Summer Reading: Plenty of books to pique readers' varied interests


On a Memorial Day weekend visit to Washington, D.C., the array of titles at Kramerbooks & Afterwords in fashionable Dupont Circle made me giddy. And the delicious crab cake I ate in this bookstore that's also a cafe and bar fortified me for a hunt through the shelves.

Of the four titles I purchased, Colum McCann's novel "Let the Great World Spin," most intrigues me because I was once mesmerized by Philippe Petit, the ebullient French acrobat, as he performed in New York City's Greenwich Village. Mr. McCann's novel is set in 1974, the year Mr. Petit strung a wire between the World Trade Towers and walked across it.

Luckily, choosing your summer reading does not require walking a tightrope; that's the job of publishers seeking the right mix of tales to offer. Whether you hold a Kindle, Nook or an actual book, there's a high tide of tantalizing new titles. No need to drown in the wave because Bob Hoover, the Post-Gazette's retired book editor but still discerning reviewer, has some suggestions.

For fiction, Mr. Hoover enjoyed Richard Ford's "Canada" and British author Hilary Mantel's "Bring Up the Bodies," her brilliant follow-up to "Wolf Hall," a series inspired by Britain's Tudor dynasty during the reign of Henry VIII.

For nonfiction, Mr. Hoover suggests "The Path to Power," Robert Caro's fourth volume on the political career of Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Hoover also liked Douglas Brinkley's 800-page "Cronkite," a biography of broadcasting legend Walter "That's the Way It Is," Cronkite, and Gregg Allman's memoir, "My Cross to Bear."

"Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West" is out in paperback. It's a nonfiction account of the adventures two women had while teaching in Colorado, written by Dorothy Wickenden, executive editor of The New Yorker.

Librarians like to say that they are the ultimate search engines and many of Seattle-based author Nancy Pearl's fans would agree she's an ace detective when it comes to tracking down worthwhile reading.

Ms. Pearl's best-selling work, "Book Lust," appeared in 2003, and she has five other books about literature to her credit (as well as a Librarian Action Figure modeled in her likeness). During a recent phone interview, she recommended the novel "Silver Sparrow" by Tayari Jones. Set during the 1980s in Atlanta, this is the story of two young African-American girls, one of whom discovers that her father has another family.

Ms. Pearl also liked Ben Fountain's new novel, "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," a tale of American soldiers based in Iraq who take a two-week victory tour of America to shore up support for the conflict. While in the United States, the soldiers attend a Dallas Cowboys football game and meet Beyonce and Destiny's Child at half time. It's been described as the "Catch-22" of the Iraq War.

For a creepy, suspenseful mystery, Ms. Pearl suggested "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn, a novel due out this week. "You will not be able to figure out the end at all. I could not sleep the night after I read it. It's really good," Ms. Pearl said. "It's about the way we deceive ourselves and deceive others."

If you're interested in the dynamics between fathers and sons, just out in paperback is Arthur Phillips' "The Tragedy of Arthur," a funny and intricate novel, set up as a fake memoir. Arthur Phillips' father, also named Arthur Phillips, is a convicted forger who is just getting out of prison. "He tells his son that he has, in his possession, a manuscript of a lost Shakespeare play called 'The Tragedy of Arthur,' " Ms. Pearl said. The son can't decide if this is his father's last best con or if the manuscript is real. "One of the best parts of it is that the main character really hates Shakespeare."

Cynthia Richey, executive director of the Mt. Lebanon Public Library, recommends Anne Tyler's "The Beginner's Goodbye," a novel about a widower's continuing relationship with his late wife. She also liked John Irving's "In One Person," the novelist's masterful account of Billy Dean's memory and desires. Ms. Richey also suggested "The Lifeboat," a first novel by the 57-year-old Charlotte Rogan, which The New York Times called "impressive and harrowing."

Elizabeth Evans, library director at Point Park University, recommends anything by Bill Bryson, whose last work was the 2010 "At Home: A Short History of Private Life." She's also reading "A History of the World in 100 Objects" by Neil MacGregor.

Knopf is publishing two debut novels this summer. The first, due out June 12, is "Seating Arrangements." Author Maggie Shipstead unveils the circumstances of a summer wedding being held off the coast of New England and the dynamics between an unrepentant pregnant bride and her WASPy, old-school father. Peter Heller's "The Dog Stars" is set in a post-apocalyptic future and has been described as "The Road" meets "A River Runs Through It."

If your favorite recipe for diversion includes a wedding, steel magnolias and Southern intrigue, try "Spring Fever" by Mary Kay Andrews, a former journalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who has written eight novels. If you'd rather read a novel that digs beneath the surface of Southern gentility and still makes you laugh out loud, try Kathryn Stockett's "The Help."

As a fan of the wisecracking Sarah Vowell, I'm eager to read "Unfamiliar Fishes," a witty look back at the Americanization and annexation of Hawaii. Also on my list is "Caleb's Crossing," an imaginative novel about a Native American boy who went to Harvard, by Geraldine Brooks. Both are recently out in paperback.

Many adults trace their lifelong love for reading to the influence of a librarian or teacher, and I'm no exception. At the end of a day in a fourth-grade classroom at St. Michael elementary school in Indianapolis, Maureen Hart read chapters from "Charlotte's Web," the enduring children's classic by E.B. White. A well-dressed woman with long dark hair, Mrs. Hart dramatized the story by creating voices that matched the main characters of Fern, Wilbur and Charlotte, the only spider I've ever liked.

Now, it's my pleasure to be reading Michael Sims' nuanced, thoughtful book about how the early life of Elwyn Brooks White influenced him to write that captivating story. Mr. Sims' book is "The Story of Charlotte's Web: E.B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic." First published last year, it was just released in paperback.

Mr. Sims, who lives in Greensburg, speaks at 6 p.m. June 21 at Carnegie Library's Main Branch in Oakland. Admission is free but registration is required through www.pittsburghlectures.org or 412-622-8866. His appearance is sponsored by Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures.

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Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648. First Published June 3, 2012 4:00 AM


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