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Hello, readers.

The Nutcracker institution has been widely covered. Not the ballet or the nutcracker tool, but the portable cocktail of that name. It appears all over New York in hot weather. Most of my drinking is in Rockaway Beach.

The aromatic profile of Casse-Noisette is simple: candy + alcohol. If you wanted to turn babies into problem drinkers, this would be your weapon. The attraction is less culinary than psychological. Sometimes the beach is full of vendors and other times it is devoid. Drink flavors vary. Sizes vary. The alcohol content varies. (From “average” to “satanic.”) There is an intermittent reinforcement mechanism at work here: when will the reward come? How will it taste? Who knows?

I imagine most beach environments have their own versions of The Nutcracker. It wouldn’t be summer without the unregulated alcohol trade!

Which brings us to another seasonal tradition. An online dictionary defines a “beach read” as “a book you can take on vacation that’s good enough to keep you engaged but not so serious that it’ll ruin your vacation.” It’s so vague that they might as well have told us that a beach reading is a “rectangular object made of wood pulp imprinted with text”.

I would say a beach read is “any book that adapts to wildly inconsistent levels of concentration”. For example: does it stand up to morning scrutiny while forgiving the sluggishness of the sun-dazzled afternoon? Can you look away from the page and watch a boogie boarder get tubed, then shift your gaze to a lady streaming this version of “Proud Mary” from a Bluetooth speaker, then back to the book without penalty ? Can you read it before and after a responsible four ounce serving of Nutcracker?

Suggestions below – and more to come – for supplementing your vitamin B(ook) intake.


A friend handed me this book and explained that the main characters were “a Swiss sadist and a guy who works in a chocolate factory”. No further cajoling was necessary. The sadist is Dr. Fischer, who made his fortune inventing a toothpaste called Dentophil Bouquet and now lives in a lakeside mansion near Geneva.

For entertainment, the doctor invites wealthy acquaintances to dinner and humiliates them. Guests put up with this abuse because they are rewarded with expensive gifts – an emerald necklace, a gold lighter, etc. The doctor escalates the debasement at every party, trying to calculate the precise exchange rate between human dignity and trinkets. What drives him to do it? A phrase from “Philoctetes” comes to mind: “Once men have learned to hatch evil crimes, they cannot help but be criminals again.”

Read if you like: Roald Dahl, gambling, Lawrence Osborne, escape rooms, Luis Buñuel’s film “The Exterminating Angel”
Available from: Check the library or used bookstore of your choice

Fiction, 1999

The year is 1990. The city is Tokyo. The narrator is Amélie, who shares a name and several characteristics with the author of the novel. Young Amélie works in the import-export division of a Japanese company that buys and sells French tires, Singaporean soda, Canadian fiber optics and everything else.

What is she doing, exactly? Hard to say. Even the smallest task ends in failure. After Amelie serves coffee at a meeting, a manager berates her for speaking Japanese: “How could our business partners have a sense of trust in the presence of a white girl who understands their language?” He then orders Amélie to stop agreement Japanese. When she protests that such an order is impossible, the boss responds, “There is always a way to obey.

She is reassigned to accounting – an “eternal tunnel of torture” in which all the figures coagulate into an “opaque magma”. Soon, she is downgraded to cleaning toilets. It is a hypnotic tragicomic novel about corporate life. Read it and scream if you’re on vacation from the office – or read it and cry if not!

Read if you like: Movies or books by Steve Martin, the banality of depression, malice, the weakening of your boss
Available from: macmillan