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


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)

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