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What is it about summer reading that feels different? We want our books to be engrossing, entertaining and enlightening. We want a book that we can't put down. Memorial Day weekend is the official kick-off to summer. And it is always a good idea to have some enticing books at hand for summer reading -- whether it's in the backyard, at the beach, or on vacation. After combing through various book reviews, magazine articles and websites, I came up with the following list of ten intriguing summer books. Each one is guaranteed to take us away even if we stay home this summer. Please feel free to add your own suggestions and together we can create a great list.
You might think that after The Paris Wife there was nothing new to say on the subject of Hemingway and his wives. But there is more to the story. In Mrs. Hemingway: A Novel we learn that Hemingway married four of his mistresses: Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gelhorn and Mary Welsh. Naomi Wood explores the idea that the dashing Hemingway was never in short supply of women; after all, he was Hemingway! What was unusual was the number of those women he wanted to marry. He seemed to need the stability of marriage and the security of a wife at home to relieve him from the strain of writing. But he also needed excitement for his books and that's where the mistresses came in. Naturally there were always women happy to move into either position: that of wife or mistress. The Hemingway myth continues to fascinate us. This book about the women who adored him may bring us closer to understanding this complicated genius.
A new novel by Michael Cunningham is always an occasion. His books are smart and enlightening; they ask a lot of questions about life that sometimes have no easy answers, but they always make us think. In his two previous books "The Hours" and "By Nightfall", Cunningham took classic tales of literature -- "Mrs. Dalloway" and "Death in Venice" -- and updated them for the modern reader. The title of The Snow Queen is taken from the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. It would seem that this book is also loosely based on a classic tale, this time a fairy tale. The book starts with a fairy tale kind of event: one of the main characters see a mysterious light in the sky and becomes obsessed with it. The question is: was it a brush with the divine or simply an airplane or a cloud? Set in New York, the plot concerns two unhappy brothers with messy and complicated lives, searching for some meaning in life. Cunningham's books are always beautifully written and filled with ordinary people trying to navigate the challenges of modern life. I loved "The Hours" and "By Nightfall."
For the armchair travelers among us, The Vacationers sounds like the perfect summer read. It takes us away to the Spanish island of Majorca. The Post family go on this trip together but by the time they reach their destination things are far from perfect. They have gone through a crisis which will play out on the vacation. Here is what I have learned about this book: it is beautifully written; Majorca is vividly evoked; and the characters are deliciously appealing. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy and be swept away to Majorca in what looks to be a very appealing family tale.
I was lucky enough to hear the former editor-in-chief of "Gourmet" magazine Ruth Reichl talk about her new book Delicious! A Novel here in Los Angeles. She told us about the genesis of the novel. She had been on a book tour for more than a month after "Gourmet" closed its doors and when she came back to pack up, the offices were empty. When she opened the door to the magazine's library she thought what if this was a fabulous Victorian library? What might happen next? The book starts with a culinary bang (I am about 50 pages into it). The heroine Billie Breslin wants to work at a food magazine called "Delicious" and in order to get the job she has to first cook for its editor. She has an extraordinary talent for creating recipes and understanding flavors and her recipe for Gingerbread will knock your socks off. The book tells the story of this enterprising young woman finding her way in the big city, learning about herself and discovering her passions along the way. It seems as if it will be a love letter to New York as well as to the culinary arts. So far, I am obsessed with the idea of making that Gingerbread in the fall!
True Story/Crime Caper
Advance word about this soon to be published crime caper is that it should be made into a movie. And I must say the story, which is true, sounds fascinating enough to be a film. The Map Thief concerns E. Forbes Smiley III, a rare maps dealer, who made millions of dollars stealing priceless maps. The genteel world of cartography seems an unlikely setting for a crime book. But Forbes was cutting valuable maps out of rare books with an X-Acto knife for years, slipping them in his blazer, and and taking them out of esteemed libraries such as Yale's Beinecke, Harvard's Houghton, Chicago's Newberry, the British Library in London and the New York Public Library. Smiley sold the maps for big sums of money, including a 1742 Boston City plan for $185,000.00. It is amazing that he got away with it for so long. In all, there were 97 maps sold for around $3 million. The FBI finally caught up with him. Who knew the world of antiques maps could be so cut throat!
Newly released English classic
It's always fun to discover a neglected classic that is finally back in print. In this case there are three titles by Angela Thirkell that have been released by Virago Modern Classics: Summer Half, August Folly, and The Brandons. Each one sounds like the perfect summer read. If they are anything like Wild Strawberries (read more here) they will whisk us away to an idyllic English summer between the two wars. Think summer fetes, strawberries and cream, tea on the lawn, cricket matches, and young people falling in love. You can order them here.
Vintage Style Book
Rebecca Tuite has written a book about the history of the all-American preppy look: Seven Sisters Style. She went to Vassar College and during her time there became fascinated with the iconic look that was born in the fifties and sixties at the Seven Sisters colleges: Vassar, Mt. Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, etc. Even though styles are much different on those campuses today, there is a legacy that lives on. Jackie Kennedy, Sylvia Plath, Ali MacGraw and Katharine Hepburn all went to a Seven Sisters college and they shared a distinctive sense of style. This book traces it to their formative experiences at their respective Seven Sisters college. Think boyfriend blazers, bermuda shorts, plaid kilts, tennis sweaters and knit polos. That unique sensibility is the premise of Rebecca Tuite's book. She explores this iconic look that still lives on at campuses and in popular culture today in three manifestations: the tomboy, the prepster, and the ladylike society girl. From everything I have read, this book can be read from cover to cover, or dipped into every now and then as it sits on the coffee table. It looks like a beauty.
Molly Wizenberg is the creator of the hugely popular food blog Orangette. Her first book A Homemade Life was on the New York Times bestseller list. In her new book Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage she tells how she and her husband opened a restaurant in Seattle, sparking the first crisis in her young marriage. I am so inspired by Wizenberg's creative spirit and the passion she brings to the topic of food. This book is part love story, part restaurant industry tale. It is being described as charming, funny and poignant. I can't wait to read it.
In 1982, twenty-year-old Nina Stibbe moved from the countryside to London to become nanny for the two children belonging to London Review of Books editor Mary-Kay Wilmers and the director Steven Frears, whose films include "Philomena" and "The Queen." Stibbes writes home to her sister every week about her adventures living with this bohemian and intellectual family. As she says, "Being a nannny is great. Not like a job really, just like living in someone else's life." Of course this household is not your typical household; it was often filled with artistic and intellectual personalities. The playwright Alan Bennet was a neighbor and regular guest at the dinner table. Stibbe's charming and hilarious letters are collected in this book and form a memoir of her life as a London nanny. They consist mostly of dialogue and one critic has said she recounts the family conversations with a playwright's ear. Maybe the result of hanging out with Alan Bennett? This book is supposed to be very funny and has been compared to the writing of Helen Fielding.
Summer is garden season and it is always fun to discover a new garden book. Virginia Woolf's Garden was published back in October but is just starting to appear in bookstores. I bought it on my recent trip to New York. The book tells the story of the magical garden at Monk's House where Caroline Zoob lived with her husband as tenant-curator for ten years. It gives us an extensive look at the garden Leonard lovingly created for his wife Virginia so she could get some relief from the strains of writing. I was lucky enough to visit Monk's House last October and the garden was beautiful (read more here). You could almost hear the echoes of late-night conversations and feel the spirit of Virginia's writing. The day we visited the apple trees were so heavy with fruit they touched our heads as we walked below. It is a glorious garden to visit. This book will take you there.