CP: Rick, what is that enormous item in your colorful yet rugged Jack Spade beach tote?

RN: You'd think it was an industrial-sized jug of SPF 50 for my sunburn-prone scalp. But no, it's just a little light seaside reading material, "The Passage of Power," Robert Caro's latest doorstop disguised as a Lyndon Johnson biography.


CP: Shoot. I was hoping it was a large box of wine. Are you sincerely interested in how LBJ managed to play the U.S. Congress like a cheap ukulele? Or is this just another case of intellectual one-upsmanship?

RN: A little of both, perhaps.

CP: Maybe you didn't get the memo: Summertime is for reading material that has the same heft as those cottonwood seeds floating everywhere. In warm weather, even theoretical physicists are supposed to flop down in a chaise longue with an US Weekly and a Nicholas Sparks.

RN: You're talking to the guy who hauled Katharine Graham's 644-page autobio to Provincetown's Herring Cove beach every day for a week. Although I was using the National Enquirer as a bookmark. What did you read last weekend at the cabin?


CP: Once I had perused the cabin's stacks of Out and GQ, I got most of the way through Michael Frayn's family memoir, "My Father's Fortune." Which, by the way, is a perfect combo of high and low, funny and sad, light and heavy -- an easy three-day read. Though I brought it, I did not haul out "Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality."

RN: This reminds me of one of my favorite movies about writers, "Rich and Famous." Jacqueline Bisset plays a highbrow type with writer's block, and Candice Bergen plays her college roommate-turned-prolific trash novelist, à la Judith Krantz. Bergen, with a honeyed Southern accent, is genius. "'Home Cookin,'" she pronounces one night in bed, coming up with the title of her latest potboiling blockbuster. "It's gonna be about Mama." I would do anything to read it.


CP: When it comes to your love of Ms. Krantz, are you in the closet? Or will you proudly display "Scruples" while poolside with a bunch of judge-y friends?

RN: "Scruples," absolutely. It's the "War and Peace" of trade paperbacks. Do you have a go-to schlockmeister?


CP: I've never been much for pure schlock, in the sense of poorly made or of inferior quality. You will never get back that time you spent with Judith Krantz, my friend. But gimme a bag of white-cheddar puffs and a violent crime novel by Adrian McKinty and I'm a pig in manure.

RN: I prefer to regard the national literary treasure that is Ms. Krantz as the Hostess Sno Ball of summer reading. Preferably a pink one.


Email: witheringglance@startribune.com and Twitter: @claudepeck and @RickNelsonStrib