Summer Reading

What some notables are stacking on their beach blankets this year

Mona Simpson
Mona Simpson is the author of four novels, including Anywhere But Here and Off Keck Road.

This summer I want fun. I’m half-Syrian, so I want to read more about women in the Arab world, starting light, with Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia, by Jean P. Sasson, and ending with journals written by Jesuits who taught in Syria during the 1930s and ’40s.

In August I often visit Wisconsin, where I spent most of my childhood. But this year I’m staying home, so I’ve ordered Maureen Daly’s Seventeenth Summer, a girls’ book I remember reading in my teens, which is set in Wisconsin. It teeters on the edge of being a young-romance novel, then tips into something less fitted and lovely, with ragged edges, dangerous class differences, and real sex. I remember feeling scared, thrilled, and a little disgusted. When I absently searched for it on Abebooks, I discovered that the reading experience I thought was obscure, and exclusively my own (I’d never met anyone else who’d heard of the book), was dazzlingly common. The book has been continuously in print since its publication in 1942. And the author, who is still alive, now resides near me, in Palm Desert, where she writes restaurant reviews for The Desert Sun. She married another writer, whom she first met at an autograph party for Seventeenth Summer. Before his death, they reread Willa Cather together.

I did the rest of my growing up on the Westside of Los Angeles, less than ten miles from where I live now, and I think I’ll always write about it. So I’d like to read everything and anything written by a woman, dead or alive, who lived in this area code.

Finally, I want to dally over old hippie cookbooks—the kind that are not just collections of recipes but brief, allusive memoirs of the communes in which they were created—to find the ideal piecrust made without butter. One June long ago I ate pie every day in Montana, with my niece and her mother, in a diner just outside Glacier National Park. The waiters promised us that their secret ingredient was apple-cider vinegar.

Jed Perl
Jed Perl is the art critic for The New Republic. His most recent book is New Art City.

I find myself more and more drawn to prose written by poets. They bring a plainspoken clarity to wildly complex emotions and ideas. And in their letters, poets often speak with a casual eloquence that I find thrilling as a reader—and provocative as a writer.

In recent years, I’ve been immensely excited by The Letters of Robert Lowell, The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, and Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler. These books sent me back to Wallace Stevens’s correspondence. And I’ve just picked up a collection of the letters of Hart Crane, which I’m looking forward to reading this summer. After that it’s going to be Emily Dickinson’s. And what do I hope to find in all this other people’s mail? A loosening and clarifying of my own feeling for prose.

Edward N. Luttwak
Edward N. Luttwak’s nineteen books include The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire and Coup d’État. He has served as a consultant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force.

I have just received an e-mail from Jon Bingen, one of Norway’s leading scholars. In his message, he makes the sensational allegation that John Maynard Keynes—the Muhammad Ali of economists—achieved his world fame by stealing the Greco-Teutonic monetary theory of the obscure Professor Knapp. Author of the untranslated and impossible-to-find Politische Theorie des Geldes, Knapp held that money is a living object that “makes people do things.” Here on the mountain pass to Tawang, in Arunachal Pradesh, with not enough bandwidth to Google it and not enough oxygen to think clearly, I cannot tell if Bingen is joking or even if Knapp ever existed. But when I return to Delhi’s broad bandwidth, I fully intend to order the book and read it, and to expose Keynes as a fraud—in partnership with Bingen, of course.

Sally Singer
Sally Singer is the fashion news and features director at Vogue.

I’m a sucker for both doomed Green­wich Village love stories and Bay Area gossip, so it will be a treat to finally read Time Out of Mind, the diaries of the late Leonard Michaels.

To understand a little more about the historical antecedents to contemporary globalization, I’ll be reading Inhuman Bondage, David Brion Davis’s analysis of the New World slave trade.

Finally, I’ll be packing Julia Glass’s big fat new novel, The Whole World Over, because I’m always curious to see how a long-shot National Book Award winner (Glass won in 2002 for her first book, Three Junes) fares the second time around.

Terry Castle
A professor of English at Stanford, Terry Castle is a regular contributor to The Atlantic. Her books include The Apparitional Lesbian and Courage, Mon Amie.

First, from the Obscure-Brit-Lit Department: Mary Butts’s Taverner novels. (Butts—a now-mostly-forgotten experimental writer of the 1920s—was an opium addict, an occultist, a whacked-out bisexual friend of Aleister Crowley and Cocteau, a wickedly neglectful mother, an extraordinary prose stylist, and the ultimate casualty of her own enigmatic temperament.) The stories are murky and magical.

Then, on to Myself and the Other Fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, by Claire Harman (next to Boswell, my favorite biographer), and Alan Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty (great sex scenes, I’m hoping, with Mrs. Thatcher in rubber fetishwear).

Finally, being a font-a-holic (thanks to myfonts.com), I also plan to read further in my ever-expanding collection of books about typography. Except reading here means just looking: when you’re obsessed with fonts, you can smugly ignore the content. Yay! Maybe, after two decades as an English teacher, I’m secretly tired of reading and don’t want to do it anymore.

Laura Ziskin
Laura Ziskin is a producer at Columbia Pictures and a former president of Fox 2000 Pictures. Her movies include the Spider-Man films, Pretty Woman, What About Bob? and As Good As It Gets. She was the executive producer of the 74th Annual Academy Awards.

I’m currently producing the third Spider-Man movie, and we are two-thirds through the shooting period. Consequently, I have little time to read for pleasure. (I’m an avid book buyer but a less avid reader, due to the lack of a thirty-six-hour day.)

About a year ago, my partner of twenty-one years, screenwriter Alvin Sargent, started to read to me at night, so my book consumption has dramatically increased. We’re reading all of Graham Greene and a lot of James M. Cain; have finished Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, and a biography of Richard Feynman; and have abandoned some books a few chapters in.

Right now we’re in the middle of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, by James L. Swanson. I just bought Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell, after being struck by the unanimously great reviews. I may wait until I finish shooting the movie to curl up and read it on my own. But more likely I’ll get impatient and ask Alvin to start reading it tonight.

Perry Anderson
An editor of The New Left Review, Perry Anderson is the author of numerous books, including Lineages of the Absolutist State and Spectrum. Britain’s New Statesman has called him “the most polymathic of all our contemporary thinkers.”

I will read Edmund Burke’s Letters on a Regicide Peace, his death-bed call for continuing, unremitting war on the French Revolution, after the twenty-eight-year-old Napoleon had led his armies to victory in Northern Italy. What apter seasonal reading, as conservative opinion in America debates double or quits in the Middle East?

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