Summer Reading Recommendations

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    Nate Meinzer


    Locale: San Francisco

    I've gotten a few good recommendations off here, so wondering what you all are reading this summer.

    I've recently come across three books that might be of interest.

    Coming Into the Country by John McPhee is a wonderful tour of the Alaskan wild and its very odd denizens.

    Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs is a very poetic compilation of encounters with animals in the wild.

    And The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz is a gripping, true-story tale of a group of Siberian prison escapees who trekked from Siberia through the Gobi desert, over the Himalayas and into freedom in India with nothing more than an axe and very little food. Very inspiring book.

    What are you reading?

    victoria maki
    BPL Member


    Locale: northern minnesota

    "The Long Walk" was excellant.
    "The Cactus Eaters","One Mans Wilderness",and my favorite,"A Blistered Kind of Love"(to heavy to take on the trail, however).

    William Johnson


    NPR has been pushing these books, so perhaps I am confusing interest with being brain-washed, but the list sounds great. I will include the NPR book list below, but incase it expires, I'll briefly list their choices (copy/pasted from NPR):

    – "UNDER HEAVEN," By Guy Gavriel Kay, hardcover, 592 pages, Roc Hardcover, list price: $26.95

    Miller calls this epic adventure story "completely transporting." It is set in an imaginary country based on China during the Tang Dynasty, complete with a culture full of poetry, art and plenty of palace intrigue. The hero, a general's son, is given a gift of 250 perfect horses by a foreign princess. It's a gift with consequences as he gets caught up in the schemes of the emperor's favorite concubine, a legendary and cunning beauty. Miller says the book combines the best of historical and fantasy novels to create a great read where "you don't know what could happen next."

    – "THE GOOD SON – A NOVEL," By Michael Gruber, hardcover, 400 pages, Henry Holt and Co., list price: $26

    No summer reading list would be complete without an international thriller that takes you to exotic places. And this one, says Miller, combines a great plot with such wonderful writing that you don't feel like you "just ate a bag of potato chips" when you are finished. It's a smart thriller about a U.S. special forces solider raised in Pakistan whose mother gets kidnapped by militants in Afghanistan. He devises a way to trick the Army into rescuing her while she desperately bargains with her captors for the lives of her fellow hostages. Miller says the novel has lots of action and suspense but is also thought-provoking in its examination of the differences between modern Western culture and a tribal way of life.

    – "PARROT AND OLIVIER IN AMERICA" By Peter Carey, hardcover, 400 pages, Knopf, list price: $26.95

    This historical novel is based on the life of Alexis de Tocqueville, famous for his 19th century study of American society, "Democracy in America." In Carey's fictional account, Olivier, the character based on de Tocqueville, comes to America with his companion, Parrot, a young English printer who has been in and out of prison. The story is told in both voices, and because they come from such different backgrounds they have very different impressions of America and its young democracy. As the two hit the road, argue and fall in love, they develop something of a "bro-mance." And though the novel is sophisticated and beautifully written, Freeman says it is also a page turner and quite simply "one of the best novels I've read in the last few years."

    …continuing in new post

    William Johnson


    – "THE BEST OF IT: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS," By Kay Ryan, hardcover, 288 pages, Grove Press, list price: $24

    Summer, says Freeman, is not just about page turners. He argues that novels are like the "big meal," whereas smaller books of poems or essays are more like palate cleansers. For those moments when you're looking for a book that you can pick up or put down when you want, he recommends this book of poetry by the nation's poet laureate, Kay Ryan. Freeman says Ryan has a "well-carpentered, deeply intelligent, plain-spoken American voice" that harks back to Robert Frost.

    – "HITCH 22 – A MEMOIR,"By Christopher Hitchens, hardcover, 448 pages, Twelve Books, list price: $26.99

    Hitchens, the acerbic pundit known for blistering attacks on his political and philosophical foes, shows a softer side in this memoir that Patterson says is more like "a great raconteur telling stories about his own life." Here, Patterson says, Hitchens is in "armchair," not "lectern," mode, and perhaps the best stories in the the book involve his longtime friends such as Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie. In fact, Patterson says the book emerges as something of a tribute to friendship itself.

    – "THE PREGNANT WIDOW" By Martin Amis, hardcover, 384 pages, Knopf, list price: $26.95

    Perhaps it's not surprising that Patterson would also like this novel by Hitchens' pal Martin Amis. Patterson calls Amis "the best living English-language prose stylist" and says he returns to form after some disappointing books in recent years. This coming-of-age novel tells the story of 20-year-old Keith Nearing, who is spending the summer of 1970 in Italy with two girls. An English major, Nearing is immersed in reading about old-fashioned notions like virtue just as as the sexual revolution of the '70s is getting under way. In the end, it proves to be "an erotically decisive summer" for Keith.

    – My personal choice, however is any of the ancient classics. You now might have the time to get into them, and reflect on what they were saying when they still used all that "crazy language!" Try a few of the "Lives," by Plutarch. Have a great summer.

    Nate Meinzer


    Locale: San Francisco

    Yah, my favorite book blog "Pat's Fantasy Hot List" called "Under Heaven" the best book of the season, and I just adore Christopher Hitchens. Unfortunately, those books are only hardcovers..and heavy!!!'

    Dirk Rabdau


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    About the disappearance and subsequent search of Randy Morgenson, a back country ranger in the High Sierra. But more than that, it is a story of man whose life choices makes this mystery especially compelling.



    Locale: The Cascades

    "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz. Great read. Not a new book (2007), but new to me!

    And Nate, both Under Heaven and Hitch-22 are available on my iPad! Only a pound and a half for both together! Plus a whole bunch more!

    William Johnson



    I was able to find Kay's, "Under Heaven" in the audiobook section of iTunes, and a Kindle version on Amazon. I did not think to realize that most of those new books would be hard cover. Thanks for mentioning it.

    The audiobook versions seem nice, though.

    Michael L
    BPL Member


    Locale: NoCo

    I found The Tecate Journals interesting. It is the story of a guy who canoed down the Rio Grande from el paso to the gulf of Mexico. Took him 70 days. The synopsis on amazon makes it sound more exciting than it is, but I still found it interesting. He talks about the river, illegals, border patrol, and more. It is also a trip nobody will probably be makng any time soon due to cartels robbing people on the lakes.

    Eugene Smith
    BPL Member


    Locale: Nuevo Mexico


    Jay Wilkerson
    BPL Member


    Locale: East Bay

    To Kill a Mocking Bird


    Eugene Smith
    BPL Member


    Locale: Nuevo Mexico

    Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk. I wish I hadn't started this one, but alas I'm suffering through it. Also read The Road, Cormac McCarthys most recent work.

    cary bertoncini


    Locale: N. California

    I'm a grad student, so some of my reading is not by choice. Just spent a month reading a lot of journal articles and one book on creative writing pedagogy.

    This month I'll be reading a good chunk of Edgar Allen Poe's poems and stories (and a few essays), including several that I'd never read before (like Matzengerstein, which I read today).

    In between on my own, I've been browsing through the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (mostly the essays are worth reading, but check out the poem "The Miracle" for good thinking about a walk in the woods) and Walt Whitman, especially his "Song of Myself."

    Will also be re-reading Richard Brautigan's novel "The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western."

    I'm always browsing through all kinds of poetry: often includes Pablo Neruda, Richard Brautigan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver.

    Since I'm also working on my thesis, I'll be reading a ton of stuff about mythology, Jungian psychology, Cats, poems with cats in them, symbolism, etc.

    Julian Watson


    Have been reading some of michael pollan's books ('The Omnivore's Dillemma' and 'The Botany of Desire', and some of his articles (collated at The Omnivore's Dillema is good reading on food and eating, particularly in America. An argument thoughtfully expressed without being overly didactic.

    I also pick up Sissela Bok's 'Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life' and have a read every now and again. It's an in depth look into lying from an ethical and social view. Very interesting.

    'Freakonomics' and 'Superfreakonomics', both by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner. A good fun and thoughtful pair of books into the quirkier side of super-microeconomics.

    'The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers' by Paul Torday (who also did 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen'). Like SFitY, it's a nice, peculiar and quirky tale (very lovingingly and understatedly English) enjoyably written.

    Happy reading !

    Scott Truong


    Locale: Vancouver, BC

    "Three Day Road" by Joseph Boyden.

    Two story lines, a native Indian-Canadian sniper returning home from WW1 dealing with his demons, and his aunt who accompanies him on return home to bush retells her life during those time. Excellent.

    "World War Z" by Max Brooks.

    As I see it a veiled criticism of governmental incompetance and inaction post-911, Katrina, SARS etc. Zombie outbreak occurs, documentary style narrative with recounting of experience during outbreak from all walks of life; the soldier on the front lines, CIA official aware of threat, Government/military officials at ground zero, mid-west housewife etc.

    "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett

    This is summer reading. It's like a mini-series. Middle Ages England, various characters- heroes and villians, centered on building a Cathedral. Excellent.

    "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote

    Truman Capote, a high living New York bon vivant, along with Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) go to Midwest in the 30s and interview a couple of drifters in prison for murdering a family of four. A completely random act. To answer the question: why?

    Perfect, precise writing.

    Michael Cockrell


    Locale: Central Valley, Lodi-Stockton, CA

    Nothing like tears running down your "manly" cheeks on an international flight, or lying in a tent reading before sleep!

    Tear generators:
    James Herriot's:
    – All Creatures Great and Small
    – Dog Stories (real tear jerker!)

    Get away in mind:
    – Sir Walter Scott:
    – The Highland Widow
    – Rob Roy
    – Ivanhoe
    – The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

    Always . . . carry a towel!

    Time to laugh:
    – Farley Mowat's: Never Cry Wolf

    Camp poem reads:
    – Robert W. Service poems

    Paul Wozniak


    Locale: Midwest

    Carlos Castaneda's UCLA thesis was to explore psychotropic drugs of the southwest and their use in indigenous groups.

    He meets an expert, Don Juan, said to be a Yaqui sorcerer, and is roped, cajoled and enticed into a 10 year apprenticeship; a scary, powerful "other" reality, where we are sometimes floating blobs and we play with spirit dogs. The drugs help.

    3 "factual" books earned Castaneda his Doctorate at UCLA, true story. Turns out he manufactured the whole thing. But brilliantly! Intense, funny, philosophical and only slightly less effective for being fiction. These were largely regarded as fact back in the day and the books were found in the Anthropology section at bookstores.

    Read, in this order:
    The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
    A Separate Reality
    Journey to Ixtlan

    If Jeff (the Dude) Lebowski ever read books, these would be the ones.

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    There are very few modern novels I have an interest in. But I do read quite a bit. Just finished two of Victor Hugo's works, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Les Miserables" for the upteenth time. IMO, Hugo is the best writer from the Romantic Period.

    The modern authors Dan Brown and Tom Clancy are skilled at plot development.

    Charles Dickens was a great social critic of his time via his novels, although I am ideologically on the other end of the spectrum. "David Copperfield" is one of best.

    "Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain. Another good re-read as the author deals with freedom versus society and even manifest destiny.

    Not well known anymore (he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the 1940's) is Hermann Hesse. Some books are "Steppenwolf," "Siddhartha," "Magister Ludi,"Demian," and "Narcissus and Goldman." All are fairly short books. Most of his works are about the individual's search for knowledge and spirituality. Like some authors, critics think his novels present a kind of philosophy. Again, not my cup of teas, but I read things that challenge my beleifs.

    The poems of Robert Service are fun reads. Not "fine art" but I think many of us can relate to several of them.

    I have re-read Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged" every year since 1969. Highly recommended, and potential Chaff firestorm here on BPL.

    I often read Colin Fletcher and Edward Abbey again and again.

    Castaneda's works are interesting. They were popular during the drug culture days of the late 60's and early 70's, and eventually found to be a fraud (opinon of many). I think UCLA actually revoked his PHD, which was based on his first book, "The Teachings of Don Juan." Last year I found all of his books in my garage, stored there for several decades. I read them again, and they are enjoyable reading. But just keep in mind they are probably works of fiction.

    If you like fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien is fun reading. Haven't read any of his stuff since I was a kid.

    Don't forget Jules Verne one of the earliest science fiction writers.

    One book I remember is the "Mouse that Roared," because the author was in one of my college classes. Can't remember his name, but the book was simple with a unique perspective. He was much older than all of us in the class, and was a already a successful writer. I don't remember the class or even why he was taking it.

    Dylan Snodgrass


    Locale: San Francisco, CA

    I just finished Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. An adventure with all sorts of puzzles. I have never read anything quite like it and enjoyed it immensely. You can read more about the author and his latest book in his recent NYT Magazine interview.

    Paul Siegel


    Locale: Southern Appalachians

    I'm going to stronly recommend the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. There are twenty books but they read as one 6000 page novel. It follows through many years, one of the best literary partnerships ever created. It is historical fiction but it is immersive and absolutely mesmerizing. They are rife with period details and touches that makes the british royal navy of 1805 come alive.

    Be warned: They are very addictive. And oh so worth it. I cannot recommend these highly enough.

    Wendell Berry's Port William Trilogy is another personal favorite. "A Place on Earth" is a good start. "Jayber Crow" is another good read.

    Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita" is a crazy, modernist russian novel that is far too hard to describe here. It's good, trust me. Bonus points for listen to Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique while reading.

    A good site if your looking for something to read that is not books, is A curated collection of excellent journalism. I believe you can download these to an iPad or Kindle.

    Rilke, Chaucer, Roberto Bolano's "2666", and Carl von Clausewitz's "Principles of War" have all passed through my hands this summer, but I've not finished them and thus cannot recommend them unconditionally.

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