Paging summer readers! A baker's dozen of books for the season
June 12, 2016 12:00 AM
By Tony Norman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When you ask for a list of summer reading from the PG’s book editor, you may not get the light and airy recommendations you expect. After all, I once spent an entire vacation at the beach reading Jonathan Harr’s “A Civil Action,” a spellbinding, but dour chronicle about cancer clusters in New England river towns. My wife was not amused.
Chances are you’re going to buy a certain kind of mass-market book with “grey” or “girl” in the title whether I recommend it or not anyway, so why waste time listing them here? The following are a few summer books guaranteed to make your next vacation, staycation or commute to work more satisfying.
“Underground Airlines” by Ben H. Winters. Imagine a modern United States in which the Civil War never happened. Slavery is still a reality, but it is only sanctioned in four states. Instead of the Underground Railroad, there’s Underground Airlines. The HBO series adaptation writes itself at this point.
“The View From the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction” by Neil Gaiman. In this varied and entertaining collection of essays, the best fantasy writer since Stephen King holds forth on a variety of topics from film and comics to Samuel R. Delany and Chesterton. He’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers on the craft of writing, too.
“The Girls” by Emma Cline. What went into forming the girls in the Manson cult? The fictional narrator in this coming-of-age novel explores the obsessions of a 14-year-old girl named Evie and how they led her into the orbit of some very dangerous older girls in thrall to a cult leader in the late 1960s.. Evie looks back on her crime decades later for clues to who she once was and what she could’ve been. Lots of buzz about this debut novel and deservedly so.
“The Gene: An Intimate History” by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Look, there’s a whole lot you don’t know about genes even if you’re a doctor. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, has written what can only be described as the definitive biography of the gene. No, it isn’t dry. It’s lively and accessible science writing at its best.
“All Things Cease to Appear” by Elizabeth Brundage. There’s a farmhouse. A young mother with an ax in her head. A bad marriage. A house full of likely suspects. There’s also lots of jumping back and forth in time to gather back stories so that lies and clues make sense. Nothing is as it appears, but you probably guessed that from the title.
“How to Write Like Tolstoy: A Journey Into the Minds of Our Greatest Writers” by Richard Cohen. Those of us who write for a living, or aspire to write greater things, are always looking for an edge and a process that supports it. The British-born writer and publisher Richard Cohen gives it to us with “How to Write Like Tolstoy.” Does it work? We’ll see.
“Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley. The creative genius behind FX’s “Fargo” series has penned a novel about a plane crash, a young survivor and the events that led up to the disaster. The quirkiness that makes “Fargo” so enjoyable is here as a garnish. This is a complex exploration of human nature in an age of celebrity.
“Barkskins” by Annie Proulx. This is a sprawling 700-page book by one of our best novelists about two 17th-century woodcutters in Canada that you’re going to buy no matter what the critics say. Ms. Proulx traces the fate of the descendants of Rene Sel and Charles Duquet for 300 years. The language is exquisite.
“Florence Foster Jenkins: The Life of the World’s Worst Opera Singer” by Darryl W. Bullock. In the annals of people with a lack of self-awareness, there has never been a case like the not-so-great Florence Foster Jenkins. Even though she couldn’t hold a note to save her life, her fans ranged from Cole Porter to Bowie and Streisand. What’s the secret of her success? Read this hilarious book and see the movie, starring Meryl Streep.
“But What If We’re Wrong?” by Chuck Klosterman. Every time I read one of Chuck Klosterman’s books, I fall into despair because it is always exactly what I’d have written if I had his discipline and sense of intellectual adventure. Here, Mr. Klosterman explores the inevitable failure of all of our certitudes. I’m sure you’ll love it, too, but who knows?
“The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future” by Kevin Kelly. You’ll learn more in the first 30 pages of this book than you’ve learned all year. This is an addictive read by a real visionary explorer of the intersection of technology and society.
“Game of Thrones Psychology: The Mind Is Dark and Full of Terrors” edited by Travis Langley. Look, there’s going to be at least one person in your life who doesn’t connect to great literature or nonfiction that doesn’t have a fantasy/sci-fi element to it. Give that person a copy of this book. It gathers essays about George R.R. Martin’s texts and the HBO series that are actually literate, well-written and informative. Dwarves and dragons have never been more relevant.
“Trump Nation: The Art of Being Donald” by Timothy L. O’Brien. The re-release of this seminal work that prompted a multibillion-dollar lawsuit from The Donald himself got the poop on this phony way back in 2005. Every sensible American ought to read it so that they’re well armed the next time a nihilistic uncle prattles on about why he’s voting for Trump over Hillary or Bernie.
Information about the book ”The Girls” has been updated to correct errors in the original summary.
Tony Norman is the Post-Gazette’s book review editor: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631.
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