Try this Summer Recipe

Jason Schneider

My favorite summer reading spot is a square of patio in front of my house. It’s been discolored by years of squashed plums that have dropped from the nearby tree, and the formerly white chair where I sit is speckled with its own purple splotches. A camellia shades the area in late afternoon, those hours before dusk when the breeze settles into a whisper and everything feels languorous.

In those times, on that chair, I’ve read crime novels and memoirs and biographies and Entertainment Weekly. I’ve read John Updike and John Grisham, Jane Hamilton and Jane Eyre. My tastes run in many directions, and when I’m in that place on a warm day, shoeless and shorted, I’m easy to please. I could be happy reading a catalog.

When we assemble the story collection for the “summer issue,” we keep in mind that much of what is read at this time of year is read outdoors, under a tree, or perhaps in a chaise at the beach. Does it matter what you’re reading when you’re in a setting like that? Convention suggests that when the sun is out and their feet are in the sand, readers want something light and breezy. We’ve aimed that way in the past. Three years ago, we devoted most of the magazine to stories about children and childhood. In 2007, the summer issue featured a special section about alumni working in the entertainment industry. Last year, it was a gallery of Stanford Olympians. In all of those cases, the stories were entertaining and informative, and unlikely to furrow the brow while waiting for the barbecue to fire up.

We haven’t gone off script, exactly. You’ll find a profile of Lifetime television executive Andrea Wong, MBA ’93, (including references to Project Runway and swanky Manhattan parties) and a whimsical introduction to Stanford’s highly touted batch of football recruits. But we’ve expanded our view of what is suitable “summer reading.”

We have, for example, a cover story that describes the manufacture and potential applications of synthetic biological products, and the energetic soon-to-be husband-and-wife team that leads the Stanford effort. Drew Endy and Christina Smolke attempt to harness the essential building blocks of all living things to make biological machines, if you will, to serve specific purposes. Their work is sort of like a ’50s sci-fi movie come to life, minus the giant mutant killer ants. (For the record, Endy and Smolke are serious about the ethical concerns inherent in their research.)

Also on hand is philosopher René Girard talking about the end of the world. Girard’s ideas on humans’ need to find scapegoats, and the extent to which this has shaped our history, is an interesting counterweight to undergrads in shoulder pads.

Elsewhere in this issue kids are dissecting giant squids, new graduates are worrying about jobs, mariachi bands are playing jaunty tours in Japan, and there is my favorite story of all: a mom and dad, both Stanford alums, who have sent all seven of their children to Stanford. Talk about needing a summer respite.

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