Summer Reading

What some notables are stacking on their beach blankets this year

Amy Hempel
Amy Hempel is the author of four collections of stories, including Tumble Home and The Dog of the Marriage.

I’ll read Torpor, by Chris Kraus, because I had so much fun reading I Love Dick, her boundary-blurring novel of obsession. I’ll read Bernard Cooper’s memoir The Bill From My Father, because I love everything he writes, and the essays he wrote about his father in Truth Serum are so moving and funny. I’ll continue reading Walter Kirn’s novel The Unbinding, as he writes it in real time for the online magazine Slate—because it’s so inventive and such a wild experiment. Finally, I’ll be rereading Grace Paley’s Collected Stories, because reading Grace Paley can make you a better person.

Sandra Tsing Loh
Sandra Tsing Loh is a writer and performer whose radio commentaries appear regularly on American Public Media’s Marketplace.

I have so much reading to do all the time, there are spine-snapped books lying all over the house. In various crumb-filled nooks in the living room are the “for work” books, all the important female books, all the galleys, all the press releases. The most “fun” book gets to ride in style with me in my car’s passenger seat, Mother’s Little Helper, good for that amyl-popper boost when gaps of time open up between errands. Our master bathroom houses the slower-moving barges, the want-to-read if not need-to-know. On top is Camille Paglia’s poetry anthology Break, Blow, Burn—not the most ideal title for a bathroom book, but how it refreshes! In the kids’ bathroom, instead of bowls of lavender-scented potpourri, for guests we’ve thoughtfully placed David Kamp and Steven Daly’s Rock Snob’s Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Rockological Knowledge and Fergus Henderson’s fascinatingly repellant cookbook, The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating—everything you wanted to know about suet.

Anyway, the other night, my husband dropped his book on his night table with a bitter sigh, startling me. He was mired in the swamps of a boring biography … of Captain Cook. “Captain Cook?” I exclaimed. “How can you botch a biography of Captain Cook?” Somehow, the author had. My husband couldn’t quite put his finger on the problem. Was it the exhausting lists of provisions (heavy on salt pork)? The endless—somewhat inconclusive—trades with Fiji natives? At one point, fearing scurvy, Captain Cook orders his men to eat sauerkraut or face the lash. And that was it—what Mike had wanted was a grand seafaring adventure; what he’d gotten instead was a grim, colorless regimen of sauerkraut and flogging.

And just then, I knew what Mike needed for summer. No, not Endurance (fantastic but wintery) but—go back to basics—Hawaii, by James A. Michener. The gold standard of summer island epics. As I recall, it is fabulously lurid. The human sacrifices of naked sex-crazed Tahitians. Sexually repressed white missionaries who stink in unwashed wool. Japanese pineapple farmworkers drinking soy sauce to feign fever. Gambling Chinese lepers. Think of it, leprosy and gambling—excitable manipulation of mah-jongg-like pebbles, fingers falling off.

So for the husband, anyway, summer-reading problem solved.

Paul Kennedy
Paul Kennedy’s books include The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers and, most recently, The Parliament of Man.

I will read Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels, at last! Friends have told me for years that this is the best and most realistic novel of the Civil War. I have resisted steadfastly, out of admiration and loyalty for Thomas Keneally’s remarkable Confederates. But this year Shaara will be read.

In complete contrast, I will also read A. E. Housman’s famously elegiac, deeply moving collection of poems: A Shropshire Lad. Since I hope this summer to walk again through England’s wolds and dales, it seems appropriate to be reading such pieces as “Bredon Hill” and “On Wenlock Edge.”

And because I’m starting a book on Kipling this summer, I shall begin at the end, with his late, massive work, The Irish Guards in the Great War—a tribute to his son, John Kipling, who was killed in the Battle of Loos, in 1915.

War and peace, indeed.

Beth Henley
Beth Henley is a playwright and screenwriter. Her works include The Wake of Jamey Foster, Control Freaks, The Miss Firecracker Contest, and Crimes of the Heart, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Her play Ridiculous Fraud premiered at Princeton’s McCarter Theater in May.

Although this sounds pretentious in the extreme, I’m actually going to read Saint Augustine’s Confessions (the first of six books for a great class I’m taking). The professor says, “Modern Christianity may begin here, but so do Proust and Freud.”

I’m also rereading Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. I read it for the first time this spring, and it still haunts me. Finally, I’m reading The Works of Melmont, by Snoo Wilson. This is an obscure book—only 1,000 copies were printed. But I know the author as a playwright: his heart is a wilderness of madness, and his mind is a dazzling joy.

The book I recommend to summer readers is Ron Rash’s World Made Straight. The language is beautiful, while the story is harsh, true, and relentless. A sublime read.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger
Dr. Laura Schlessinger hosts The Dr. Laura Schlessinger Program, which is syndicated throughout the United States.

I’ll read, from 1967, Expert Dinghy and Keelboat Racing, by Paul Elvstrom. I’m the skipper of a thirty-foot racing boat in Santa Barbara, California—and this is the classic on “getting good.”

Throughout my one-woman show, In My Never to Be Humble Opinion, I make many (usually humorous) references to biology and how it affects human behavior. Therefore, I am revving up to read Genome, by Matt Ridley.

I also intend to read every book by James Grippando (I already have two under my belt).

Claire Messud
Claire Messud is the author of two novels, The Last Life and When the World Was Steady, and a volume of novellas, The Hunters. Her next novel, The Emperor’s Children, will be published in August.

Theft: A Love Story, by Peter Carey. Because I can’t not read a book by Peter Carey; and because I’m particularly excited to return to his Australia, to the backwater of Bacchus Marsh and the rather posher backwater of Bellingen, and to the lively, venal art world of Sydney. Carey is best known for his (wonderful) historical novels, but he’s in his glorious element when writing about the contemporary world, too. He’s a consummate storyteller with a wicked eye and a tremendous ventriloquist’s gift.

The Wind on the Moon, by Eric Link­later. This was one of my favorite books when I was a child—about the adventures of two little girls named Dinah and Dorinda, who can’t help being naughty for a whole year because the wind is on the moon. Link­later’s novel was begun as a tale told to his children, and it has that wonderful blend of fantasy and mundanity that children so adore. It’s very funny, too. My daughter is thrilled at the prospect of naughty little girls; and I am dead keen to revisit a world in which people turn into animals, befriend falcons and pumas (who have an unfortunate habit of killing the neighbors’ sheep), travel across continents in moving vans full of furniture, and dig their way out of impenetrable dungeons with the help of 100-year-old sappers.

Goya, by Robert Hughes. I began reading this marvelous and reflective biography just after my son was born, and had to put it aside because I couldn’t do it justice. I’ve kept it on my night table all this time in the hope that I could return to it with proper attention; and now, at last, that time has come. The artist’s transformation from painter of blithe society portraits to creator of agonized, fantastical, existentially profound canvases is one of art history’s great stories; and the mordant, brilliant Robert Hughes is a writer to read whenever possible. It’s a riveting pairing of author and subject.

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