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Your Ultimate Summer Reading List
If you hate to be seaside (or lakeside or poolside or anything -side) without a book in hand, you’ve landed in the right place. Here, great beach reads recommended by notable authors and experts.
The Inn at Lake Devine,by Elinor Lipman
“Set in the summer of 1962, this beguiling gem of a romantic comedy is about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, a segregated inn in Vermont, and 12-year old Natalie Marx’s sense of justice during a turbulent time in America. Lipman is brilliant with dialogue and characters and can spin a provocative tale that still manages to feel punchy and light. One of my favorite novels of all-time.”
—Emily Giffin, the New York Timesbestselling author of Something Borrowed and Where We Belong, will release First Comes Love this June ($19, amazon.com). She lives in Atlanta with her husband and three children.
Into The Wild, by Jon Krakauer
“A page-turning, real-life mystery about a young man’s tragic journey to find himself. As vivid as it is broadly thought-provoking, Into The Wild is an intimate story of one person’s struggle against nature and with himself, but the questions raised are universal. At times it will make you contemplate hitting the open road yourself, while at others it will leave you praying that the ones you love always stay on the beaten path.”
—Kimberly McCreight is the New York Times bestselling author ofReconstructing Amelia, Where They Found Her and, most recently, The Outliers ($11, amazon.com). She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.
Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks
“I first read this book the summer after college, as I traveled through Europe on a Eurail pass with my best friend from high school, and I can just about remember on which youth hostel sofa, which train compartment, which hot riverbank I read each scene. Part love story, part mystery, part aching historical journey, Birdsong explores the territory of France before, during, and after the First World War, and the effect of apocalypse on the human spirit. Like the best of summer reads, it absorbs you utterly until the ending hurls you to a drunken, extraordinary stop. You won’t want to start anything else for a long time.”
—Beatriz Williams is the authorAlong the Infinite Sea; her latest work,A Certain Age ($18, amazon.com), comes out June 28. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and four children.
How to Talk to a Widower, by Jonathan Tropper
“Tropper went on to huge acclaim with his subsequent novels, but this one, about a young widower who has to reboot his life (complete with a teenage stepson), remains my favorite. His humor is sharp as ever, and his voice and storytelling are both poignant and real. I remember reading this book over sunny summer afternoons in a New York City dog run, and my lucky dog got to linger with his pals much longer than he usually did. I loved the book so much that I immediately read all of Tropper’s backlist and then sent him a fan email. Fortunately, he didn’t find me crazy or overly fawning, and (begrudgingly on his part?) we became friends.”
—Allison Winn Scotch is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels, including the upcoming In Twenty Years ($11, amazon.com). She lives in Los Angeles with her family and their dogs.
Seating Arrangements,by Maggie Shipstead
“This novel is set on a beach and features lots of cocktails and simmering family resentments. It’s a page-turner with a WASPy bite. Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever is another favorite. It’s a collection of historical short stories about scientists and naturalists. How is that a beach read, you may be asking? It’s so gripping and moving you’ll forget you’re at the beach (I promise).”
—Anton DiSclafani is the author of the nationally bestselling novel The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girlsand, most recently, The After Party($18, amazon.com). She lives in Auburn, Alabama.
The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher
“This novel about a strong woman and her complicated family was published years ago, but I re-read it every summer because it’s full of seashells and flowers and the sense that all will be well in the end. I also love One for the Money by Janet Evanovich. I grab all of Evanovich’s mysteries because they’re laugh out loud funny. Also, it’s pretty nice to spend time with handsome, dangerous Ranger and gorgeous good cop Morelli, the two sexy men in bounty hunter Stephanie Plum’s turbulent life. In one wild moment, when her book came with stickers with their names, I put them on the back bumper of our SUV. My husband is Morelli, the good guy. I’m Ranger. No one has mentioned it yet.”
—Nancy Thayer is the author of 28 novels, including The Island House,which comes out May 31 ($18,amazon.com). She lives on Nantucket.
The Enchanted April,by Elizabeth Von Arnim
“Simply the most perfect holiday read imaginable, The Enchanted Aprilbegins with an advertisement in The Times addressed to “Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine.” Four very different English women answer the call, to spend the month of April in a miniature Italian castle. The stay begins with squabbles over the best rooms and muted resentment about precedence. But they soon find the sunshine and surroundings begin to work in strange ways — thawing hearts and binding affections. If ever there was a book to convince you that a good holiday is the best medicine for the soul, it is this one, and as you would expect from the author of Elizabeth and her German Garden, the plants and flowers that grow around the castle are as lovingly rendered as the characters within. Read it on a vine-draped balcony with a glass of chianti in your hand and feel your tensions drain away.”
—Ruth Ware is the author of the psychological crime thriller, In A Dark, Dark Wood ($10, amazon.com). The followup, The Woman in Cabin 10, is due out in July. She lives in London with her husband and two small children.
Under the Tuscan Sun,by Frances Mayes
“Summertime is the perfect time to go armchair traveling, and what better tour guide than Frances Mayes? I can’t believe it’s been almost 20 years since Mayes wrote of traveling to Italy from San Francisco following the dissolution of her marriage. In the Tuscan village of Cortona, she discovers a broken down villa she painstakingly restores and names Bramasole, and eventually the solace of cooking and gardening mend her broken heart. Finding a new love and partner in her enterprise makes Mayes’ journey all the sweeter.”
—Mary Kay Andrews is the author of 24 novels, including The Weekenders ($19, amazon.com). She lives with her husband in Atlanta.
The Valley of the Dolls,by Jacqueline Susann
“The ultimate summer novel for me is, and will always be, Valley of the Dollsby Jacqueline Susann. This iconic novel tells the story of three friends, all trying to make it in the entertainment industry, who claw their way to the top with the help of each other, various celebrities they meet along the way, and of course, their beloved “dolls.” Although it was originally published in 1966, it still manages to shock, even today.
—Brenda Janowitz, the author of five novels, published The Dinner Party ($10, amazon.com) this spring. She lives on Long Island, New York with her family.
The Vacationers, by Emma Straub
“A good beach read is something engaging that isn’t too taxing on the brain. I love Faulkner. Faulkner is not a beach read. The best book I’ve read in the last year is The Vacationers. It’s about a family trip to Spain, and everyone has issues. It’s funny, sad, and poignant. I think it’s the perfect book. But there are so many! Maine, by J. Courtney Sullivan, is a drama set in a family’s old summer house. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern—oh, gosh, it was like a drug. And Euphoria, by Lily King—it’s based on Margaret Mead and her work in Papua New Guinea in the 1930s and has one of the best love triangles.”
—Elin Hilderbrand is the author of 16 novels, including The Matchmaker, ($14, amazon.com). She lives on Nantucket.
Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen
“It’s a great romance. You have a true story of a strong woman, Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen was her pen name), living on the land, but then there’s also a dramatic love affair. In July, a new book is coming out that reminds me ofOut of Africa—Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain. It is set in the same time period and is about Beryl Markham, who, like Blixen, defied her well-to-do European family to do something wild. She was an aviator, and—coincidentally—was involved with the same man, Denys Finch Hatton, whom Blixen was. That ties the stories together.”
—Sara Nelson is the editorial director for Amazon.com. She lives in New York City.
Tourist Season, by Carl Hiaasen
“Hiaasen is a South Florida native, and this was the first book he wrote as a solo author. It’s fast-paced and has a lot of dark humor. You shake your head at these outrageous things that go on in the novel, and then, a week later, something just like it appears on the news here. Another Florida writer I love is Les Standiford. His book Last Train to Paradise is a nonfiction page-turner (yes) about developer Henry Flagler in the early 20th century and the building of a railway from Miami to Key West, which made it possible to hop to Cuba.”
—Mitchell Kaplan is the owner of theBooks & Books bookstores in South Florida and a cofounder of the Miami Book Fair International. He lives in Miami.
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
“If you want to escape a little bit, this is your book. It takes place near Cinque Terre, in Italy, and starts out in 1962, when an innkeeper meets a beautiful, dying actress. He falls in love with her, and then it goes back and forth in time. It has Italy; it has Hollywood; it has a sweeping scope.
All of these great threads come together in a really entertaining way. I also go back to an old favorite: The Buccaneers, by Edith Wharton. But if you watch the habits of Goodreads users, people like beach reads that are gripping without any emotional stress.Confessions of a Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella, is popular.”
—Elizabeth Khuri Chandler is the editor-in-chief of Goodreads. She lives in San Francisco.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
“Semple was a writer for Arrested Development and Ellen, so you know this book is comical. It’s about a girl who gets all A’s in middle school, and her family promises her a reward. She wishes to go to Antarctica. But the mom has a social phobia and doesn’t want to deal with it. It’s great for the beach because much of it is written as e-mail correspondence, so you can read it in short bursts. You won’t lose your place if you put it down to go snorkeling. Of course, if you’re visiting us, I’d recommend the quintessentialHawaii, by James A. Michener. But it’s 937 pages, so download it to an e-reader.”
—Aaron Garsombke is the manager of fun at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas, on Kauai. He lives on Kauai.
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
“Brilliantly plotted and utterly original, its 520 pages whizz by and leave you craving more.”
—Maria Semple, author of the wittyWhere’d You Go, Bernadette, now out in paperback ($15, amazon.com).
Lessons in French, by Hilary Reyl
“A perfect beach read: slim, sexy, and young at heart. There is so much tenderness and wit in this debut novel; it will make you nostalgic for your year abroad even if you never had one.”
—Joanna Hershon, whose latest novel, A Dual Inheritance, came out in May ($26, amazon.com).
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
“This intense and haunting love story is not your typical beach read, but I say it belongs in the beach bag because it’s absolutely riveting from the first page to the last.”
—Karen Thompson Walker, whose debut novel, The Age of Miracles, is now in paperback ($15, amazon.com).
The Boy, by Lara Santoro
“Because even if you’re reading something quickly on a beach it might as well be a riveting, erotic account of how a little crush can blow one busy mother’s life apart…”
—Emma Donoghue, author of the best-selling Room, published the short-story collection Astray ($26,amazon.com) in October.
The Terra-Cotta Dog, by Andrea Camilleri
“Part of a series, it’s a funny, charismatic detective story about an Italian police inspector, Montalbano, who is wise, determined, and, above all, a passionate lover of well-made food.”
—Erik Larson, author of the nonfiction blockbuster In the Garden of Beasts, which is now in paperback ($16, amazon.com).
The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love, by Kristin Kimball
“A hard-driving journalist gives up her career when she falls in love with a farmer and farming.”
—Jeannette Walls is the author ofThe Glass Castle, Half Broke Horses,and, most recently, The Silver Star($26, amazon.com).
Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri
“I think books of short stories are perfect for a beach read; you can read a story, have a piña colada, read another story, snooze a little…. These stories are gorgeously written and full of humanity and characters you will take to your heart.”
—Melanie Benjamin, best-selling author of historical fiction, publishedThe Aviator’s Wife ($26, amazon.com) earlier this year.
The Chill and The Underground Man, by Ross Macdonald
“For a classic crime novel read, try any of the masterpiece noirs by Ross Macdonald. My personal favorites areThe Chill and The Underground Man.”
—Jonathan Kellerman, author of more than 30 novels, most recentlyGuilt ($28, amazon.com).
The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters
“It has everything I adore in a race-to-the-end story—a crumbling English mansion; a chilly, doomed romance; and the creepiest, most chilling ghost story. You’ll need the heat of the sun to convince you you’re not at the top of a midnight-haunted staircase.”
—Jacquelyn Mitchard, author ofThe Deep End of the Ocean; her newest work is the YA novel What We Saw at Night ($18, amazon.com).
The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
“I loved traveling from Wichita to New York City in the summer of 1922 with a young, obnoxious Louise Brooks and her chaperone, Cora Carlisle, who uncovers her own secret past there.”
—Ann Hood, whose recently published fifth book is the hauntingThe Obituary Writer ($27,amazon.com).
The Odyssey, by Homer
“For me, The Odyssey is the ultimate beach read. As I read it by the ocean in Australia, the story really came to life: I could see the water, feel the sun, hear the waves that wafted Odysseus onward in his journey to meet his destiny.”
—M.L. Stedman, whose best-selling debut, The Light Between Oceans,recently came out in paperback ($16,amazon.com).
Jim the Boy, by Tony Earley
“A quiet, graceful coming-of-age novella set during the Depression.”
—Thrity Umrigar, author of The Space Between Us and five other books, including her latest, The World We Found ($15, amazon.com).
Goodbye for Now, by Laurie Frankel
“A computer simulation lets people communicate with their loved ones, after they’ve died.”
—Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter of Sweet), who will publish his second novel, Songs of Willow Frost($26, amazon.com), in September.
Kim, by Rudyard Kipling
“When we think ‘beach read’ we do not, perhaps, think first of books published in 1901; but this one totally qualifies. Kipling’s classic is pure adventure and charm, and according to some, it’s the first spy novel.”
—Robin Sloan, author of the gleeful mystery Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore ($25, amazon.com).
The Demonologist, by Andrew Pyper
“The Demonologist, about a professor of Milton using his knowledge of the underworld to try to save his daughter’s life, is both a chilling page-turner and a psychological study of a tormented man.”
—Nancy Bilyeau, whose second historical novel, The Chalice ($27,amazon.com), was published in March.
Drinking With Men, by Rosie Schaap
“Drinking With Men is a gorgeously written, moving, brilliant memoir about finding community and family, and the beach is the perfect place to fall in love with Rosie Schaap.”
—Kate Christensen, author of six novels, will release the memoir Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites ($27, amazon.com) in July.
Mary and O’Neil, by Justin Cronin
“Before Justin Cronin scared the hell out of us with his ripping good vampire saga—The Passage and then The Twelve—he gave us a book that was tender and moving and beautiful:Mary and O’Neil. In that novel in stories, Cronin writes about love—between parents and children, between siblings, between lovers—with a wisdom and humor that’s rare.”
—Chris Bohjalian, whose best-sellerThe Sandcastle Girls ($16,amazon.com) just came out in paperback, will release his next novel,The Light in the Ruins ($26,amazon.com) in July.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson
“I could be happy reading almost anything at the beach, but it’s a rare book that takes my mind off the trouble of getting there. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand kept me happy through a tedious delay at the airport, a six-hour flight, a long line at the rental car desk, and a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam.”
—Annie Barrows, author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society ($15, amazon.com) and the Ivy and Bean series of children’s books.
Love Water Memory, by Jennie Shortridge
“This is a moving story told by a wonderful writer. It explores truth and love and reminds us that the people around us have helped form who we are, but in the end, the person we are capable of becoming is up to us.”
—Garth Stein, whose three novels include the beloved The Art of Racing in the Rain ($15, amazon.com).
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
“This memoir, of Strayed’s solo three-month trek across the Pacific Coast Trail, is a page-turner and an easy read, and that’s what matters at the beach. But it’s so much more. The writing is raw and vivid, Strayed is a warm and indomitable human being, and her story of loss and redemption is deep and honest and true.”
—Susan Cain, author of the nonfiction best-seller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking ($16, amazon.com).
Legends of the Fall, by Jim Harrison
“Jim Harrison’s novella Legends of the Fall has everything one could want in a story. It is astonishingly rich, exquisitely written, and can be read in an afternoon.”
—Kevin Powers, whose powerful debut novel, The Yellow Birds, was just published in paperback ($15, amazon).
Instructions for a Heatwave, by Maggie O’Farrell
“I recently finished a fabulous new novel called Instructions for a Heatwave. It’s the beautifully written story of what happens to one London family when the patriarch goes out for the newspaper one morning and doesn’t return.”
—J. Courtney Sullivan, author ofMaine, has just published her third novel, The Engagements ($27,amazon.com).
When Will There Be Good News?, by Kate Atkinson
“Kate Atkinson is my go-to beach book author. When Will There Be Good News? has maybe the most compelling opening scene I can name and then just gets better from there.”
—Laurie Frankel’s noted second novel, Goodbye for Now, is just out in paperback ($15, amazon.com).
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Süskind
“Very inventive, very creepy murder mystery about a man with an absolutely extraordinary sense of smell. Really fun read.”
—Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, will publish a new story collection, The Color Master ($26, amazon), in August.
These Things Happen, by Richard Kramer
“The author is best known as a writer, director, and producer who has worked on television shows ranging from My So-Called Life to Thirtysomething toJudging Amy. He’s now created a gloriously charming, wise, and moving novel that features a boy and his two sets of parents—one gay and one straight. Told in alternating voices, the story explores how we find ourselves in families. It’s the perfect book to read when you are on vacation with—or apart—from yours.”
—Will Schwalbe, author of the moving memoir The End of Your Life Book Club, newly released in paperback ($15, amazon.com).
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware
“When on vacation, I love graphic novels—the perfect combination of relaxing and engaging—and Jimmy Corrigan, the genre-bending life story of an ordinary man with extraordinary fantasies, is one of the best ever published.”
—Jane Bordon, author of the memoirI Totally Meant to Do That ($14,amazon.com).
Poems, by Elizabeth Bishop
“I love to read poetry on the beach, mostly because you read one poem, pass out in the sun, wake up, read another and then feel like you’ve accomplished something. Elizabeth Bishop’s Poems is my bible, simply for wisdom, tenderness, and sweeping visual sense; these are poems that reads like paintings. This collection is a beach-friendly paperback and has all the favorites like ‘Questions of Travels,’ as well as really obscure beauties like…well…‘Dear, my compass/still points North,’ which was never published during her lifetime.”
—Leigh Newman’s memoir, Still Points North, was published in March ($26, amazon.com).
Frederica, by Georgette Heyer
“Instead of picking up yet anotherPride and Prejudice knockoff (Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, anyone?), die-hard fans can get their fix of masterful prose, sparkling characterizations, and perfectly choreographed courtships from Jane Austen’s true heir, Georgette Heyer (aka “The Queen of Regency Romance”), in this surprisingly modern tale of an inveterate bachelor who finds himself saddled with responsibility when he falls for the eldest sister of a large and rambunctious family.”
—Pauline Chen, whose second novel,The Red Chamber, was recently released in paperback ($16,amazon.com).
Drift, by Jon McGoran
“This is a rare rip-roaring read that’s also about something very serious—in this case, genetically modified foods. It’s somehow both escapist fun and a scary real-life wake-up call.”
—J.I. Baker, whose debut novel, The Empty Glass ($16, amazon.com), is newly available in paperback.
32 Enthralling Summer Reading Books For Kids Of All Ages
Summer break is upon us! Your kids can’t wait to hit the pool, hang with friends or escape to camp. You’re worried they’ll forget how to read — the dreaded “summer slide” looms in your mind — so you look around for something to throw in the swim bag or camp suitcase.
But what’s that you say? The toddlers have eaten all their board books? The elementary schoolers have read everything on their shelves? The tweens and teens think reading is boring and they’d rather hang at the local pizza joint? Not to worry! HuffPost blogger Devon Corneal has compiled this collection of wonderful titles even the most reluctant readers won’t be able to resist. Check them out, and add your own suggestions in the comments.
Where’s the Pair?, by Britta Teckentrup
8: An Animal Alphabet, by Elisha Cooper
I Don’t Want to Be a Frog, by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt
Wait, by Antoinette Portis
The Tortoise and the Hare, by Alison Ritchie, illustrated by Nahta Noj
Ice Cream Summer, by Peter Sis
Ella, by Mallory Kasdan, illustrated by Marcos Chin
The Book With No Pictures, by B.J. Novak
Wolfie the Bunny, by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora
Battle Bunny, by Jon Scieszka, and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matthew Myers
Little Bird’s Bad Word, by Jacob Grant
Ten Rules of Being a Superhero, by Deb Pilutti
Max’s Math, by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Sleeping Cinderella, by Stephanie Clarkson, illustrated by Brigette Barrager
Bear and Duck, by Katy Hudson
Skunk, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
Good Night, Firefly, by Gabriel Alborozo
Welcome to the Neighborwood, by Shawn Sheehy
Orion and the Dark, by Emma Yarlett
The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell
The Tapper Twins Go To War (With Each Other), by Geoff Rodkey
Pip Bartlett’s Guide To Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater
Under the Egg, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Anyone But Ivy Pocket, by Caleb Krisp
Story Thieves, by James Riley
Shivers! The Pirate Who’s Afraid of Everything, by Annabeth Bondor-Stone & Connor White, illustrated by Anthony Holden
Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley
Dorothy Must Die, by Danielle Paige
The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Hellhole, by Gina Damico
Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard
Say What You Will, by Cammie McGovern
Summer reading rarely involves as much déjà vu as it will this year. We’ll be reading a new Harper Lee book, “Go Set a Watchman,” only 55 years after the publication of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” We’ll still be looking for that next “Gone Girl,” the thriller fan’s equivalent of Ahab’s great white whale. We’ll be hit with “The Devil Wears Prada” knockoffs, including one that’s actually called “The Knockoff” and borrows just as freely from “All About Eve.” The Stephen King-type chiller, in which a famous writer falls prey to an obsessed fan (sound familiar?), will have been written by Stephen King. It’s called “Finders Keepers.”
And Adolf Hitler will be making a curtain call. For laughs. Anyone interested in “Look Who’s Back,” the comic novel that describes this, will have two soul-searchers to answer: Can I possibly treat a book about this monster as beach reading? And while I’m on the beach (or bus, or plane — this is a great one for travelers) with a hardcover copy, do I keep the jacket off or on? The jacket’s stark caricature is a hoot, but not everyone will think so.
“Look Who’s Back” obviously works as a conversation piece. So does Jon Ronson’s “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.” Entertaining as he is, Mr. Ronson has hit a collective raw nerve with this book’s anecdotal evidence of how much damage the social-media mob can do. Some of his stories, like that of how Jonah Lehrer self-destructed by allowing plagiarism to creep into his book “Imagine” and, worse, lying about it, are already familiar. But Mr. Ronson’s gift is for burrowing into the heart of such messes to find some enduring takeaway. In this case, if you’re already a liar, have you learned nothing from history? Don’t weasel. Tell the truth about your lies.
For readers who need regular reminding about the threat posed by social media’s fake friendliness, Jacob Silverman’s “Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection” is a good scare for the summer. The Orwellian tech-book market is a booming genre, to the point where it’s now reached Beach Book viability. When not overly technical, it can work as a mix of history, science fiction and news you can use. Among the practical points here is Mr. Silverman’s closing suggestion that you start lying about yourself to avoid being accurately pigeonholed. “Don’t be a jerk, but have fun with it,” he recommends. That’s just Tech Etiquette 101.
This summer will bring the first major biography of Joan Didion, a California native who was keenly attuned to sophisticated conspiracies long before Silicon Valley was a place capable of hatching them. “The Last Love Song,” by Tracy Daugherty, is a very hefty book about her, and its most avid readers already know who they are. However piercingly and often Ms. Didion has written about herself, there is sure to be further interest in her story: as the modern novelist who best made ennui sexy; as the tough social critic and political essayist whose pieces take no prisoners; as the wife and parent who has endured such terrible losses; and as the shrewd Hollywood power player, no more noble than any other of that breed. This book has room for all that and an encyclopedia. It comes out in August.
Summer readers love war heroes, too. What is this year’s “The Boys in the Boat” (the 2013 book about an unlikely Olympic quest) going to be? Here’s a curious candidate: “The Ingenious Mr. Pyke: Inventor, Fugitive, Spy,” by Henry Hemming. It’s about a chameleon better known in his native Britain, where this book was published last year with the title “Churchill’s Iceman.” One of this so-called mad scientist’s notable accomplishments was to suggest that the British could use ice strategically in World War II: by building aircraft carriers from a compound of sawdust and ice. Pyke’s ideas weren’t entirely unfeasible, and they weren’t rejected out of hand.
Pyke, who was “like a figure on a Byzantine icon” to the Nobel laureate Elias Canetti, led a life that would have made for a roaring good read from any biographer. But this book contains these magic words: “Only now, following the release of previously classified documents by MI5, can this man’s extraordinary story be told in full.”
The book is not only newsworthy but also has an imaginative structure. Each chapter is presented as a lesson in something Pyke accomplished (“How to Become Invisible”) or at least tried to (“How to Defeat Nazism,” “How to Prevent a War”). He was intrepid, brilliant and bizarre. Any one of those qualities, let alone all three, could land a biography on a summer reading list. Brilliant and intrepid also apply to the subjects of David McCullough’s latest biography, “The Wright Brothers,” another work of blue-chip history from this exalted source. Your dad will love it. You may, too.
Let me now acknowledge having done what thriller writers love doing: burying the lead. It’s “Disclaimer” that turns out to be the “Gone Girl” of the season, even if every publicist with a thriller about a troubled marriage is making that claim. This debut novel by Renée Knight has a great opening hook: Filmmaker finds an unfamiliar book near her bed, then opens it to see it’s a barely fictionalized account of the worst thing she’s ever done. When she looks at the disclaimer page, the part about its being based on no persons living or dead has been crossed out. In red ink.
Beyond that, “Disclaimer” doesn’t begin all that well. It takes a while to show its real strength, which lies in plotting, not prose. As in “Gone Girl,” the author uses contrasting points of view, and we know somebody’s hiding something. Part of the narration comes from the spooky old widower who is using the book as a weapon. We don’t know how the book’s separate pieces and time frames fit together — until we do. Once the gears start moving, Ms. Knight switches her pace to a gallop and keeps the sinister promises her narrative made at the start.
“The Royal We” is for readers who prefer their love affairs straight up, without poison. It’s smart, funny fluff from the fashion-obsessed duo known as the Fug Girls — Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. (Their website, gofugyourself.com, is best enjoyed whenever any well-known person goes out in public with clothes on.) And it’s a roman à clef with inevitable role models: a certain heir to the British throne and his tall, beautiful, fun-loving wife. “The Royal We” makes her an American and has them meet cute on her first day at Oxford. He offers to carry her luggage. She gazes unawares at a portrait of one of his ancestors. “British monarchs do love their syphilis,” she says, and it’s not quite love at first sight. At the end of the book’s opening chapter, she watches him thronged by marriage-minded British aristocrats, waves her drink at one of them and declares, “Well, nobody has anything to fear from me.”
The Fug Girls write like the pros they’ve become. Shanna Mahin’s “Oh! You Pretty Things” sounds more like a first novel, but it buzzes with hard-won wisdom. It describes the life of a personal assistant to Los Angeles celebrities, a line of work Ms. Mahin knows firsthand. This would be sheer voyeurism — which also has its place on summer reading lists, let’s face it — but the book is smarter than that. It’s insightful in illustrating how even a self-described “easy” star can get more and more difficult if given everything he or she wants. More specs on a Starbucks order than on a new kitchen? Sure, the joke’s been done to death. But it doesn’t get old because of the real, coddled craziness that lies beneath it, and because real people get paid to be on the receiving end of this treatment.
Let’s turn at long last to the sine qua non of beach reading: water. William Finnegan’s memoir, “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life,” is the muscle book in this category. From a ’50’s boyhood in California and then Hawaii, when he managed to surf even before school, not to mention after, Mr. Finnegan knew this would be his abiding passion. But he cannot have imagined how far he’d be able to roam. “Barbarian Days” spans early years fighting off Hawaiian bullies to exotic adventures in Tavarua, Fiji, which he sees change from an undiscovered paradise to, later, a private resort for the rich touted on the cover of Surfer magazine.
Surfing is Topic A here, but it inevitably connects with politics (when Mr. Finnegan taught in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1981, students boycotted his classes to protest apartheid), environmental issues (he sees great surf spots both created and destroyed by human enterprise) and much more. Still, he has been in very few places with coastlines where he hasn’t found a way to surf, no matter what else is going on around him.
“Orient,” by Christopher Bollen, is watery, too, thanks to its picturesque eastern Long Island setting. This is a long, engrossing small-town novel in which the narrator’s arrival as a troubled foster teenager roils the local residents’ peace and quiet and sets a string of troubling incidents in motion. The characters are drawn in vivid detail, and the atmosphere is thickly enveloping. That book is a portrait of serenity, however, in comparison with “The Cartel,” a magnum opus coming in June from Don Winslow, who is to the Mexican drug wars what James Ellroy is to L.A. Noir. It’s a long-awaited sequel to one of his greatest, “The Power of the Dog.”
You can’t go many pages in “The Cartel” without the thought of someone or other’s violent death arising. For less dangerous confrontation, consider a couple of books about being entertaining. Sort of. Jon Fine’s “Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear)” is everything a cult-fave musician’s memoir should be: It’s a seductively readable book that requires no previous knowledge of the author, Bitch Magnet or any other band with which he’s played.
Instead, it gets by on lines like: “Onstage I wanted to dominate. I didn’t want to see smiles in the audience. I wanted to see people looking slightly stunned, as if something very large had just struck them and they were trying to calculate whether that collision were very bad or very good.” Mr. Fine, now the executive editor of Inc. Magazine, kept his guitar loud enough to stun himself into hearing loss. His book explains why he’s not sorry to have made that trade.
“Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy” is an anthology of interviews that Judd Apatow, the comedy maestro who got his first big break with the television series “Freaks and Geeks,” about teenagers, started conducting when he himself was only a high school kid. He tracked down every famous funny person he could find, and he must have been persuasive. The book includes a couple of interviews from 1983, including one with Jerry Seinfeld, who sounds only slightly impatient when the newbie interviewer asks him: “When did this all start, being funny?”
This book’s amazing lineup of interviewees is made up of major comic performers and writers: Larry David, Albert Brooks, Chris Rock, James L. Brooks, Key and Peele, Lena Dunham, Louis C. K., Jon Stewart, Michael Che, Stephen Colbert, Mel Brooks. The list goes on. It skews heavily male (Tina Fey is a notable no-show), and the interviews tend to ramble; at this point in his career, Mr. Apatow is on an equal footing with his subjects, and he talks that way. But open this book anywhere, and you’re bound to find some interesting nugget from someone who has had you in stitches many, many times.
“The Knockoff,” by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza, is about more desperate efforts to be entertaining: It describes the frantic process of taking a Vogue-like magazine from paper to app. The over-the-hill editor, the 40-something Imogen Tate, was out on sick leave and missed the transition. She comes back to find a former assistant, Eve Morton, commanding the computers and running the show.
This otherwise fizzy, girly, nicely executed bit of escapism makes Imogen implausibly imbecilic when it comes to all things cyber, even email. (She has it printed out for her? On paper? It’s that bad? Really?) But it steals well and has fun manipulating the generation gap facing Imogen. When she left, she was Queen. When she comes back, she’s lost her front-row Fashion Week seat to a — What? What are these? — fashion blogger!
Naturally, Imogen regrows her claws. And the book does its share of meowing about the entitled young women who now flood the magazine offices, living large because they still live rent-free at their parents’ apartments. Imogen worked her own way up. “One thing she was learning about this generation,” the authors say, “was how secure in the knowledge that they were all very special snowflakes.”
Snowflakes in summer? Sure. In the beach-book market anything goes. A lot of summer releases will do what it takes to get attention. “The Marriage Book: Centuries of Advice, Inspiration and Cautionary Tales From Adam and Eve to Zoloft,” by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen Adler, is a solid anthology, but the Zoloft entry is wedged into the book only for the title’s sake. It’s barely a page and a half long, a mere marketing gimmick.
This year’s Best Marketing honors belong to “Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?” It has a title combining two hugely popular genres. It has two pairs of flip-flopped, red-toed feet on its cover. It shows sand, ocean and blue, blue sky, not a worry in sight. And it bears Lisa Scottoline’s best-selling name, along with that of her frequent writing partner, Francesca Serritella. This book also has words between its covers. They’re O.K., but does it matter? It’s a perfectly engineered summer specimen, sending a Pavlovian message: nothing — nothing — but summer vacation.
Summer Reading List
THE KNOCKOFF by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza. 338 pages. Doubleday. $25.95.
FINDERS KEEPERS by Stephen King. 434 pages. Scribner. $30. (June 2.)
LOOK WHO’S BACK by Timur Vermes. Translated by Jamie Bulloch. 313 pages. MacLehose. $25.99.
SO YOU’VE BEEN PUBLICLY SHAMED by Jon Ronson. 290 pages. Riverhead Books. $27.95.
TERMS OF SERVICE: SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE PRICE OF CONSTANT CONNECTION by Jacob Silverman. 429 pages. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $33.50.
THE LAST LOVE SONG: A BIOGRAPHY OF JOAN DIDION by Tracy Daugherty. 703 pages. St. Martin’s Press. $35. (Aug. 25.)
THE INGENIOUS MR. PYKE: INVENTOR, FUGITIVE, SPY by Henry Hemming. Illustrated. 500 pages. PublicAffairs. $26.99.
THE WRIGHT BROTHERS by David McCullough. 320 pages. Simon & Schuster. $30.
DISCLAIMER by Renée Knight. 336 pages. HarperCollins Publishers. $25.99.
THE ROYAL WE by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. 454 pages. Grand Central Publishing. $26.
OH! YOU PRETTY THINGS by Shanna Mahin. 358 pages. Dutton. $26.95.
BARBARIAN DAYS: A SURFING LIFE by William Finnegan. Illustrated. 447 pages. Penguin Press. $27.95. (July 21.)
ORIENT by Christopher Bollen. 612 pages. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $26.99.
THE CARTEL by Don Winslow. 640 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $27.95 (June 23.)
YOUR BAND SUCKS: WHAT I SAW AT INDIE ROCK’S FAILED REVOLUTION (BUT CAN NO LONGER HEAR) by Jon Fine. 302 pages. Viking. $27.95.
SICK IN THE HEAD: CONVERSATIONS ABOUT LIFE AND COMEDY by Judd Apatow. 489 pages. Random House. $27. (June 16.)
THE MARRIAGE BOOK: CENTURIES OF ADVICE, INSPIRATION, AND CAUTIONARY TALES FROM ADAM AND EVE TO ZOLOFT by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen Adler. Illustrated. 536 pages. Simon and Schuster. $35.
1Gone with the Wind
The 1936 Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the bestselling novels of all time explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. A book to read again and again because, after all, tomorrow is another day.
2The Corrections: A Novel
The Corrections is a grandly entertaining novel for the new century–a comic, tragic masterpiece about a family breaking down in an age of easy fixes. After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson’s disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing specatcularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain on an affair with a married man–or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to. Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home.Stretching from the Midwest at midcentury to the Wall Street and Eastern Europe of today, The Corrections brings an old-fashioned world of civic virtue and sexual inhibitions into violent collision with the era of home surveillance, hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental health care, and globalized greed. Richly realistic, darkly hilarious, deeply humane, it confirms Jonathan Franzen as one of our most brilliant interpreters of American society and the American soul.
3A Soldier of the Great War
No book description can begin to explain the sweep, the sadness, the beauty and thrill of this story. The young son of a prosperous Roman lawyer, whose idyllic life of privilege is curtailed by the Great War tells the story – from the vantage point of old age – of his life, his loves, his escape from the madness of war. Once you pick it up you can’t put it down and once you pick it up you will need to talk about it with everyone you know.
4The Forsyte Saga
This monumental trilogy by the Nobel Prize-winning author chronicles the lives of three generations of an upper-middle-class London family obsessed with money and respectability. The Forsyte Saga enormously influenced views held by Americans and Europeans of Victorian and Edwardian life and it remains an excellent contribution to social history and literary art.
5East of Eden
East of Eden is a work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence. Adapted for the 1955 film directed by Elia Kazan introducing James Dean and read by thousands as the book that brought Oprah’s Book Club back, East of Eden has remained vitally present in American culture for over half a century.
– See more at: http://offtheshelf.com/2014/07/5-books-perfect-for-long-lazy-summers/#sthash.8tPw8PMr.dpuf