Written by on July 21, 2009

Summer Reading


While there’s still plenty of summer left, a few reading ideas from different places. The cover art above is Amazon’s list of Best of the Year… so far, from their Omnivoracious blog. The Library owns these:

Cheever: a Life
Let the Great World Spin
The City & the City
Crazy for the Storm
Sag Harbor

I can personally vouch for Sag Harbor, and it’s a perfect summer read: plenty of humor, a beach setting, a dash of wistfulness, and numerous references to waffle cones. Brooklyn and Let the Great World Spin are both on my wanna read list. Brooklyn is set in the 1950s, in Ireland as well as New York, and is described by Pam Houston as “A classical coming-of-age story, pure, unsensationalized, quietly profound.” Let the Great World Spin is also set in New York, but in the 70s, and among other things, concerns Frenchman Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers (which was also the subject of the documentary film Man on Wire). From Frank McCourt’s review:

Now I worry about Colum McCann. What is he going to do after this blockbuster groundbreaking heartbreaking symphony of a novel? No novelist writing of New York has climbed higher, dived deeper.

There are dozens of intimate tales and threads at the core of Let the Great World Spin. On one level there’s the tightrope walker making his way across the World Trade Center towers. But as the novel goes along the “walker” becomes less and less of a focal point and we begin to care more about the people down below, on the pavement, in the ordinary throes of their existence. There’s an Irish monk living in the Bronx projects. There’s a Park Avenue mother in mourning for her dead son, who was blown up in the cafés of Saigon. There are the original computer hackers who “visit” New York in an early echo of the Internet. There’s an artist who has learn to return to the simplicity of love. And then–in possibly the book’s wildest and most ambitious section–there’s a Bronx hooker who has brought up her children in “the house that horse built”–“horse” of course being the heroin that was ubiquitous in the ’70s.

All the voices feel realized and authentic and the writing floats along. This was my city back then–and now. McCann has written about New York before, but never quite as piercingly or as provocatively as this. This is fiction that gets the heart thumping.

For fans of Oprah picks, here’s a list of 25 books you can’t put down, running the gamut from Poems from the Women’s Movement to my favorite title, The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards. Speaking of promising titles, Pulitzer, Hugo, and Nebula winner Michael Chabon has a nonfiction book coming out in October, Manhood for Amateurs.

For those looking to take a more educational tack, here’s a link to UC Berkeley’s Summer Reading list. This year’s theme: Best Books about Science. The books are recommended by a variety of people from the Berkeley campus, and a short bio follows each title. Themes from previous years include “Now That’s Funny” and “Favorite Book when I Was 18.”

The National Public Radio site has quite a few lists. It’s not too late to cast your vote for the 100 Best Beach Books, but in the meantime, check out the titles nominated by listeners so far. Click here for links to all NPR’s recommended summer reading for the year, including summer nonfiction, librarian Nancy Pearl’s selections, Independent Booksellers’ Best Reads, Best Fiction for Every Kind of Summer Day, Best Mystery and Crime Novels…

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