid imitating his tantrums as I walked around the house.  My mom would tell us we were having meatloaf for dinner and I would throw my hands in the air and yell, “You cannot be serious!”), but the book shows us that there is much more to the enigmatic star than his tantrums.

5.  Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

As you travel the country this summer, you will surely be tempted to have a few meals at the fast food restaurants that dominate our highway exits and airport concourses.  Read this book and that temptation will be drastically reduced.  Schlosser covers every aspect of the fast food industry and what he finds will amaze and alarm you.  As a teenager, I spent one summer working at a hamburger joint and saw a few things that I would rather forget, but what Schlosser uncovers will almost certainly change your feelings about pulling up to a drive-thru window.

My wife just announced it’s time to go and I have to make a tough decision.

Do I take 13 pairs of socks (down from 16 last year) or do I take no socks in order to make room for my stuffed alligator?

Safe travels!  

Jeff Shelby earned a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of California, Irvine. His first mystery, Dead Week, was released in December 2001. He and his wife live in Castle Rock, CO. His website is .

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