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What To Read This Summer

“Bring Up The Bodies,” “Transatlantic,” “And The Mountains Echoed” — we’ll look at this summer’s hot reads.

Reading a book at the beach. (.christoph.G./Flickr)

Reading a book at the beach. (.christoph.G./Flickr)

Summer reads. We need them. We count on them. They take us away. And we need to be taken away in this season.

So, cue the crickets, the surf, the distant lawn mower, the wind in the willows — we’re looking for great summer reads.

“Fifty Shades Of Gray” has cleared the field. It’s a new season. We’ve got orchards and mercy. “Night Film.” “The Unchangeable Spots Of Leopards.” “Sisterland.” Colum McKann’s “Transatlantic.” Monte Cristo. Willa Cather’s letters.  ”Shining Girls.” “Buried In The Sky.”

This hour, On Point: We’re talking great summer reads, 2013.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Mary Ann Gwinn, book critic for The Seattle Times and co-host of American Public Television’s “Well Read.” (@gwinnma) See her picks.

Sarah Bagby, co-owner of Watermark Books and member of the board of directors for the American Booksellers Association. See her picks.

Jessica Donaghy, features editor for Goodreads. See her picks.

Audiobook Excerpts From Guests’ Picks

 

Mary Ann Gwinn’s Picks

“I really love a great non-fiction book. With my training as a journalist, if it’s a great story and it’s based on the truth, that’s kind of a double charge for me.” — Mary Ann Gwinn

The Finish: The Killing Of Osama bin Laden” by Mark Bowden (Excerpt)

Nine Lives: In Search Of The Sacred In Modern India” by William Dalrymple (Excerpt)

The Boys In The Boat: Nine Americans And Their Epic Quest For Gold At The 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown

Mary Ann Gwinn: This is a story of a very homegrown University of Washington crew team … It was in the depths of the Depression. Most of the guys on the team didn’t have two cents to rub together … It’s a heroic story, but it’s not an individual hero. It’s eight boys working together, in some ways subsuming their egos because that’s what you had to do with crew.

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal And The Real Count Of Monte Cristo” by Tom Reiss (Excerpt)

Mary Ann Gwinn: This is the story of Gen. Alex Dumas — the father of the author of “The Count of Monte Cristo.” It turns out that Alex was the son of the slave from Haiti; he was a black man. He rose to the top of Napoleon’s military empire, commanded 50,000 soldiers, and then he got on the wrong side of Napoleon. And Napolepn did his best to erase all memory of this man.

The Burgess Boys” by Elizabeth Strout (Excerpt)

Buried In The Sky: The Extraordinary Story Of The Sherpa Climbers On K2’s Deadliest Day” by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan (Excerpt)

Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson (Excerpt)

The Orchardist” by Amanda Coplin (Excerpt)

Mary Ann Gwinn: I just wish everybody would read this book … It’s set in central eastern Washington around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. That area — before the advent of irrigation — was pretty dry, very sunny, very, very rural. A lot of people make their living of growing fruits … It’s about a very solitary man named Talmadge whose only family member has died so he doesn’t have any connections other than one friend. Two runaway girls stumble onto his property. They are both pregnant. They’re sisters. They have been sexually abused. He ends up taking care of them, and they become his family.

Frozen In Time: An Epic Story Of Survival And A Modern Quest For Lost Heroes” by Mitchell Zuckoff (Excerpt)

The Round House” by Louise Erdrich (Excerpt)

Mary Ann Gwinn: [The protagonist] works in the tribal records office of her North Dakota reservation. She’s married to a tribal judge. She goes to the office one day, and she’s viciously assaulted; she’s raped. And the rest of the book relates the father’s and the son’s attempt to find out who did it and what it does to the family. It is a terrific book, very hard material, but Louise Erdrich is such a magical writer. It also has humor and vivid descriptions. It’s great. It won the National Book Award for fiction this past year, deservedly so.

Capital” by John Lanchester

Bring Up The Bodies” by Hilary Mantel (Excerpt)

Mary Ann Gwinn: This is such an epic, and it will just consume you. She takes the character of Thomas Cromwell, who was sort of Henry’s IV’s fixer/right hand man/henchman. She just fills out his back story … What Hilary Mantel does in a way that I have never experienced from any other writer is she just plumps you down in that time, and you feel like you are living and breathing it … Anne Boleyn is becoming a liability to Henry and Cromwell has to work to get rid of her. It is just suspenseful and riveting and great literature.

My Antonia” by Willa Cather (Excerpt)

Sarah Bagby’s Picks

Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line” by Tom Dunkel (Excerpt)

The Selected Letters Of Willa Cather” edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout (Excerpt)

Pure” by Andrew Miller

Sarah Bagby: It is a wonderful book about an engineer — he’s very ambitious and he’s been charged with emptying Les Innocents cemetery, which is sort of spewing out of itself because so many bodies were put in it during the Plague, and it’s sort of a metaphor for the contemporary life in Paris at that time — this spilling out of refuse … He keeps juxtaposing stability and instability… It’s a very eloquently told story about a class and a country that is just under siege by itself and on the verge of something big.

The Chaperone” by Laura Moriarty (Excerpt)

The Inferno” [reprint edition] by Alighieri Dante

The Astronaut Wives Club” by Lily Koppel (Excerpt)

The Lost Sailors” by Jean-Claude Izzo

A Tale For The Time Being” by Ruth L. Ozeki (Excerpt)

Sarah Bagby: [The novel] contrasts two people: One is a writer with writer’s block in the Pacific Northwest and the other one is a young girl in Japan who has just moved there from Sunnyvale, California because her father lost his job in Silicon Valley. Once she gets to her new home, she’s bullied relentlessly because she’s bigger, she’s different, she hasn’t grown up with all these other kids … The beautiful and so-creative thing that Ruth Ozeki does is combines these deep issues with popular culture, so the voice is very contemporary, yet very smart and engaging.

Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson (Excerpt)

And The Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini (Excerpt)

Sarah Bagby: The latest is a little bit of a departure for Khaled Hosseini. It begins in Afghanistan; it’s set also in Paris, Greece, San Francisco … It is a book where the politics are more off the page and there are stories of individual lives. In the background is political upheaval and the history of the politics in Afghanistan. It opens with an incredibly moving fable in which a father has to sacrifice one of his children to save the rest of them. And he’s eventually given something to erase his memory so that he can forget about this child that he sacrificed in order to just sort of live his life. Anyway, that sort of sets the themes of the book … Khaled’s ability to tell a story just is gripping. It’s a book you have to read slowly … He just grabs your heart and has so much empathy for every character.

Sisterland” by Curtis Sittenfeld (Excerpt)

Sarah Bagby: It’s about identical twin sisters. They have a sign on their door, in their house as they’re growing up, that says “Sisterland.” That is sort of emblematic of how close they are — the proximity to each other, the trajectory of their lives. They have a hard time coming apart. But as they grow older, they do need to find their own way. As children they had these powers of ESP.

Fin & Lady” by Cathleen Schine (Excerpt)

Jessica Donaghy’s Picks

“When I was thinking what books to suggest, I took a look at what readers are recommending on Goodreads and really searched for books that are getting glowing reviews and that people can’t seem to stop talking about, wanting to tell their friends about it.” — Jessica Donaghy

The Unchangeable Spots Of Leopards” by Kristopher Jansma (Excerpt)

Night Film” by Marisha Pessl

Jessica Donaghy: I can’t think of the last time I stayed up so late reading, trying to finish a book, and scaring myself half to death — honest-to-goodness, throat-clenching fear while reading this book.

Transatlantic” by Colum McCann (Excerpt)

Jessica Donaghy: Colum is calling this book his most Irish novel to date. It’s historical fiction and it weaves together several different stories. At its core it’s telling the story of four generations of women who were descended from an Irish house maid in the 1800s. These women, their lives intersect with real men from history. And these men are all men who made significant transatlantic crossings … He just really connects these stories across about 150 years of history.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler (Excerpt)

The Firebird” by Susanna Kearsley

The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes (Excerpt)

The Spy Who Loved” by Clare Mulley

The Spark: A Mother’s Story Of Nurturing Genius” by Kristine Barnett (Excerpt)

The Telling Room: A Tale Of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, And The World’s Greatest Piece Of Cheese” by Michael Paterniti

The Likeness” by Tana French (Excerpt)

Listeners’ Picks

Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver (Excerpt)

Ladies’ Night” by Mary Kay Andrews

And The Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini (Excerpt)

“Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo (Full text)

“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë (Full text)

I Did Not Come To You By Chance” by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Entwined With You” by Sylvia Day (Excerpt)

Journey By Starlight” by Ian Flitcroft

House Of Leaves” by Mark Danielewski

In The Blink Of An Eye” by Walter Murch

American Nations: A History Of The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures Of North Americas” by Colin Woodard

Double Cross: The True Story Of The D-Day Spies” by Ben MacIntyre (Excerpt)

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Bluejay2fly

    Anybody have any good nonfiction recommendations, I like History or Sociology? My picks are Freedom’s Forge, Himmler’s Crusade, The Hawk and The Dove, Ota Benga, King Leopold’s Ghost, The White Cascade, Last Call, Guests of The Ayatollah, The Siege of Mecca, and Path Between The Seas to name a few.

    • ToyYoda

      Debt: The First 5000 Years by Graeber. Fascinating look into history and sociology of money and debt. Its about 500 pages long. Engaging and often counter intuitive to the myth of money’s origin. I hope OnPoint interviews the author.

      • Bluejay2fly

        I used my usual tact and looked up some reviews on amazon about the book. Many people (17) blasted him for making unsupported statements and interjecting too much opinion into the work. I am curious what you think. Also, anymore recommendations?

    • Cherie Messore

      “The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II” by Denise Kiernan. It’s fascinating!

      • Bluejay2fly

        A friend of mine has always held the theory that women made better assembly line workers and equipment operators than men because of their attention to detail and the fact the do not abuse equipment. I’ll be curious to see if that is brought up. Thanks

    • suzieinnewport

      I ploughed through Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilization, about the contemporary Middle East, in one weekend (800 pages). This British reporter’s take on the Middle East, from his firsthand experience, is unbelievably informative and well-written, and lays the ground for understanding much of what is going on now.

      • Bluejay2fly

        Thank You I will look into it. Andrew Bacevich has some interesting ideas you might want to check him out.

  • ToyYoda

    I’m reading Visions of Infinity by Ian Stewart. Its a survey of the most recently solved great problems of mathematics and the current progress on the unsolved ones.

    Also reading or doing “Problem-Solving and Selected Topics in Euclidean Geometry: in the Spirit of the Mathematical Olympiads” by Louridas. Its a Springer Verlag publication my favorite publishing house.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

    I just read Stephen King’s “Joyland,” which attracted me because of its retro pulp-novel cover (yes, I judged a book by its cover). I used to read King a lot when I was a teenager (like most people probably did) but had stopped reading him about 10-15 years ago because I just wasn’t finding his work that enticing anymore.

    “Joyland” is a short novel, but it really blew me away. It’s a great summer read, set as it is in a seaside amusement park in the summer and fall of 1972–very nostalgic. It’s basically a coming-of-age story with a hint of a ghost story. Obviously it’s not great literature, but it was a lot of fun and I found I couldn’t put it down.

  • Chris Sterling

    No better summer read than To Kill a Mockingbird! 

  • Ed75

    One can read something light for summer, or use the summer to read a difficult book since one isn’t distracted. I would suggest

    Brad S. Gregory ‘The unintended Reformation: how a religious revolution secularized society’ Harvard, 2012.

    It seems to me to be the first successful explanation of how we got where we are from the time of the Reformation, which is so complex and multifaceted a progression, and how different it is from the Middle Ages, which were in some ways better.

  • Nathan Paradis

    I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) – Chuck Klosterman. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1091744903 Tracy Estabrook Boal

      Just read an excerpt of this recently, and am looking forward to reading the rest. I laughed out loud from the snippets.

  • GarretWoodward

    My new book, WHEREVER PARTICULAR PEOPLE MAY CONGREGATE, will be released this summer. Following my trials and tribulations as a boozing Upstate New York lapsed Irish Catholic running around as a reporter in an Idaho Mormon small town. It’s the sequel to my acclaimed debut novella Bumblef**k. Check it out!!!

    • Bluejay2fly

      Looks good, Thank You

  • geraldfnord

    Science fiction (new): “Neptune’s Brood”, Charles Stross…read its predecessor “Saturn’s Children” first.
    Contemporary satire: “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”, or at least the first two-thirds—biting satire of the Seattle élite.
    Old favourite: “The Stupidest Angel”, Christopher Moore—Christmas and zombies, before zombies sold out; “Declare” by Tim Powers…fantasy on a theme by Kim and St John Philby.
    Laff-riot: Orson Card’s “Hamlet”—teh gays are the ones who are to blame!

  • suzieinnewport

    I appreciate any show about summer reading, but I do feel like making the observation that it seems that the prose style so many of the recommendations in contemporary fiction participate in “realism,” i.e. using language to try to paint a picture of reality (suggesting that language is transparent to reality) rather than on reflecting on problems of language itself, as always in disjunction with reality, or mediating reality…I guess what I am trying to say is that mass media discussions of literature tend to be as low brow as possible (no doubt out of fear of frightening an American audience with too much intellectualism), turning away from the complexities of literature itself, which can be really interesting. It would also be intriguing to think about why certain types of works appeal to people now…

    But overall, I appreciate the show and also like a good story. Forgive me if this seems too harsh.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.donnelly.355 Kevin Donnelly

    “Pelican Road” by Howard Bahr.  The Southern railroad on the cusp of WWII. 1940. Two men: and engineer who is fading into alzhiemers and a conductor suffering from PTSD from WWI. Pelican Road is the ‘run’ between Meridian, Miss and New Orleans.  Many vivid characters with a love story of a poetess.

    Howard Bahr also wrote “Black Flower.”  The battle of Franklin, Tennessee.  Great historical detail to both, vivid characters and compelling stories.

  • mluhtala

    As a school librarian in New Canaan, CT , I am delighted to hear these picks. We posted our summer reading list to GoodReads this year to encourage online book discussion throughout the summer months. We will also lend the school’s copies of summer reading books to our town library so that our students can continue borrowing school library materials while school is out of session. Happy summer reading, and thank you for highlighting one of the best things about summer!

  • JackieGarrison

    Any suggestions for YA/middle-grade fiction for my kids?

    • LaurelynK

      Try “Tournament” by Goebel/Jacisinova. My 13 years old son went through it in 2 days and he is a “reluctant” reader. Here is a blurb.

      In 2014, a worldwide nuclear war demolishes a wide swath of the planet. Alaska, the only part left of the United States, joins with the other surviving countries to set up a Global Government. Its primary responsibility is to prevent another devastating war. Leadership changes every two years, based on the outcome of the only competitive outlet the survivors can agree on: a worldwide soccer tournament. In 2044, 17-year-old twin soccer stars Jason and Nate are ready to play the game of their lives. But they soon discover that Alaska’s new president has some very special plans and winning the Tournament is the least of their worries.

  • JackieGarrison

    Looking for good summer reads for my teens – any suggestions for the 12-15 ages?

    • Bee0410

      Try ebook “A Pocket Full of Dreams” by Brian Tirrell, its funny magic spoof, about a boy and a Magic School/Adventure with a mini dragon, genie, and a host of magical beings that help him find out if his parents are really dead.  “Crossed” by Ally Condi is somewhat like Hunger Games about a girl that is matched by an infallible super computer to a boy for life, but there may be a mistake.  “Dualed”, also vaguely like Hunger Games is about a society where everyone has a twin but only one is allowed to survive. All good reads.

      • Bee0410

        Sorry, “Matched” is the first book, “Crossed” is the second, start with “Matched”.

  • PBann

    Sorry I missed most of teh show. I am reading a great book by a local a loca author. Called Awakening: Nikey & Tee. Is is erotica for teh Sy/Fy fantasy set with a dose of issues. Good read and fun.

  • marygrav

    Why don’t you do right should be the theme song for streaming ON POINT because it is seldom that you provide streaming service in a timely manner.  You put up the sample, but not the entire show to be heard.

    DO RIGHT NOW.

  • tbphkm33

    I have been reading through the mysteries by Håkan Nesser, picking up the e-books via the public library on my Nook.  I do find that I read more with the Nook.  My all time favorite is still Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks – although, its written in the English style of the 1840s in the U.S., so a lot of people find it difficult to get into.  

  • Potter

    Good to see Les Miserables by Victor Hugo on this list. It took awhile to read but well worth it.

  • edoardoballerini

    A wonderful list. I was particularly pleased to see you include audio clips for each title (I narrated “The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards”) but I was surprised to see that not all audio clips included the narrator’s name! Tough to have an audiobook without a reader… I hope you’ll include this information in future posts.

    • Suzy Hillard

      As an avid listener to audiobooks, I agree that it’s great that there’s a list of audio books with clips accompanying this article.  I also agree that the list should have included the narrator’s name.  Narrators can make or break a book; they can add to or detract from the listener’s enjoyment. (The USOL looks like a good read – I just put it on my audio wish list at the library.)

      • edoardoballerini

        Thank you, Suzy! Very kind of you to weigh in on this, and I do hope you enjoy USOL. I thought it was brilliant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002426831123 Richard Goodwin

    My first novel, Scattershot, has been called great beach reading, which I guess means you can enjoy it while getting sand up the crack of your ass.

    Drifter, boozer, slot machine fanatic with unruly hair, twenty-three-year-old Wicker plans to win enough in Vegas to get his stuff out of storage, buy a van and never work again. He winds up with a lot more than he bargained for when he hitches a ride with Edna, a wayward oldster with a woozy agenda of her own. Chasing after this unlikely pair is Edna’s only son, who fears his scatterbrained mother has finally gone off the deep end. Is Edna losing her mind or having the time of her life?  Scattershot is a weird, wild, darkly funny love story unlike any other in contemporary fiction.Available from Seedpod Publishing and On Demand Books.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002426831123 Richard Goodwin

    My first novel, Scattershot, has been called great beach reading, which I guess means you can enjoy it while getting sand up the crack of your ass.

    Drifter, boozer, slot machine fanatic with unruly hair, twenty-three-year-old Wicker plans to win enough in Vegas to get his stuff out of storage, buy a van and never work again. He winds up with a lot more than he bargained for when he hitches a ride with Edna, a wayward oldster with a woozy agenda of her own. Chasing after this unlikely pair is Edna’s only son, who fears his scatterbrained mother has finally gone off the deep end. Is Edna losing her mind or having the time of her life?  Scattershot is a weird, wild, darkly funny love story unlike any other in contemporary fiction.

    Available from Seedpod Publishing and On Demand Books.

  • RAPatterson

    I recently finished an eBook called “A Shot Through The Heart” by JC Antonelli. I really enjoyed it. It’s the kind of summer book I like: filled with fun, adventure, love, and lots of witty humor, and some really great characters. It’s a light, easy read. I liked it so much I also bought Antonelli’s other book “Stripped Down” and have not been disappointed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1006962847 Robin Miles

     Edoardo Ballerini is one of the most compelling narrators I have ever encountered, and I’d pick up a book, regardless of the author, if I saw his name on it.  There are several others I would include on that list of stellar voices that will lead me to pick up a book I’ve never heard of for the pleasure of settling down with their compelling ability to tell a story. All that to say, I hope in the future, you will include the narrator’s name in your suggestions.  Or better yet, I’d love to have a list of “killer” narrators whom you follow: since I know the read will be good, maybe I’ll discover a new and memorable writer as a result.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1006962847 Robin Miles

     Edoardo Ballerini is one of the most compelling narrators I have ever
    encountered, and I’d pick up a book, regardless of the author, if I saw
    his name on it.  There are several others I would include on that list
    of stellar voices that will lead me to pick up a book I’ve never heard
    of for the pleasure of settling down with their compelling ability to
    tell a story. All that to say, I hope in the future, you will include
    the narrator’s name in your suggestions.  Or better yet, I’d love to
    have a list of “killer” narrators whom you follow: since I know the read
    will be good, maybe I’ll discover a new and memorable writer as a
    result.

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