Summer Scouting Report 2016: Your Seasonal Reading Guide

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Publishing, like fashion, has its seasons, and summer is generally not the time to pile on the heavy stuff. Instead, it’s the time to showcase lighter, airier material better suited to the heat. For many, summer reading means books that won’t have you breaking a sweat with excessive intellectual exertion. But, as in fashion, don’t expect one size or style to fit all: Many readers use vacation time to play catch up or wake up – delving into substantive literary projects they don’t have time for when they’re tied up with work. Below, some smart, enticing books coming out in June, July, and August that should provide sizzle and stimulation for a range of tastes.

 

LITERARY LEMONADE

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

The ever-witty Schine inverts Philip Larkin’s line about how parents inadvertently mess up their kids. (He put it more pungently.) In her sparkling new novel, it’s well-meaning adult children who do a number on their elderly parents, encroaching on their independence. Her spirited, newly widowed octogenarian refuses to take the diminutions and indignities of old age lying down. (June)

Lily and the Octopus by Steve Rowley

Lily is a twelve-year-old dachshund; the octopus is a cranial tumor attached to her head. The author is a screenwriter who decided to write his way through the grief of losing a beloved dog. The result is a surprisingly charming reminiscence that’s more than merely heartwarming – though heartwarming it surely is. (June)

 

Siracusa by Delia Ephron

Best known for her film collaborations with her sister Nora (including You’ve Got Mail) and her comic novels (including Hanging Up), Ephron’s latest is a suspenseful, psychologically acute tale about two couples on a shared vacation in Sicily whose stressed marriages blow up like twin volcanoes, strewing the ash of nasty secrets everywhere. (July)

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood

This mother-daughter story and love-song to the power of literature seems tailor-made for book groups – a good one to read on vacation and talk over in the Fall. It’s about a woman who, lonely after the breakup of her 25-year marriage and concerned about her troubled grown daughter, joins a book group that asks each member to present the book that matters most to them. Their choices reveal a lot. (August)

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Davis’ atmospheric debut, a murder mystery set in the famous Barbizon Hotel for Women on Lexington Avenue, toggles between 1952 and the present, when a journalist whose personal life is unraveling lands in the now-condo-ized Manhattan landmark. Intrigued by the rumors of a “deadly skirmish” that took place decades earlier between a hotel maid and one of the handful of old residents who still lives in a rent-controlled apartment there, she decides to investigate – and finds plenty of distraction from her troubles. Readers will too. (August)

FAR VOYAGERS

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Born in Ghana, raised and educated in the United States, Gyasi has written a powerful, propulsively readable first novel that explores the impact of slavery over centuries. This multigenerational saga follows the descendants of two half-sisters born into radically different lives in 18th century Ghana – one married off to a white Englishman who lives in a castle, the other shipped to America and sold into slavery. (June)

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

Here’s an antidote to the August heat: Ivey’s historical epic, set in the winter of 1885, charts an arduous expedition up the Wolverine River to map the newly acquired Alaska territory and its indigenous tribes. (August)

 

 

How I Became a North Korean by Krys Lee

Lee’s debut story collection, Drifting House, was shake-you-to-the-core powerful. Her first novel, inspired by her experiences providing humanitarian aid to North Korean refugees, addresses the dire plight of political defectors and the unsquelchable persistence of hope in similarly searing prose. (August)

 

FAMILY DRAMA

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell

O’Farrell loves to peel away the shiny surfaces of her characters’ lives to reveal the unsightly complications underneath. Her latest novel features a love story between a man and a woman fleeing old hurts – he from a bitter divorce and custody battle, she from fame – who find each other in a secluded rural village in Ireland. Alas, his past catches up with him to threaten their bliss. (July)

The Inseparables  by Stuart Nadler

A comic, trenchant novel about changing sexual mores, privacy, and three generations of spiky women in a family whose messy lives threaten to become even messier when their newly-widowed, cash-strapped matriarch’s scandalous, sexy cult classic is re-issued. Nadler’s first line dangles the hook: “As usual, the book only made her problems worse.”(July)

 

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER?

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

The author of The Vacationers turns her bright focus on friendship over the long-haul through a tight-knit group of former college bandmates – a straight couple and a lesbian couple — living in gentrified Brooklyn. When their teenaged children fall in love, it opens up a whole new perspective on their current relationships — and their youth. (May 31)

Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

This engaging first novel begins with a question posed by one of four close college friends in 1995: “If you could know the answer to any question, what would it be?” Two think big, wondering about the meaning of life and what happens after death. Another quips about next week’s lottery numbers. Adams follows the appealing Brits — two artsy types, a banker, and a physicist, split between the sexes — through their ups and downs and the ins and outs of their relationships over the next twenty years. (June)

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam

In his sensitive, sharply observed first novel, Alam explores how a tight friendship between two girls begun in early adolescence in upscale New York City is challenged as they are pulled in different directions in their thirties. The title is from an overheard comment made about the pair by high school boys. (June)

 

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Children’s book author Woodson, who won a National Book Award for her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, has written a haunting novel for adults about four vulnerable teenage girls growing up “amazingly beautiful and terrifyingly alone” in the hopeful but dangerous Brooklyn of the 1970s. Their friendship and ambitions are disrupted by an especially painful betrayal. (August)

 

MENTAL AEROBICS

So Much For That Winter by Dorthe Nors

Two novellas by Danish writer Nors capture the disconnect of 21st century romance in playful formats: One is written entirely in lists, the other in headlines. (June)

 

 

 

But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman

Its topsy-turvy jacket design is the first tip-off: Never mind thinking outside the box, these provocative, amusing thought experiments turn some of our most basic, generally accepted assumptions on their head – including those pertaining to gravity. (June)

 

Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra

The Chilean author of the story collection My Documents has modeled his latest seriously clever mind-bender on the standardized Chilean Academic Aptitude Test. Beginning with the very first section, which involves flagging the “Excluded Term” that doesn’t fit with the others, Zambra’s book is like yoga for your brain. (July)

 

Textbook by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

A sort of nonlinear memoir, this collection of quirky meditations and musings by the author of Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life is organized by “subject” – math, history, language arts – and offers an interactive text messaging component. Tweetworthy or twee? You decide. (August)

 

 

UTTERLY BEACHWORTHY

I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan

A novel that encourages risk-taking and shaking things up by the author of Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Feeling stuck and dissatisfied despite her relative good fortune, twice-divorced 50-something optometrist Georgia Young decides to quit her job, reinvent herself and – yes – get her groove back.

 

The Voyeur’s Motel by Gay Talese

Talese reports the truly shocking story of the man who first contacted him anonymously back in 1980 (around the publication of They Neighbor’s Wife) to describe how he had bought a Colorado motel in order to spy on and classify the sexual activities of his guests. Thirty-five years later, Gerald Foos is finally ready to let Talese tell his sordid tale. Not your typical beach book, perhaps, but you may want to read this compulsive page-turner – which raises all sorts of fascinating journalistic, moral and legal issues — under cover of an umbrella. (July)

 

How to Party with an Infant by Kaui Hart Hemmings

A screwball charmer from the author of The Descendants about a single mom obsessed with her ex-boyfriend — the father of her child — who is now marrying another woman. She finally cooks up a kooky recipe for happiness when she meets some kindred spirits in a San Francisco Mommy Club and enters their cookbook-writing contest. (August)

 

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

If you lap up contemporary updates of classics like Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible and Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship – two of the latest Jane Austen spinoffs — you’ll want to check out Tyler’s delightful re-imagining of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew set in her beloved Baltimore. Kate Battista is a prickly, sidelined, laughably ill-suited assistant preschool teacher whose father, a researcher at Johns Hopkins on the verge of a major breakthrough, cooks up a plan to kill two birds with one stone: find a husband for his daughter and prevent the imminent deportation of his indispensable lab assistant Pyotr by arranging their marriage. How will a modern woman react to such a sexist scheme? (June)

LIFE LESSONS

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

Practical philosopher de Botton extracts life lessons from wherever he can find them, including Proust and newspapers. In his first novel since On Love (1993), he turns his attention to what happens after the honeymoon and argues that “love is a skill rather than an enthusiasm.”   This thought-provoking anti-romance tracks the 13-year road to realism of a couple named Rabih and Kirsten to illuminate how relationships mutate over time. It’s not all grim: de Botton offers lots of tips for forging successful lifelong partnerships. (June)

Living With a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin by Ann Patty

Restless in retirement, former book editor Patty decided to embark on an intense study of Latin. Her winning memoir makes the case for finding a passion that floats your boat – and makes you feel buoyant again. (June)

 

 

How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly’s Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life  by Heather Havrilesky

The author of Disaster Preparedness dishes out tart, surprisingly smart, pragmatic advice culled from her popular New York magazine advice column. Havrilesky is not one to shy from calling out selfishness – gently. Responding to sticky questions from a budding Bridezilla about excluding her sister’s new boyfriend or from a woman who wonders about the repercussions of dating her best friend’s ex, Havrilesky urges them to see things from the other side: “This is an empathy test. This is a lesson in maturity. This is the way toward a bigger, more generous heart,” she writes. (July)

 

JUICY LITERARY HISTORY
Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece, The Sun Also Rises by Lesley Blume

The title says it all. Blume shows how Hemingway channeled the debaucheries of his fellow expat chums during the summer of 1925 — including their alcohol-steeped trip to Pamplona, Spain for the running of the bulls — into the making of his own legend and that of the Lost Generation. (June)

A House Full of Daughters: A Memoir of Seven Generations by Juliet Nicolson

A granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and great-granddaughter of the Spanish dancer known as Pepita chronicles the legendary women in her eccentric, aristocratic family, exploring issues of memory, family, and legacy in the process. (June)

 

YOUR SUMMER LITERARY PROJECT

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

Weighing in at 736 pages, you may need the summer to get through this sprawling, often violent epic by the author of The Shipping News. Touted as her masterpiece, this ambitious saga follows three families of woodcutters, a.k.a. barkskins — including descendants of two poor French immigrants and natives of the Mi’kmaq tribe — over 300 years as they deforest the land across continents. (June)

 

 

 

 

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