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Summer reading and the beauty of serendipity

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(Read caption) Monitor book blogger Danny Heitman doesn't often read mystery novels. But this summer he decided to try Alan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce novel, “Speaking From Among the Bones.”

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Although we celebrate summer as a season of freedom, it’s also the time of year when readers get the most direction about which books to pick up for vacation reading.

Well-meaning arbiters of literary taste – including, of course, the folks at “Chapter & Verse” – offer lots of well-meaning suggestions and reading lists to help connect book lovers with just the right title.

Nothing wrong with any of that, of course. The next best thing to reading a book, after all, is discussing it and – when it’s a good one – recommending a page-turner to others.

But today I’d like to offer a few words in praise of serendipity in summer reading – the magic of finding a great book not because someone pointed you toward it, but through the sheer power of chance.

All of this came to mind recently when I bumped into a book by Robert James Waller and startled myself by liking it. Waller is best known as the author of “The Bridges of Madison County,” a wildly popular novel about a pair of lovers in a star-crossed romance. Hats off to Waller for penning such a whopping bestseller, but I never opened the covers of “Madison County” for myself.

The premise of his novel always struck me as firmly in the genre of chick-lit, so I made a point of steering clear. And thanks to Waller’s signature novel, I’d mentally filed him as a woman’s writer, assured that I could skip all of his books without regret.

But the other day, while visiting my local library, I spotted the spine of Waller’s “Old Songs In A New Café” from the corner of my eye and decided to pick it up. That’s how I learned of Waller’s previous life as a newspaper essayist before he became a publishing sensation.

“Old Songs In A New Café” assembles about two dozen of his vintage columns, mostly from “The Des Moines Register,” and they’re a pleasure from start to finish, bringing Waller’s poetic sensibility to bear on everything from the death of a treasured pet to the departure of a daughter for college.

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