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Critics' Lists: Summer 2013
Tue June 4, 2013
Start Storing Up: Indie Booksellers Pick Summer's Best Reads
Originally published on Thu March 20, 2014 4:06 pm
NPR's Susan Stamberg asked three of our go-to independent booksellers — Rona Brinlee of The BookMark in Neptune Beach, Fla.; Daniel Goldin of Boswell Book Co. in Milwaukee; and Lucia Silva, former book buyer at the now-closed Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, Calif. — to help fill our beach bags with good reads. What they came up with is a summer book list that's full of youth and ritual.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Tomorrow, Britain will celebrate women authors with the women's prize for fiction, known until last year as the Orange Prize. It's open to any woman novelist writing in English. This year's shortlist includes some familiar names: Hillary Mantel for her novel "Bring Up the Bodies," which already won the prestigious Man Booker Prize. Former Whitbread Award winner Kate Atkinson also makes the cut for her new book "Life After Life." And to previous Orange Prize winners: Britain's Zadie Smith, author of "NW"; and American Barbara Kingsolver for "Flight Behavior."
The dark horse nominees are also American. A.M. Holmes for her novel "May We Be Forgiven" and Maria Semple for "Where'd You Go, Bernadette."
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And with summer just ahead, time to think about stocking up on entertaining books, award-winning or not.
NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg has been polling independent booksellers for their suggestions on filling beach bags. She found that two themes popped up on their list - youth and ritual.
SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: In the book "Daily Rituals: How Artists Work," Mason Currey reveals all sorts of strange artistic habits. Everybody has one, says Rona Brinlee, owner of The BookMark in Neptune Beach, Florida.
RONA BRINLEE: Yes, and some people write in the bathtub. Or Truman Capote said he was a horizontal writer, he could only write lying down.
STAMBERG: Balanchine thought up choreography by ironing. Stravinsky stood on his head.
In Jill McCorkle's novel "Life After Life," Sadie invents a ritual to please other residents in her retirement home.
BRINLEE: She could cut and paste and put people in any place they wanted to be. So people could live their fantasies and do things that they never got to do and go places that they never got to go. And all she needed was, you know, scissors and some glue and a nice background from a good Southern Living magazine.
STAMBERG: Sadie put one resident on a beach and colored her wheelchair red so it looked like a beach chair. She put another near the Taj Mahal.
Now, we promised a youth theme for summer reading. How about this pick from Rona Brinlee. We will let her pronounce it, 'cause I can't.
BRINLEE: OK, it's "The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls" by Anton DiSclafani.
STAMBERG: A first novel, set in the Depression. The 15-year-old narrator is sent away to camp.
BRINLEE: Because she's done something so horrific, her parents just don't want to look at her anymore. And it's so bad that they leave her there for the rest of the school year, they don't even come back.
STAMBERG: Rona Brinlee says it's a smart and sexy story about how things happen and the lessons in choices.
BRINLEE: Lessons too in Elinor Lipman's novel "The View from Penthouse B." Two sisters - one widowed, the other divorced - become roommates in the divorcee's fancy New York apartment. She is house-poor, thanks to a Ponzi-scheming cad. The widow invents a business plan.
DANIEL GOLDIN: And it's called "Chaste Dates."
STAMBERG: Chaste as In C-H-A-S-T-E not C-H-A-S-E-D.
GOLDIN: And it is for the man or woman who would like to meet somebody to go out with, but is not necessary looking for a sexual relationship right away. Well, needless to say, this is a tough business plan.
STAMBERG: Sparkling writing, Daniel says, funny and sweet.
(SOUNDBITE OF "THE MARY TYLER MORE SHOW" THEME SONG)
SONNY CURTIS: (Singing) Who can turn the world on with her smile?
STAMBERG: Talk about sparkling, funny and sweet - "The Mary Tyler More Show," on TV from 1970 to '77 and now in syndication perpetuity, had some of the best writing on television ever.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "THE MARY TYLER MORE SHOW")
EDWARD ASNER: (as Lou Grant) You know what? You got spunk.
MARY TYLER MOORE: (as Mary Richards) Well...
ASNER: (as Lou Grant) I hate spunk.
STAMBERG: That spunky girl is the subject of the book "Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted," a compilation by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong of oral histories from folks who worked on the show. Daniel Goldin learned that at first audiences didn't like Mary's best friend and neighbor, Rhoda Morgenstern.
GOLDIN: She was a brash New Yorker. She spoke her mind. She started out arguing.
STAMBERG: The writers added a simple line to the script for a cute little girl.
GOLDIN: Mary's landlord Phyllis had a daughter named Beth. And they decided to just, as an aside, have Beth say to Mary: That's Rhoda. I really like her. And it totally changed how the audience felt about her.
STAMBERG: Minneapolis, the setting for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," was pretty foreign to a New Yorker like Rhoda. But nothing like the exoticism of Los Angeles to the hero of "Pacific," by Tom Drury. Lucia Silva, book buyer for the late, lamented Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, California, says Drury's 14-year-old protagonist grew up in a tiny Midwestern town. He goes west to live with his mother and falls in with a wild group of L.A. teens. Lucia Silva says Drury is not a native Angelino but he writes like one.
LUCIA SILVA: I'm born and raised in Los Angeles and those of us who are know that L.A. is really this sprawling Mecca that is secretly a small quirky town.
STAMBERG: A father and mother flee a small Chinese village in "The Dark Road," by Ma Jian. They leave with their two-year-old when the government enforces its one-child policy.
SILVA: Mai Lee is pregnant with a second child, and they leave the village and live in this disintegrating houseboat, travelling down the Yangtze River.
STAMBERG: Their fugitive life is based on actual experiences. Horrifying and compelling reading.
Finally, "Poems to Learn by Heart" edited by Caroline Kennedy.
SILVA: If I could choose one book to give to, you know, every family in the country for the summer read, this would be it.
STAMBERG: A nice family project, Lucia thinks. Reading together a range of poems together from Shakespeare to Billy Collins, and then memorizing a few.
SILVA: This is a return to the idea of learning by heart. You know, we don't say we learn it by brain or by mind.
STAMBERG: By heart you can give a poem away, share it. But it never leaves you. Here's one.
SILVA: "Ballad of the Morning Streets" by Imiri Baraka. The magic of the day is the morning. I want to say the day is morning high and sweet, good morning. The ballad of the morning streets, sweet voices turns of cool warm weather high around the early windows, grey to blue and down again. Amongst the kids and broken signs, is pure love magic. Sweet day, come into me, let me live with you and dig your blazing.
STAMBERG: Good morning. And thanks to all our independent booksellers for their summer reading ideas.
I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MONTAGNE: We have those and other reading suggestions for you at NPR.org.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
WERTHEIMER: And I'm Linda Wertheimer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.