Heat and I are not friends; ditto humidity. With apologies to the beachgoers, picnickers and other outdoorsy folks, I think I’m just going to cut up some fresh fruit, whip up some cold drinks, and spend my summer inside, sprawled in front of a fan, reading. If you’re inclined to copy my example, here are a few books you can sink your teeth into while you hide from the weather.
The Paris Wife, Paula McClain. The waiting list for this novel is awfully long, but if you’re a fan of either literary fiction or tragic romance, you should place a hold now, because it’s definitely worth the wait. McClain’s lush tale of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage brings 1920s Paris to life through the eyes of Hadley, a timid fearful woman whose life revolves around her soon-to-be famous husband. The Hemingways’ fictionalized courtship, sojourn to the City of Lights, and subsequent break-up (due as much to incompatibility as to expatriate American morals) are both compelling and haunting. If your heart doesn’t break just a little for Hadley by the end of the novel, you might want to make sure you haven’t died from heatstroke.
Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones. A bigamist’s two daughters both live in Atlanta, but only one is aware that the other is her sister. Born only four months apart, but as different as night and day, Dana and Chaurisse both love their father. Chaurisse, however, has never been told about Dana, while Dana knows all about Chaurisse. In fact, Dana’s been spying on Chaurisse since she was a little girl, with her mother’s help; will the secrecy that’s dominated Dana’s life lead her to make irrevocable choices? This is a darkly delicious meditation on the nature of deceit and desire, and how they can lead people down paths they never thought they’d take. Crank up the fan while you turn the pages–this one’s a psychological scorcher.
Witch Child, Celia Rees. Recapture the feeling of “school’s out for summer” by making a foray into teen fiction via this historical novel. The story unfolds via the diary of Mary, an English teen whose grandmother was executed for witchcraft, forcing Mary’s flight to the new world. Matters don’t improve there, however, as the witch craze seizes New England, and anybody who doesn’t quite fit the proper social mold is accused of unnatural deeds…including our solitary, introverted heroine. Will Mary survive and thrive in the colonies? Or will she meet her fate at the hands of the Puritains? If you enjoy this story, you can then move on to Sorceress, the sequel, in which a contemporary teen finds and reads Mary’s journal.
When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present, Gail Collins. New York Times columnist Collins offers a breathtaking micro-history of the feminist movement that will appeal to readers looking for a balanced history amongst all the heated rhetoric. Readers under forty, especially, may find themselves alternately fascinated with and horrified by pre 1960 cultural conditions and the struggles that led to benefits said readers currently enjoy. Collins, however, pulls no punches when it comes to describing setbacks, unforseen consequences, and other wobbly patches in women’s liberation. A clear-eyed, well-researched read for anybody interested in contemporary women’s issues.
33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs From Billie Holiday to Green Day, Dorian Lynskey. Music buffs and casual listeners alike will find something to love in Lynskey’s collection, which begins by defining the term “protest song,” then takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the cultural circumstances under which some of America’s hardest-hitting tunes were composed. Beginning with “Strange Fruit,” Lynskey winds through the tumultuous events of twentieth-century history, highlighting artists such as Woody Guthrie , Dead Kennedys, and the recently deceased Gil Scott-Heron. If you’re curious about the stories behind some of your favorite songs, or just want to learn more about protest music in America, this collection will engross and absorb you!
Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton. When it’s too hot to do anything useful, why not try an imaginary life on for size? Thornton’s in-depth exploration of what it’s like to be part of the contemporary art world allows you to do just that, so if you’ve ever fantasized about working at Christie’s, going to art school, or participating in an international exhibition, this is the book for you. Thornton’s seven chapters provide a fly-on-the-wall view of what it’s like to occupy a different role in the visual arts, from creator to teacher to buyer, delivering an experience that’s sure to both educate and entertain. If you love reality television, why not switch off the set for a second and see how the “warts and all” experience of behind-the-scenes reporting translates into book form?
Hot as it may get, you won’t want to hide from the 11th annual Summer Reading Extravaganza coming up on June 12th. Even I will be there, slathered in sunscreen, and probably wearing a ridiculous hat. And if the reclusive librarian with the sunshine phobia will be there, you have no excuse not to join the fun. Pre-register today so you can dive right into the festivities, or sign up that day and tell the registration staff about all the great books you’ve been reading thus far. And if you happen to catch me before I vanish back into the shadows? We can swap book suggestions and smoothie recipes! Definitely cool, in multiple senses of the word.
pale, pedantic and proud