By Randy Kraft, Special to the Independent
Ah, summer reading. A holdover from school days. The delight of burying your face in a book while surreptitiously surveying bodies on the beach. I love that moment at day’s end when I plop in my sand chair and read until sun sets. It goes with the season, whatever your reading of choice. Here are a few recommendations, in no special order – most in paperback, for those who prefer the printed page, and a few fabulous hardbacks you can drag or download.
If you prefer fiction, “The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht, is a compelling story of a young physician in a Croatia-like country in search of her grandfather’s history, who encounters strange legends and unusual characters. One of my favorites, “The Hand that First Held Mine” by Maggie O’Farrell, is a gorgeous tale that goes to the heart of the parent-child bond. Like an old-fashioned novel? Try “Someone at a Distance” by Dorothy Whipple, a new take on an old tale of a couple struggling under the weight of time. Speaking of marriage, “The Story of a Marriage” by Andrew Greer, is an exquisite look at folks in the aftermath of WWII facing the many restrictive values of mid-century America. Or go all the way to Mormon marriage in “The Lonely Polygamist” by Brady Udall, in which a cultist with 28 children is a surprisingly endearing character. If you prefer edgy writing, “When the Killings Done” by T.C. Boyle pits two environmentalists on opposite sides of the Channel Islands. Boyle tells great stories with incredible detail; you’ll know more about rats and invasive plant life than you ever imagined! Check out “The Upright Piano Player” by David Abbott, in which a successful retiree discovers that his life is not what it seems and the outside world is a dangerous place.
Mysteries are of course great for beach and plane, and while I don’t read many, Jane Hanauer at Laguna Beach Books recommends the novels of Susan Hill, Reginald Hill and David Ignatius. I like the espionage of Brad Thor and the softer Irish whodunits of Tanya French, and the chilly Oslo of “The Snowman” by Jo Nesbo will cool a hot day. Or go back to Sherlock Holmes, the model for all great mysteries.
On the non-fiction front, “Life” by Keith Richards is a surprisingly well-told page-turner of the Rolling Stones mate. Fabulous on audio, read by Johnny Depp. Speaking of legends, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, is the shocking and absorbing reportage of one woman’s unwitting contribution to the advancement of modern medicine. If you are a foodie, read the Lonely Planet anthology, “A Moveable Feast,” which presents writings on food across the globe. Also Gabrielle Hamilton’s delicious memoir of a chef’s calling, “Blood, Bones & Butter.”
Food takes us to France, where in David McCullough’s “The Greater Journey” we discover the French as progenitor of America. And no one writes history for the masses like McCullough. If you love all things Paris, read “Parisians” by Graham Robb, a closer look at what makes those folks tick. You might also enjoy “The Paris Wife” by Paula McClain, a fictional account of Hemingway’s early days. Better yet, read Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” the original homage to Paris.
Speaking of travelers, one of the masters, Paul Theroux, has penned “The Tao of Travel,” an anthology that spans time and place. Or stay within our borders and read “The Lost Continent” by Bill Bryson, an oldie but goodie that chronicles small-town life in 38 states. Anything by Bryson is recommended. You will learn much while you’re chuckling. If you haven’t read “The Geography of Bliss” by NPR’s Eric Weiner, you will enjoy this look at the happiest cultures on earth. And, for animal lovers, “Inside of a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz, reveals the truth that canines are not people, and their behaviors ruled by their noses not fancy. Speaking of “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell’s treatise is just out in paperback.
If you prefer to challenge your literary brain this summer, go back to the Russians – the translations of Richard Pevear and Lirissa Volokhonsky bring Tolstoy and Dostoevsky alive. I recommend “Crime and Punishment” and “Anna Karenina.” The books weigh a ton [think download] and will take a lot of time, but that’s what summer holiday is for, isn’t it? Happy reading.
Randy Kraft is a free-lance writer and the OCBookBlogger at www.OCInsite.com