Paperback Writer

08.21.12

Vintage Summer Reads: Jeffrey Robinson’s Book Bag

Jeffrey Robinson, author of the new novel Trump Tower, picks his favorite throwback beach reads, those classic big summer books where big characters lived big stories

A common pursuit of old men is the rekindling of those days when life was yet to be conquered. The scent of the woman who lived up the stairs. The sound of the crowd at the end of that 90-yard run. The taste of tears when the train finally pulled away.

Somewhere, too, at least for this old man, is a slightly-out-of-focus black-and-white photo of lazy days under an umbrella, with sand mixed into egg salad sandwiches, while a story unfolds between the tawdry covers of a 50-cent paperback that we didn’t want to end.

I wrote Trump Tower to be a throwback to that—an adventure in those big summer beach reads where big characters lived big stories.

My dear friend in heaven, Lino Ventura—the French cinema version of Humphrey Bogart—used to tell me, “There are three things that make for a great film. The first is a great story. The second is a great story. The third is a great story.” I insist that the same is true for a great summer beach read. Accordingly, I offer Trump Tower and six that came before.

The Carpetbaggers (1961)
By Harold Robbins

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At one point in the 1970s, selling 25,000 books worldwide per day, Harold told me that he was the Charles Dickens of the 20th century. And while one critic described his books as “Pornographic Muzak,” that’s not quite fair. He wasn’t Dickens, but he was a great storyteller. And this book, supposedly modeled on the life of Howard Hughes, is a fabulously told story.

Hotel (1965)
By Arthur Hailey

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Here are five days in the lives of a dozen characters living or working in a New Orleans hotel. Had it not been for Hailey and Hotel, there would have been no Dallas or Dynasty. Great storylines. Great characters. Great dialog. Come on, how could you not love a book where a character says, “You know, in Des Moines, we could get arrested for this."

The Best Of Everything (1958
By Rona Jaffe

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This is the tale of five female employees in New York publishing who have sex with various people in the decade before anyone even invented sex. It’s pre-lib lib, and the novel that set the stage for Valley of the Dolls. It even got a shout-out recently in Mad Men, with Don Draper reading it in bed. Albeit, above the sheets.

The Valley Of The Dolls (1966)
By Jacqueline Susann

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Just as The Best of Everything set the stage for this book, The Valley of the Dolls set the stage for Sex In The City. Three women discover the insides of show business—the tinsel, the corruption, the lies and the egos—as tinseled, corrupt, lying ego maniacal men discover the insides of these three women. Often listed as one of the best-selling American novels of all time, Susann told stories from her own experience. She was married to a press agent and, supposedly, had an affair with Ethel Merman. Go figure that one. Despite Truman Capote’s opinion, “She doesn’t write, she types,” what she did here was type a really great summer beach read.

The Chapman Report (1961)
By Irving Wallace

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What Wallace did so well was take headlines—in this case the famous Kinsey Report—decide who should be doing what to whom, and weave it all together into a page-turning story. I bumped into him once in a bookstore in London. In fact, there were three of us in the shop. He was in one aisle, the Israeli statesman Abba Eban was in another, and I was moving between the two. All three of us were doing what authors always do in bookshops: rearranging the shelves to put our latest in a more visible position. I thought it was cool to be doing that, just like Wallace. I suspect Wallace thought it was cool doing that, just like Eban. I have no idea what Eban was thinking.

The Other Side Of Midnight (1973)
By Sidney Sheldon

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The lives of two very different women intertwine in the beds of the men they love: the ‘70s could never have been the ‘70s without Sydney Sheldon, at least not for most college coeds. Required reading about passion, vengeance, power, greed and sex, he captivated readers with a storytelling technique he developed in television, having first given the world The Patty Duke Show and I Dream of Jeannie. Forgiving him for that, he went on to become the seventh best-selling American writer of all time, largely because of this story.