With the weather picture yet again forecasting lava for most of the country and the humidity of a rain forest besides, you can’t blame some sectors of the population for seeking radical solutions to these unfamiliar temperatures. As books like to think they can provide answers to everything, it is not surprising that some sweltering and desperate individuals are starting to turn to their volumes for relief. But beware! The cooling sensations those books appear to offer are nothing more than a cruel illusion. Don’t close the fridge door just yet.
The Iceman Cometh, by Eugene O’Neill (Nick Hern Books, £9.99)
For those who were off school on the day the history of refrigeration was covered, the iceman was the fellow who would deliver the stuff to owners of the earliest iceboxes – those which required giant blocks of slowly melting ice to keep the temperatures down and the milk fresh. He was also a burly, home-visiting professional of folklore, and other men would banter about his getting fresh with their wives once he’d topped up the cooler. In this 1939 O’Neill play “the iceman” and his philandering style is just part of a running gag employed by a saloon full of the most wretched drunks and prostitutes sharing their delusions in a bar in 1912 New York. No respite from the heat here, and to make it worse, this play goes on forever.
Snowblind, by Robert Sabbag (Canongate, £9.99)
Although the title implies the sort of wintriness that would feel like a luxury break from the current mercury boil, the “snow” here is cocaine, and the book one of the foundation texts of true crime literature (drug wholesale dept). In place of descriptions of howling Arctic gales, we instead learn about the international transport of cocaine in the seventies, when the techniques employed were more those of the imaginative gentleman villain than the unregulated industrial methods of today’s narco-philosophers. It was also an era when the punishments dealt out to those unlucky enough to fall foul of the law were so minimal as to be barely worth turning up for. But no snow.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe (Black Swan, £8.99)
Holding out a first impression of a delicious and exciting refreshment, like a tall glass of Robinson’s Barley Water after a tie break on centre court; on closer inspection, electricity, acid and the revolting Kool-Aid (a powdered “flavoring”) are not ingredients that would really slake the thirst on a baking hot day. Wolfe’s pioneering work of “new journalism” sees him follow psychedelic guru Ken Kesey and his disciples the Merry Pranksters around, where they take lots of LSD, try not to get on the wrong side of the Hell’s Angels and endure the Grateful Dead. Thermometer unshifted.
Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis (Picador, £8.99)
With a title that offers hope of thrillingly frosty temperatures, Less Than Zero is not only set in Los Angeles – a city whose pavements are often hot enough to fire porcelain – but deals with awful, spoilt college kids who can’t move without sounding bored. Written by Bret Easton Ellis when he was 21, its only power as a coolant is by offering a vision of how things could be even more roasting: “While reading the paper at twilight by the pool, I see a story of how a local man tried to bury himself alive because it was ‘so hot, too hot.’”
Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons (Penguin Classics, £7.99)
Probably the chilliest of these six false friends to the overcooked, Cold Comfort Farm is arguably also the most enjoyable, dealing as it does with a middle-class London girl who finds herself living on a disgusting farm among a family of rural halfwits whose country ways are guided by a deep and comic pessimism. While not exactly summoning an imaginary cooling breeze from the downs, Cold Comfort Farm is at least a powerful distraction from the fried egg of high pressure that has taken up residence over the UK.
The Cold War, by Bridget Kendall (BBC Books, £12.99)
Entire libraries of books have been written on the Cold War, so this one gets the nod because the author very generously spoke to Strong Words for our launch issue, an interview you can read here. Although hinting at a conflict in the Siberian winter, the Cold War got its name from the frosty relationship between superpowers, a sort of global passive-aggression in which messages between the combatants were transmitted like parents who direct all requests through a child, even when all concerned are sitting at the same table. So, cold in the sense of boiling indignation, deep mutual suspicion and unswerving paranoia.