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Great Summer Reads

From “50 Shades of Grey” to “Canada.” We’ll take a look at the best books for the summer.

Beach reads (aafromaa/Flickr)

Beach reads (aafromaa/Flickr)

There’s a particular state of bliss you may know.  Lazy summer afternoon.  Porch swing.  Beach.  Hammock.  A good book.  A glass of lemonade.  And nothing to do but read.  All it takes is the time, and that book.  The one that sweeps you away.  Takes over.  Takes off.

If you want that state of bliss, you’ve got to have it.  Maybe it was Moneyball once for you.  Or Sea Biscuit.  Or Somerset Maugham.  This summer it’s risky business.  Handcuffs in Fifty Shades of Grey.  Beheadings in Bring up the Bodies.  And much more.

This hour, On Point:  Great summer reads, 2012.

-Tom Ashbrook


Maggie Galehouse, book critic for the Houston Chronicle.

David Ulin, book critic for the Los Angeles Times.

Jessilynn Norcross, owner of the McLean & Eakin bookstore in Petoskey, Michigan.

From Tom’s Reading Lists

Check out the GoodReads.com list of best summer books. Publisher’s Weekly has their list here. Good Housekeeping keeps their list here. The Independent has an interesting list here.  As does the Daily Beast and the LA Times. And the New York Times. The Boston Globe compiles a list for younger readers.

Check out our guest list of top summer reads

Jessilynn Norcross
1. “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio (Pub: 2/14/12)
2. “Imperfect Passage” by Michael Cosgrove (non-fiction) (Pub: 6/5/2012)
3. “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline (fiction, new in paperback on 6/5/2012)
4. “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett (fiction, new in paperback on 5/8/2012)
5. “The Cove” by Ron Rash (fiction) (Pub: 4/10/2012)
6. “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn (fiction) (Pub: 6/5/2012)
7. “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey (fiction) (Pub: 6/5/2012)
8. “The Expats” by Chris Pavone (fiction) (Pub: 3/6/2012)
9. “Heading Out to Wonderful” by Robert Goolrick (fiction) (Pub: 6/12/12)
10. “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter (fiction) (Pub: 6/12/12)
11. “Lost in Shangri La” by Mitchell Zuckoff (paperback non-fiction) (Pub: 4/24/12)
12. “The Last Policeman” by Ben H. Winters (fiction – due out July 10)
13. “The Prisoner of Heaven” by Carlos Ruiz Zafron (fiction – due out July 1)

Maggie Galehouse
1. “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed (Pub: 6/1/2012)
2. “Cronkite” by Douglas Brinkley. (5/29/2012)
3. “Home,” by Toni Morrison. (Pub: 5/8/2012)
4. “Between the Lines,” by Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha Van Leer. (Pub: 4/30/2012)
5. “Carry the One,” by Carol Anshaw. (Pub: 3/6/2012)
6. “Thrall,” poems by Natasha Trethewey. (Due on 9/11/2012)
7. “The Mighty Miss Malone,” by Christopher Paul Curtis. (Pub: 1/10/2012)
8. “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America,” by Gustavo Arellano (Pub: 4/10/2012)
9. “Almost Invisible,” by Mark Strand. (Pub: 3/13/2012)
10. “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened,” by Jenny Lawson. (Pub: 4/17/2012)

David Ulin

1. “The Twenty-Year Death” by Ariel Winter (Pub: 8/7/2012)
2. “Journalism” by Joe Sacco (Pub: 6/19/2012)
3. “The Way the World Works” a collection of essays by Nicholson Baker (8/7/2012)
4. “Soul of a Whore and Purvis: Two Plays in Verse” by Denis Johnson (6/5/2012)
5. “The Drowned World: 50th Anniversary Edition” by J.G. Ballard (7/23/2012)
6. “Diaries” by George Orwell (8/20/2012)
7. “Alif the Unseen” by G. Willow Wilson (6/19/2012)
8. “Winter Journal” by Paul Auster (8/21/2012)
9. “Why Does the World Exist?” by Jim Holt (7/16/2012)
10. “The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire” by Ted Gioia (7/6/2012)

Caller Picks
Game of Thrones
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Red Plenty
The Gilder
The Sun Also Rises
Vladimir’s Moustache
Harry Potter 
Night Circus
50 Shades of Grey
Rain of Gold
Congo Jack
A Man with Ants in His Eyes 
The Metamorphosis
Ready Player One
The Healing
A Covert Affair
Pride and Prejudice
Nothing Daunted
They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?
There’s a Porcupine In My Outhouse
The Loved One
Loving Frank 
Hope: A Tragedy
Laundry Series
Touching the Void
Sand County Almanac
Ringing Cedars
Brand New Human Being

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  • Hidan

    Game of Thrones until book three

  • Real Fake Dan Savage

    Note that people within the kink community dislike the portrayal of the love interest as being kinky solely because he’s been damaged, and (spoiler) stops needing it because the heroine loves him so much…it evidently doesn’t work that way.

    • Zig

      It’s fiction. As in, make-believe.
      Why should it matter to anyone what’s portrayed? If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

      “..it evidently doesn’t work that way.” is irrelevant.

  • Gerald Fnord

    Charles Stross’ “Laundry Series”—computers can do magic, and so are more dangerous than you can imagine, up to and including summoning the Old Ones…and the agency designed to deal with it is a bureaucratic mess:
    “The Atrocity Archives”
    “The Jennifer Morgue”
    “The Fuller Memorandum”
    …and, coming soon,…
    “The Apocalypse Codex”

  • J__o__h__n

    I recently enjoyed Shalom Auslanders’ Hope: A Tragedy.

  • Stillin

    Anything from the African/Caribbean writer series, stories you can read, and reread and reread, they are the best.

  • Nutricj

    I am 75% through WILD, and cannnnnot put it down!

    • Blueyedogs

       I felt the same way. I just finished it and I LOVED it!! She is pretty cool,doing something so incredible on her own.

  • Greyman

    All contemporary titles, hoorah and hooray. Now how about contemporary work not yet published in print form, appearing only online? Also: what do today’s contributors make of the politics of contemporary publishing? The narratives and genres privileged by publishers, agents, and reviewers are never necessarily what holds up because of media mania with–contemporaneity. Also: their take on the state of literature itself (“literature” with and without capitalization).   

  • Ian Tobey

    Ready player one was fantastic. I highly recommend it to all!

  • Dawn

    Just read Loving Frank and really enjoyed it.

  • caricerafferty

    My Summer read epiphany was during early teen years in high school

    The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh about the funeral business in Los Angeles.


    The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

  • AlisonO

    As an outdoorsperson, I just discovered a local author (Massachusetts), Michael Tougias, whose book, There’s a Porcupine in My Outhouse still makes me laugh every time I think of it. Sales of the book should be accompanied by a pair of Depends undergarments. If you love the outdoors, it’s that funny.

  • Jekrugman

    Just have to say how terrible the Shades of Gray series is. Every house wife I know loved it – but it’s really the most horrible writing I’ve ever read. Beyond the initial titillation of the 1st book it’s a poor story line and such a horrible read!

    • J__o__h__n

      So only masochists should inflict reading that book on themselves? 

      • Mel

        LOL perfect!  Yes, and every single time he is “down there” and instructs you to love this book, you will instantly comply, as if it is actually possible for any human being in the history of the world to do something like that on-cue. Every time.  This book is full of stupidity and the phrase “down there” and that’s about it. Masochists should go find some BDSM writing that is actually realistic and healthy before they develop some kind of unhealthy complex from the misguided inexpert ridiculousness of this book.

  • Greenjohnm

    Zorro by Isabel Allende is more fun than I can begin to say.  Allende tells the back story of the Zorro legend: the caped avenger’s childhood and coming of age.  Nobody had done this before, so she has free rein to let her imagination go wild, and go wild it does.  The book has everything: swordfights, earthquakes, pirates, secret societies, the Spanish Inquisition, a good love story, a dose of the supernatural, and much more … and the crazier and more flamboyant it got, the more I loved it. It’s the literary equivalent of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

  • AJ

    I’m really looking forward to Christopher Buckley’s latest, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? Political satire at it’s best. And in this political climate, we could all use a little levity.

  • GrammieK99

    in love with Haruki Murakami, loved 1Q84, Windup Bird Chronicles! Also enjoy anything by Sherman Alexi..

    • Alan in NH

       to which I’d add Murakami’s “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World”

  • Nora

    “Nothing Daunted” by Dorothy Wickenden
    Engaging and personal.

  • Brianna

    Just read Pride and Prejudice for the first time (I’ve owned/watched the newest movie adaptaion for a while). The book did not disappoint. At 22, I was able to relate with the characters, and it was also fascinating to learn how marriage and love was viewed during Austen’s time, and which parts of marriage have evolved and which parts are just the same then and in the 21st century.

  • Briannna

    Am also reading A Covert Affair” about Paul and Julia Child’s time in the OSS. Fascinating!

  • Nutricj

    For foodies, The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat, by Thomas McNamee is a gripping nonfiction about Craig Claiborne who pretty much started the food journalism as we know it in the USA. His story is crazy drama, stranger than fiction stuff

    And, just in caseyahmissed it last summer, cant let anyone miss Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision. Collection of her short stories = perfect on the beach!

  • Tallgirlnyc

    I’d like to recommend my own novel, Collette’s Caleb, as a summer read.  It tells the story of a woman’s experience as a personal assistant to a celebrity/fashion designer and the love triangle she unwittingly finds herself in between him and his co-star. It’s a fun fast read and has great reviews on Amazon, where it’s available. I am the former personal assistant to Matt Damon and used my experiences in the entertainment business as a whole to create the story.
    Trinette Faint

    • KTraugh

      I LOVE Collete’s Caleb, it was an easy read that kept you glued to the book from beginning to end :)  

  • Jwburgess (Joseph Burgess)

    From Joe Burgess, 72-year-old Kentuckian, who has read Huckleberry Finn 17 times, starting in 1949 –

    It was the summer of 1951 when I discovered about 10 of the original Tom Swift series on my maternal grandparents’ bookshelf.  Read every one of them that summer

    Would recommend as a companion read to the new Cronkite bio the most-trusted man’s own autobiography from some 20 years ago — A Reporter’s Life.

    In fact, going back for summer reading is a great source.  For instance, Great Plains by Ian Frazier — PrairyErth by William Least-Heat Moon.  And Dorothy L. Sayers for sure.  I’d recommend starting with Five Red Herrings and then going to The Nine Tailors.  After that, any order, but Busman’s Honeymoon must be left for last.

  • J__o__h__n

    I hated assigned summer reading.  Nothing will kill a student’s interest in reading more than forcing him or her to read a book for school during vacation.  Lifelong reading for pleasure isn’t developed by reading knowing that there will be a test or a report due. 

    • Nutricj

      I would hit “like” a thousand times, could I

  • Ken

    I recently discovered Cara Black’s series, starting with Murder in the Marais, and continuing in other areas of Paris, such as Murder in Belleville, Montmarte, Latin Quarter, etc.  Her stories take the reader on a tour of Paris with her detective, Aimee Leduc.  Especially interesting is the connection of her cases with history, e.g., the deportation of Jews in WWII, Algerian revolution.

  • Jane

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned “Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel.  It’s a sequel to the equally fabulous “Wolf Hall.” Even if you think you know too much about Henry VIII, these amazing novels about Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s politically astute advisor, are beautifully-written explorations into Tudor England.

  • http://www.uml.edu/dickens Beth from NH

    This year is the bicentenary of Charles Dickens, and I’d
    like to cast a strong vote for using this summer to read or reread one of his



    I hadn’t really read Dickens since high school. But over the
    past year, I’ve listened to four of his novels on audiobooks and have been
    totally amazed to discover just how wonderful a writer he is. He’s an
    incredible storyteller. He’s terrifically funny. But what’s surprised me is how
    moving his work can be, and how vividly many of his novels speak to our own
    lives today.



    Right now, the city of Lowell, MA, where I work, is doing a
    “One City, One Book” program featuring Dickens’s Great Expectations. And UMass Lowell and Lowell National Historical
    Park are hosting a wonderful exhibition about Dickens travels in America. So
    it’s a great summer to rediscover Dickens. http://www.uml.edu/dickens 

  • feettothefire

    Anything and everything by Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and Mark Twain. 

  • Johnathan Gower

    A relatively unknown author who has written some fascinating books is Nescher Pyscher (Neh-sure Pie-sure).  I have had the privilege of experiencing “Tales of the Fallen,” a first novel that defies categorization.  The back of the book states it is a “Matryoshka Nesting Doll of a story,” and a “dystopian fantasy.”  For a dark and fantastical experience . . . try it!

  • TN Mystery Fan

    To me, a beach read is ‘pulp fiction’, a good mystery or crime novel.  Three of the best authors in this genre all have new books coming out this month- James Lee Burke, his daughter Alafair Burke, and LA crimewriter Michael Connelly.  All of these authors reach beneath the surface of the plotline to flesh out their characters and provide motivation and emotion that involves the reader.  A warning: All of these books are the latest installment of a recurring character series, and Alafair Burke’s character is the only one that is not in double digits in appearances.  While highly recommending all of these books without needing to read them, I recommend looking back first. 

  • Msrichards

    Oh please read “Train Dreams” by Denis Johnson. It is an unforgettable, haunting, gorgeously written short novel.  
    Anyone who was awed by “Out Stealing Horses” or “Tinkers” will not want to miss this masterpiece.

    • Thebibit

       Thanks for the recommendation, I adored “Out Stealing Horses”.  I just added myself to the wait list at my library. Lucky for me it’s a short novel; there are 35 holds on it!

  • Sasha

    You must reat “Not Under My Roof” by Amy T. Schalet!!!!!!! It is an incredible book written by a professor of Sociology at UMASS Amherst. It will really make you take a pause when it comes to parenting and how you talk about sex with your child. A must read!!!
    Below is the description:
    For American parents, teenage sex is something to be feared and
    forbidden, and sex is often a source of family conflict. In the
    Netherlands, where teenage pregnancies are far less frequent than in the
    United States, parents aim above all for family cohesiveness, often
    permitting older teenage couples to sleep together and providing them
    with contraceptives. Probing our child-rearing for what it tells us
    about our culture, Not Under My Roof offers an unprecedented, intimate account of the ways girls and boys in both countries negotiate sex, love, and growing up.

  • http://twitter.com/aloysiusokon Aloysius Okon

    Read “Ready Player One”. IT WAS AWESOME! Any more books like it, folks?

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  • AnitaC1040

    I only heard part of the show, but I can’t wait to read some of the suggestions.  The Snow Child sounds interesting. I am reading The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. So far so good. I just finished reading all three Hunger Games books. Very fast reading. Did’t like having to put them down and go on with my life/job/responsibilities.  My husband just finished the second book in the Game of Thrones series and is just loving it.

  • Mel

    I’m disappointed that something as horribly written as “50 Shades of Grey” would be mentioned as a recommendation on a quality radio show like On Point.  People may love the fact that a book with explicit sexual situations is marketed differently than a simplistic romance novel.  It gives them license to read titillating material without a lot of embarrassment.  However, they would do well to seek out a book that was actually written by someone with a bit of writing skill, and edited by actual publishing editors.  If they want to read sex scenes, they shouldn’t be subjected to middle-school-level vocabulary, phrasing, structure and tone.  This book was written as fan fiction by a Twilight fan online and then the names were changed.  The author seems to have had no professional editing assistance whatsoever when her story was subsequently published as an original.  No matter how intriguing a plot may be, a book is ruined by horrendously substandard writing.  Readers seeking this kind of intriguing story should read actual fan fiction online where they would find volumes of superior stories from hundreds of far more talented writers.  Readers could at least stick with books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover or the thousands of romance novels that come out each year from professional writers and editors. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/valeriefrank Valerie Hirschorn Frank

      They didn’t actually RECOMMEND people read 50 Shades.  In fact, as I recall 2 critics said they couldn’t even get through it.  They simply discussed the fact that so many people have read it.  

      • Jennifer

        If I were putting together a piece about recommended summer reading, I wouldn’t even mention books that are not to be recommended.  I hesitate to even comment here, since I don’t want to give it any more interest than it already has.  Ick.  

      • Nutricj

        Yes, and one went as far to say that the writing is pretty bad and that if you want porn, then just read porn (not a perfect quote, but close). None of the panel brought it up. I think Tom asked about all the fuss and what to make of it and they briefly insulted, made fun and moved on.

  • Sue

    fun (true) summer reads- historical wisconsin…”Rascal” by Sterling North..and “The Land Remembers” by Ben Logan. 

  • Liz

    I’m sorry I missed calling into the show.  I recently finished a really fun novel, the perfect beach book.  It’s called “Drake’s Coffin” by Michael D. Urban.  It’s an ebook but I think you can also get it in paperback.  It’s about Panama and the search for gold in the jungle.  At first I thought it was a young adult novel but it kept my interest.  It really takes off and has quite a plot.  I think it will be part of a series.  And speaking of series, you can’t beat Lee Child, hands down.

  • http://www.bestinclassblog.blogspot.com/ Leigh Pourciau

    Tom, you asked on the show if we listeners use eReaders or paper books. On my education blog this week, I wrote an argument for “real books” while another writer (who digitizes archives for a living and is a librarian’s son) wrote an argument for eReaders. It was a lively exchange. 
    Enjoy: http://bestinclassblog.blogspot.com/2012/06/are-you-digital-or-tangible.html.

  • Blueyedogs

    If anyone is still reading comments,I cannot say enough good things about “Wild”!! One of my favorite books of all time. Tom,you should interview the author. She is funny and inspirational and I bet you would love her book.

  • AvidReader

    Lots of great options for my commute, thanks!

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  • Gloriabaek

    The Fault in Our Stars is really amazing. It’s by John Green and made me both laugh AND cry. It is really realistic and very inspirational. It is classified as a young adult book, but I would recommend this book to EVERYONE. I’m telling you, if you read this book, you are not going to regret it.

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Sep 3, 2014
This still image from an undated video released by Islamic State militants on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, purports to show journalist Steven Sotloff being held by the militant group. The Islamic State group has threatened to kill Sotloff if the United States doesn't stop its strikes against them in Iraq. Video released Tuesday, Sept. 02, 2014, purports to show Sotloff's murder by the same rebel group. (AP)

Another beheading claim and ISIS’s use of social media in its grab for power.

Sep 3, 2014
In this Fall 2013 photo provided by the University of Idaho, students in the University of Idaho’s first Semester in the Wild program take a class in the Frank Church-River Of No Return Wilderness, Idaho. (AP)

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