Summer reading apparently means different things to different people. To a lot of publishing folk, summer, and especially August, means the chance to read books not on your own list. Three summers ago, the beach book de saisonwas the very tony Complete Works of Isaac Babel, and while there's nothing comparable this year, the rule of thumb for editors and publishers is to read something published out of house.

To my 11-year-old, post—Harry Potter, it means getting to read five Merlin books for the "free choice" section of the sixth-grade assignment and then settling down to—and actually vaguely enjoying—The Miracle Worker.

To our 43rd president, summer reading has a harder-to-fathom agenda. According to the Los Angeles Times, the books George W. Bush took on his month-long ranch vacation were Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History, Edvard Radzinsky's Alexander II, The Last Great Tsar and John Barry's The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History. On the one hand, you might figure that a man running a war would want a little escapism in August; on the other, you might figure that such a man couldn't afford to be caught reading Eric Kraft. While worried citizens might rejoice in the intellectual heft of Bush's book bag (there's 1,500 pages in there), publishers might be stymied. "Mr. President, this is not summer reading!" (Besides, I wonder how he'd do on a pop quiz on these books come September.) Summer reading is... James Patterson, or mainstream biographies of influential, long-ago folks (think David McCullough tomes), or something with a little, you know, sex in 'em.

To judge from just about every bestseller list in the country, a whole lot more people are reading McCullough and Patterson than Kurlansky and Barry, so the publishers out there invested in the summer sweepstakes can relax. A little. It's not easy creating a successful beach book or launching a new brand of same. You'd think all you need is a little mating activity, a touch of glamour and a splash of intrigue—but Jessica Cutler's The Washingtonienne, for example, had all of those and, except for a recent HBO option, that June Hyperion title isn't causing any buzz and hasn't even scratched a bestseller list. And then there's poor, sad Adored, Tilly Bagshawe's beach book extraordinaire, to which PW gave a starred review. "This is one of those big, juicy summer beach reads... wildly entertaining," we exclaimed. Except that earlier this month, Warner advised booksellers to slash the cover price by 50% on the July 1 title—a clear sign that the book wasn't performing even close to expectations.

So what's a publisher to do? Stick with what they know, history suggests, and don't try to use the summer to "break" new talent." "Nobody wants anything unfamiliar in the heat," opines one longtime publisher.

Why exactly that is, nobody can say. Maybe it's a question that should be examined by Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg. They're the authors of the only bona fide surprise hit of the summer, a book that has gotten huge coverage and buzz and is atop both major online booksellers' bestselling lists. I mean, what's a little publishing question when you've attacked the big ones like Why Do Men Have Nipples?

Let us escape while we can.