Summer reading means many things -- the thrilling page-turner of the moment filled with suspense or horror, action or romance; the absorbing, thoughtful, beautifully written novel that you have the time and the long days to read; or the always-meant-to-read classic you are finally getting around to. And that's just for fiction! Many people catch up on the great narrative nonfiction books of the year that all the reviewers have been praising; the latest research in their professional field; or those wonderful travelogues of the places you're going, or wish you were going, this summer. Books for summer reading -- an exciting time to go to your bookstore and quiz your local booksellers on the best reads to fit your, and your family's, tastes. We're ready when you are!
John and all Dieselfolk
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Not since reading Robinson Crusoe in front of my grandparents' fireplace as a child have I so thoroughly enjoyed a book of this genre. Jamrach's Menagerie is a high-adventure coming-of-age tale so beautifully written, it left me literally gasping and almost moved me to tears. The story begins in a working class, English coastal town at the turn of the last century -- not the most likely of places for a young boy to encounter a tiger loose on the street, let alone find himself being carried around in its mouth. This potentially tragic situation catapults the boy into a world of exotic wonders he had only dreamed about. Birch employs brutal, vivid imagery, yet balances it with insightful, emotional counterpoints. Battling demons, both real and imaginary, forever changes the characters and ultimately impacts their survival. The result is a riveting read from start to finish -- and one that lingers with you long after you have turned the last page. -- Cheryl Ryan
I was under the flat impression that Charles Portis was primarily a writer of westerns, most famously True Grit. As it so often happens, I was grossly mistaken. Masters of Atlantis, one of several Portis-penned novels reissued recently by Overlook Press, tells the story of the Gnomon Society, a fictional secret society based on the esoteric teachings of the sunken city Atlantis along with the higher truths of the universe told through complex triangles and Pythagorean exegeses. But this is not a novel about mathematics -- rather, Masters of Atlantis is about the oddball origins of the brotherhood, its wacky founders and brethren, and the things they get themselves into, all in the name of Gnomonism. It isn't, however, heavy-handed, highfalutin', or overly thoughtout. Written in superb deadpan with absurdist, black humor, Masters of Atlantis is simply one big comic invention and a true pleasure to read. It can go everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It can have a character whose name changes three, perhaps four, times in the first page and a half. And it doesn't have to make any large statement other than this: "I'm fun and you'll like me." -- Geo Ong
There are many reasons I could give for why you should read a book about the death penalty: cold, hard, fact-based reasons, like the chilling statistic that to date 17 people who have been executed in this country have since been exonerated by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project (and that even one is too many). But really, my own opinions on the issue are irrelevant, and Dow's searing memoir can be approached equally well as a death penalty proponent, opponent, or as someone who has no real feelings on the issue at all. Dow, who defends death row inmates in Texas, occupied the first position before coming firmly around to the second, and his reasoning is much more ethically than morally based. Dow doesn't like most of his clients; he thinks even fewer of them are innocent. But the system he sees is a broken one, corrupted and corrosive -- death by a drunk executioner swinging a rusty blade. The stories that make up Autobiography of an Execution are exercises in frustration, Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare, and heartbreak. And yet: Dow tempers all this with prose that is more Hemingwayesque in its simple, stark power. And yet: the overall effect is as pulse-poundingly intense as the best John Grisham thriller -- and a thousand times more emotionally resonant, as it's all true, each life and death that of a real person. Forget politics: this is a book about people, and it should be read. -- Anna Kaufman
Adults have always loved children's books -- the books they grew up with along with new ones with well-imagined storytelling and stunning illustrations. But there is a third type of children's book that adults turn to: books written for adults in picture book format. The latest in this less-publicized genre is Go the F**k to Sleep. Artfully written poems and beautiful illustrations combine to graphically articulate the frustrations of trying to get a child to go to sleep. The imaginative range and verbal cleverness equal the perennial favorites among children's books: just what our childish adult hearts desire. -- John Evans
Jacob is a 16-year-old suburban kid who hates his job, is indifferent about his parents, but loves his grandfather. The old man used to tell Jacob fantastic stories of his peculiar childhood, stories that Jacob loved but always suspected were fabricated. But after a family tragedy sends Jacob to a small island off the coast of Wales, he begins to realize that, incredibly, his grandfather's stories are quite literally true. More importantly, Jacob discovers that his previous, all-too-ordinary existence was, all along, anything but, and that he may be the most peculiar one of all. A quirky fantasy, lovingly told and very well constructed. Ages 12 and up. -- Grant Outerbridge