The NCPR 2014 summer reading list


What you and I are reading this summer

What titles have you been reading at the beach, or at the camp, or maybe on your Kindle in the back seat during that long day trip? Do you have any recommendations from the new releases section at your library? Have an old favorite that just says “summer” to you?

Many of you let us know during our annual summer reading call-in program Wednesday, joining Readers & Writers hosts Ellen Rocco and Chris Robinson and book maven John Ernst to share their picks of the season.

You can still help us build the list by making your suggestions in a comment below.

We start with our call in co-hosts’ picks, followed by listeners and station friends and staff who have contacted us via email, phone and online. This is a big list, with lengthy entries from Chris and John, but keep scrolling. There really is something for everyone.

Chris Robinson, Clarkson University

Reading has been a central activity in my life since my college years.  Sometimes I read for information. Sometimes I read to be reminded that great beauty is possible. Occasionally I read just to be entertained.  Often, however, I read simply to isolate myself from the world around me. The book becomes a comfortable barrier against intrusions.  I’m not all that proud of this use of literature for self-protection, just so you know.

Over the past few months a whole new effect of reading – a self-creating effect — has been revealed by the first two volumes of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle.  A third volume is available now.  Three more need to be translated. The best description of this literary project that I have seen is this that it is “a 3,600 page novel about a guy writing a 3,600 page novel.”  These books have been compared favorably with Proust, but I think the comparison fair only in terms of the length of the work and the attention to detail. Knausgaard’s voice is utterly unique and mesmerizing.  What you get are pages worth of descriptions of the intimacies, trivialities and drama of his daily life. The effect is that you begin to see your life differently. In the middle of your day, in the middle of a conversation, you will find yourself thinking, “What would Knausgaard write about this?” Not everyone has a novel in them.  But Knausgaard has convinced me that, with talent, great literature can be woven from even the most mundane of lives.

I live to discover (for myself) works like this. In truth, critics like James Wood and Zadie Smith having been touting Knausgaard for at least two years. I’m a bit late to the party. What has proven timely is that Knausgaard has taught me how to follow the path of literature through the barriers of the covers and into the world in which I live.  If my reading seems heavy with nonfiction works, blame this on Knausgaard. Reading him is a project. The work you are doing is, however, on yourself.


  • Stephen Bird, Adam Silver and Joshua Yesnovitz, Agitation With a Smile: Howard Zinn’s Legacies and the Future of Activism.  Howard Zinn was known best for his People’s History of the United States. It is a book every American should read as an antidote to the dull triumphalism of high school American history classes.  This volume is composed of essays examining aspects of Zinn’s life and work.  It contains a preface by Frances Fox Piven and an Epilogue by Noam Chomsky. But the best part of the volume is the introductory essay by the editors.
  • Martin Duberman, Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left.  Zinn’s life was more interesting than his books, and this is saying something.  Zinn seemed to be in every action and movement of significance in the Twentieth Century.  Duberman does a great job showing the interrelation between Zinn’s activism and his scholarship.
  • Robert Zaretsky, A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning. The focus of this study of Camus is his lifelong resistance to injustice.  Camus ends his most famous novel, The Stranger, with his protagonist, Meursault, staring out of his cell and wondering at the “benign indifference of the universe.”  This is a sentiment that Camus would challenge in later writing and his life. Indifference, he knew, was never benign.
  • Andre Dubos III, Townie. I was away when Dubos appeared as a guest on Readers and Writers. I’m sorry I missed the chance to talk to him about his memoir.  Out of a life of poverty and violence, Dubos emerged, really through literature, to aspire to a more peaceful and reflective existence. This work counts as an essential study of American masculinity.
  • Christopher Isherwood, Diaries, 1970-1983.  This is the third and final volume of Isherwood diaries, and it bears the marks of aging. You can see Isherwood slowing down through the years. His stories become less funny and less acerbic. His love to his partner grows and deepens. His dyspepsia becomes pervasive and unattractive. Isherwood’s decline is worth pondering, however, because of the incisiveness of his intelligence and the plainness of his writing.
  • Rebecca Goldstein, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away.  I’m a big fan of Rebecca Goldstein. Last year I championed her 36 Arguments for the Existence of God (not that she needs another champion). It is a brilliant novel.  Plato at the Googleplex blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction, but it is a scholarly, yet entertaining, study of Plato’s philosophy and its applications in contemporary settings.
  • Sean Wilentz, Bob Dylan in America.  There’s nothing better than listening to a Bob Dylan record, in my opinion.  But reading studies of Dylan by such masters of criticism as Greil Marcus can come close. Wilentz’s book is a study of American cultural history disguised as a book about Bob Dylan. Wilentz does a beautiful job of showing how Dylan’s talents were shaped by exposures to the history of American folk music, traditional music, blues, Gospel, and jazz.  Dylan, in turn, has delved into this reservoir of song and story, brought it new life, and created a new and receptive audience for its treasures of thought and emotion.
  • Pico Iyer, Video Nights in Katmandu and The Global Soul.  I’m reading my way through everything Pico Iyer has written.  These two books are artful travel logs and reflections on how travel has altered the world.  Iyer is a quirky and brilliant thinker.
  • Richard Rodriguez, Darling.  I interviewed Richard Rodriguez earlier this year, and I urge you to go to the Readers and Writers archive and listen to it. Darling is a spiritual autobiography and journey that equals such classics as Augustine’s Confessions for its reflections on the relation of humanity to the larger cosmic order, the role of religion in the modern world, and how we should see and think about the desert.  Rodriguez is a triple threat – Latino, Catholic and gay – and these combine to engender a unique and powerful worldview on ethnicity, spirituality, and men and women.
  • Gene Sharp, From Dictatorship to Democracy. This is the book and the thinker credited with launching the “Arab Spring.”  There’s a shibboleth now popular on Facebook: “Anything war can do, peace can do better.” Sharp’s subject, captured creatively by this slogan, is the nonviolent transformation of authoritarian societies. He found an audience across northern Africa.
  • Najla Said, Looking for Palestine. This is a memoir of Edward Said by his daughter, and I found it compelling and moving. I drew enormous political and intellectual inspiration from Edward Said. It is sort of nice to see that he and his wife managed to raise two bright and accomplished children.  Najla is an actor and a writer. Her literary voice is reflective, honest and compelling.
  • Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence.  Lethem is an intellectual powerhouse.  He was our guest on Readers and Writers several years ago during our season on disabilities and literature. Our focus was his novel, Motherless Brooklyn, but we snuck in some questions on Fortress of Solitude, too.  The present volume is a collection of essays, many of them autobiographical, and all of them provocative and interesting.  The title essay is a study of plagiarism that gained a good deal of notoriety when it was first published in Atlantic. It is a remarkable piece of essy crafting.
  • Shannon Moroney, Through the Glass. Moroney spoke on the St. Lawrence campus this past winter. She is an activist for what is called restorative justice and its application in the Canadian and US criminal justice system. Moroney was a happy newlywed until her husband, a man convicted as a teenager for the murder of a girlfriend, committed another horribly violent crime. This is the dramatic and emotional backdrop for Moroney’s important reflections on forgiveness and justice.
  • Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century. People keep telling me that the Occupy Wall Street movement is over.  If this is the case (and I’m not convinced it is), then how do we explain the work of a French economist proving that growing inequality is the natural outcome of a capitalist economy reaching the top of The New York Times bestseller list? The analysis on inequality is the most salient aspect of the volume. Piketty is economist enough that he just can’t conceive of an alternative to capitalism.


  • Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, Volumes I and II. Four volumes to go. I’m convinced that this 3,600 page novel/memoir needs to be longer.
  • Andre Aciman, Harvard Square. What is gained and what is lost to become an American? A Jewish Egyptian is struggling with his graduate studies at Harvard. He meets an Arab cab driver who is something of a force of nature. Their friendship, fraught with tensions, deepens. When the cab driver is threatened with deportation, the graduate student must choose between defending his friend and assimilation.
  • James Salter, All That Is.  The writing in this novel is extraordinary. The story spans from World War II to the near present. And the subject matter is love. How do you know when the feelings are genuine or merely carnal? How can any relationship that begins so beautifully end so badly? Why is love so often disappointing and even arduous?  Salter works these questions with the patience of a philosopher, but, ultimately, this book left me puzzling over the rather one dimensional depictions of women.  Had this novel been written with acknowledgement of feminism as a vital political and cultural force, it would have been a classic.
  • Susan Choi, My Education.  Choi was the winner of a rather nasty contest about the most awkward sex scene in a novel several years ago. I thought this unfair. To her credit, Choi did not avoid sexuality in her newest novel about a graduate student and her love affair with the wife of a professor.  This is a really deep and wonderful exploration of the complexity of sexuality and the utter inadequacy of the categories we use to self-describe and to describe others.
  • Nathan Englander, The Ministry of Special Cases and What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories.  Many thanks to my colleague Lisa Propst for insisting that I read the work of Nathan Englander.  The Ministry of Special Cases is a probing and dark study of a Jewish family whose son was disappeared in Argentina’s dirty war. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it.  The emotional levels achieved in the drawing of the characters were so affecting I had to stop reading this before bedtime. It would take hours for my heart to slow again. Englanders’ stories display a range of styles, psychological depth and humor.  This is an amazing writer.
  • E.L. Doctorow, The March.  It has been years since I read anything by E.L. Doctorow, and I missed him.  The Book of Daniel was the first novel I read after three years of preparation for my doctoral exams.  I remember reading it in a night as if it was quenching a horrible thirst.  Ragtime was next.  The march in the title is Sherman’s, and this is a set of conjoined stories about some of the people swept up in this massive military maneuver.  I don’t think this matches Doctorow’s more famous works, but it felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend.
  • Herman Koch, The Dinner.  This is the summer reading book for the incoming class of Clarkson students.  It is an odd book.  Two brothers and their spouses have a deep and dark secret about their own children. This is fiction as an experiment in ethics.  What would you do if you were one of these parents?  Thankfully, my daughters have always been paragons of virtue.
  • Benjamin Kunkel, Indecision.  Kunkel is the young left’s man of the moment.  He has turned away from fiction in recent years in order to write on the politics and economics of sustainability. But he works in these realms with a novelist’s eye toward detail and the lively sentence. All this new work was made possible by the success of his novel, Indecision. It is the story of a twenty something man, living with four roommates in Manhattan and afflicted with indecision about all matters, but especially romance. He has an opportunity to take an experimental pill to cure this malady. But life takes on complexities that include dismissal from work, a trip to South America to visit an old flame, a new relationship with the old flame’s friend, and a trek into the rain forest. How can any pill cure a person of the problem of being human short of killing them?

John Ernst, Elk Lake and New York City

ALL THAT IS – James Salter (2013)

Also: “A Sport and a Pastime”

This novel was a revelation to me. James Salter is a Pew/Faulkner Award-winning writer whose first novel was published almost 60 years ago. For this book alone, I think he should be more widely recognized as one of the great writers of his generation.

All That Is takes its protagonist, Philip Bowman, from his service in the Pacific during the Korean War into his comfortable and successful life as a book editor in New York in the 1980s. The story is told in brilliant flashes of narrative that cut and fade like a motion picture. Characters appear, caught memorably in a few deft paragraphs of sharp detail, disappear, and then suddenly dart into the story again years later. The scene shifts from New York to Paris to Virginia hunt country to London to the Hudson Valley. As in life, people and scenes appear vividly and then vanish. The reader has the strong sense of time passing, that one is watching the images of a life going by as though in scenes glimpsed from a train window.

What holds the novel together are Bowman’s relationships with women –  with the wife who leaves him and  a succession of others to whom he is attracted, becomes involved with, and ultimately loses, usually through a gradual  fading of feeling. Parallel to Bowman’s story is that of a colleague whose happy marriage is ended by a freak railroad accident.

There is life on every page of this book – brilliant descriptions, bits of dialogue, memory, perception, all of which draw one into a fictional world so strongly that it seems like one’s own. This novel is pure magic.

Bob Mankoff deconstructing cartooning. Photo:

Bob Mankoff deconstructing cartooning. Photo: Nicole Hennig via Creative Commons

HOW ABOUT NEVER – IS NEVER GOOD FOR YOU? My Life in Cartoons – Bob Mankoff (2014)

Bob Mankoff describes the job he has held for the past 17 years as cartoon editor of the New Yorker as something akin to being the Wizard of Oz. In this wonderfully funny and entertaining book, Mankoff provides much more than either a biography or another collection of cartoons. The book has an insider feel. Mankoff tells us how cartoons are submitted (by the batch; never the bunch) how they are judged, how payment is calculated, why some are chosen and some are not.

Having a cartoon accepted by the New Yorker is like getting signed by the New York Yankees. It is a product of talent, work and persistence. Mankoff collected years of rejection slips before breaking through. Analyzing what works, he breaks cartoonists down into those who start with a sketch and those who start with an idea (the doodle firsters vs. the word firsters). He describes genre cartoons: the desert island, St. Peter’s gates, the grim reaper. He covers cartoons driven by current affairs, the role of style, the great artists of the past from Charles Addams to Peter Arno. He talks about working with editors from the legendary Harold Ross, through Tina Brown to the current editor, David Remmick. He describes the search for fresh talent. He even tackles the big question: what makes something funny?

The title cartoon is one of my all-time favorites. A man is on the phone in his office. He says,” No. Thursday’s out. How about never? Is never good for you? ” I loved this book! It is a romp from beginning to end – spiced with cartoons illustrating parts of the text and leavened by Mankoff’s wry wit. It’s a gas!

FLASH BOYS: A Wall Street Revolt — Michael Lewis (2014)
Also: “The Big Short,”  “Moneyball,” “Liar’s Poker”

One of the things that Michael Lewis does best is to take a complicated issue, boil it down to essentials that are readily understandable, and animate the issue through stories of real people. With this book he dropped a bomb on Wall Street from which the after-shocks are still appearing.

This is a story built on abstruse technical accomplishments like high speed fiber lines that deliver information at millisecond intervals and enable high-frequency trading that has all but replaced old-fashioned stock exchanges. And Black Pools in which private trades of securities take place out of the glare of public reporting. This is a world controlled by the big banks and the new trading networks and they use it to maintain an edge against every other market participant.

Enter Brad Katsuyama, a young genius, who invents an exchange called IEX that levels the playing field by slowing down trades just enough so that an individual has the same access to the market as do the big professionals. Lewis deftly blends in other stories, such as that of the Russian computer programmer who leaves Goldman Sachs and finds himself arrested by the F.B.I. charged with stealing code. Part cautionary tale and part thriller, Lewis exposes the people and instruments that are the market of today.

THE DINNER – Herman Koch (2012)

This novel, translated from the Dutch original, has caused quite a stir. It starts out with two couples meeting for dinner at a high-priced, somewhat pretentious restaurant. The men are brothers – one a retired teacher; the other a leading candidate for Prime Minister in an upcoming election.

At first, the conversation, though somewhat prickly, is fairly routine – about the food and about recent films. But as the meal continues, an ominous note appears, as the couple discusses their children. It also becomes obvious that the narrator (the teacher/brother) who is subject to rages and is off his meds, is a very suspect, perhaps unreliable, narrator.

The degree of moral lapse among intelligent, prosperous, middle class people is the engine that drives the narrative pace. Their attitudes and actions at first seem understandable and then spiral off into an ethical wasteland. The reader has been drawn in to identify with these people and then too-late sees that the company is absolutely appalling.
This is a dark novel, punctuated by satirical stabs. It is an experience that can be uncomfortable. One’s complicity with the two couples from the early sections leaves one feeling compromised. And that, perhaps, is the point.

BRAIDING SWEETGRASS: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants — Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013) Also: “Gathering Moss” (John Burroughs Medal)

This is an enormously moving hymn to life and a quiet manifesto of deeply-held beliefs. The author is a distinguished scientist, a professor of environmental biology at SUNY, and a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation. Her previous book, Gathering Moss, a John Burroughs Medal winner, is one of the best examples of nature writing I know.

Braiding Sweetgrass demands something of the reader. It asks you to consider that a tree is a member of “the standing people” and is worthy of notice and respect. It asks that you be thankful for a field of wild strawberries. It posits that the desecration of the earth is a disgrace and a sacrilege. Kimmerer’s chapters each tell a vivid story grounded in her experience as a teacher, a thinker, a Native person, and a mother. The incidents can be as humble as the clearing a pond of algae for use of her daughter or as soaring as the spiritual high of the Onondaga Thanksgiving Address.

Blending Western science and Native knowledge and experience, this book exerts a powerful force. Kimmerer calls for an exchange of gratitude and recognition for the gifts that are all around us. She calls for reciprocity in giving back and supporting what has nurtured us.

This is a life-changing book that deserves a very wide readership. It never preaches; it instructs with memorable incident and quiet wisdom. It’s message is simple: be open to the world as a gift.

BUNKER HILL: a City, a siege, a Revolution – Nathaniel Philbrick (2013)
Also: “The Last Stand,” “Mayflower,” “In the Heart of the Sea”

In Bunker Hill, Nathaniel Philbrick tells the story of the two-year siege of Boston by British forces that effectively began the American Revolution. Triggered by the Stamp Act and the looting of two ships at Griffin’s Wharf, known as the Boston Tea Party, Philbrick traces the open warfare of Lexington and Concord and culminating in 1775 in the bloody but indecisive battle at Bunker Hill. Ironically, the battle was actually fought on Breed’s Hill, closer to the British guns, because the impetuous Israel Putnam stormed past the better and planned battle site.

After furiously toiling all night to build a redoubt, the Americans held off assault after assault by British regulars before being overrun. Philbrick rounds out the story with the arrival of George Washington as commander of the patriot militias, his eventual securing of the heights of Charleston fortified by 60 tons of cannon that Henry Knox had managed to convey 300 miles in the dead of winter from Fort Ticonderoga.

The largest figure in the story is that of physician Joseph Warren, who in the absence of John Adams and John Hancock at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, was almost single-handedly organizing the patriot cause and who died bravely at Bunker Hill.

Philbrook’s narrative has a stately pace, carefully weaving the threads of a complex story with a large and fascinating cast of characters. This is a solid and involving slice of American history told in a lucid and accessible style.

Photo: Mark Kurtz

Photo: Mark Kurtz

WHEN MEN AND MOUNTAINS MEET: Stories of Hope and Despair in the Adirondack Wilderness – Glenn L. Pearsall (2013)
Also: “Echoes in These Mountains” (about Johnsburg)

Glenn Pearsall focuses here on the period of Adirondack history between 1790 and 1820. Before then the region was a blank section on maps. Shortly afterwards, with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, the brief age of expansion and development ended. The Adirondack region was by-passed by commerce as effectively as route 9 was with the opening of the Northway more than a 100 years later.

But in the intervening years, large, ambitious development and settlement plans were floated and partially carried out. Men and women braved hardship, death and bankruptcy (the usual outcome) to blaze their mark on hundreds of thousands of acres. There was Castorland, a French effort to build two European-style cities complete with gardens, libraries , theatres and 14,000 sub-divided lots in the Black River Valley. There was Joseph Bonapart’s attempt to establish a refuge for his brother on 118,000 acres to be called “Little France.” There was John Thurman’s “Ellen Hill’ development on 50,000 acres boasting sawmills, gristmills, a distillery, sheep pasture, a cotton carding mill, and at its height, 1,000 settlers.

Pearsall tells the stories of James Le Ray, David Parrish, Zephoniah Platt (of Plattsburgh fame) and many other little-known entrepreneurs and adventurers. But mining, lumbering, farming and even a nascent sugar maple empire foundered on the rocks of weather, remoteness, and hard economics. The people and the empires are gone but some of the locations remain – Schroon Lake, Lowville, Johnsburg, Booneville – and the stories behind them are well worth re-telling.

MIDNIGHT IN EUROPE – Alan Furst (2014)
Also: “Mission to Paris,” “Dark Star,” “Red Gold”

To set the scene: With dark war clouds looming over Europe in 1938, a debonair Spanish emigre named Christien Farrar is working in the Paris office of the famous Coudert law firm while supporting a household of his closest relatives in a small town nearby. A Civil War is raging in Spain and Ferrar is drawn into an undercover organization trying to buy weapons and ammunition to prop up the Spanish Republicans struggle against General Franco’s fascists.

This is the first of the author’s very successful novels that I have read. Furst has a light touch and tells a story with just enough bizarre characters (a collection of arms merchants and thugs) and just enough intrigue and suspense to keep one’s interest continually focused. There are romantic Paris dinners with a mysterious marquesa; cloak and dagger meetings in Turkey and Rumania; a love affair with a beautiful New York librarian; a stirring escape at sea in a boat loaded with explosives. And always the KGB Russian secret police and the Gestapo lurk just beyond the glow of street lights.
For summer reading, this deftly written novel loaded with atmosphere could be just the ticket.

Ellen Rocco, NCPR Station Manager

“Americanah,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This Nigerian-born author first landed literary recognition with “Half of a Yellow Sun.” With this new (well new-ish) novel, Adichie explores the code-switching, conflicts and relationships between Black Africans living in the US, between Black Africans and African-Americans, between each of these groups and white Americans, and so forth. What can I say? She nails it with authenticity and accuracy. Regardless of your own race or national background, you will recognize the truth in her observations. Adichie also gives us a living, breathing feel for the African immigrant experience in this country.

“The Liberation Trilogy,” including “An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-43, Volume One,” “The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, Volume Two,” and “The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945, Volume Three,” by Rick Atkinson

I have just started Atkinson’s trilogy. I am endlessly intrigued by fiction and non-fiction exploring and documenting the history of both World War I and World War II. Literature about the American Civil War is also high on my interest list.

Michael Coffey, Bolton Landing and NYC


I am besotted with Alice Munro’s  “personal selection” of stories, 17 of them. compiled in a volume titled  “Carried Away,” which Random House wisely reissued after Alice won the Nobel last year. If I were teaching the short story, I’d have students read these and read them again and then take the hood off each and see how they ran, all these parts gleaming with function and mystery . I once thought Munro wrote about dull people in dull, Ontario landscapes. My wife kept reading Alice and finally I picked up this volume and can hardly believe what I was missing, Chekhov-like but wilder, and entirely daring in form, mixing voices, perspectives. time periods. There ‘s even one  masterpiece set not principally in her Native Canada but Afghanistan!

Cheryl Erickson, Brant Lake

My recommendation for your list is “Enrique’s Journey” by Sonia Nazario.  It’s a very readable, well researched account of a young child’s journey from Honduras to the U.S. to reunite with his mother.  In light of all the immigrant children flooding our borders right now, this book allows the reader to see the world through the eyes of the children who are making this journey at sometimes very dire costs.  Do we call them “immigrants”, or would it be more appropriate to call them “refugees”? How would changing the label affect our policy decisions?  It really makes you think about the nature of the current “border crisis” in a different light.  When I hear people on the news yelling “Go home, we don’t want you,”  I think of Enrique and it makes these comments sound so cold and inhumane.  Who are we?  This book is not about policy but it does put a human face on what is happening on the border.  It’s worth reading and discussing.

Hillarie Logan-DeChene, Long Lake

Sorry I can’t listen to the whole show (will later), but I just finished “The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden” by Jonas Jonasson.  This is an amazing implausible story of a South African woman born during the 1960 and is a hilarious story that also captures some very quirky aspects of Swedish culture.  This book gives a perspective of South African politics, Apartheid, Vietnam, the Mossad, atomic arms and world politics. It is a fun read with just enough history to make it not feel trashy.

Dan Riley, Lake Titus

Two great reads for anytime: “Night in Shanghai” by Nicole Mones. Story about black musicians who immigrated to Shanghai in the 1930s, their love affairs and how the 1937 invasion by the Japanese affected their lives. What made this book exceptionally interesting to me was that although a fictional account, several of the characters were real people. Among them was Aaron Avshalomov, a composer of Chinese symphonies and ballet. He was a neighbor of mine in NYC in 1952.

The other book “The Trip to Echo Spring” by Olivia Laing is a story of writers and drinking, featuring some of our best novelists and poets: Hemmingway, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, John Berryman, Scott Fitzgerald, and Tennessee Williams.

George DeChant, Saranac Lake

“Notes from New Zealand,” Edward Kanze. Nice book by a local author.

Diane Minutilli, Gabriels

I have to second, or third, “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, it is incredibly moving,  fabulous nature writing, well articulates the intersection of spirit and nature. I have never read a book so slowly because I want to soak in every word. I was about to call about this book then I heard John’s review, he nailed it. I am buying copies for friends.

Beau Bushor, Croghan

“Amish Grace, How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy” by Donald Kraybill, Steven M Nolt, David Weaver-Zerche.  I want to send this book to the leaders of Israel & Hamas.

“I Will Stand with My Father”  by Irene Uttendorfsky. A book on Fort Stanwix, NY.

Rob Sproegell, Long Lake

Dawn is devouring Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, “The Signature of All Things.”

Jan Randy, Somewhere in Vermont

“The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making” by David Esterly

Author lives in our neighborhood and is a remarkable woodcarver.  This the story of how he came to his art and of a special project to restore carvings damaged in a fire in a historic English castle.  Skillfully written.  A valuable addition to the literature of craft. Look at his work here –

Kathleen O’Connor, Potsdam

“Introducing Post-modernism: A Graphic Guide,” by Richard Appignanesi with contributor Chris Garrett. (Note: Kathleen left a voicemail message recommending this book, explaining that she’s 80 years old and found this book so extraordinary and mind-expanding that she’s planning to give everyone in her family a copy of it. –Ellen)

Helen Condon, Parishville

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time,” by Mark Haddon. Recommended for teens and adults–opens up the world of autism.

Jane Toleno, Traveling through

My husband Tom & I have been traveling to places we’ve lived (from Big Lake, MN up through some of ON Province to Guelph & now on to Paul Smith’s where Tom will celebrate his 50 year forestry class reunion at Paul Smith’s College) before we head to PA, NJ, for other family & friends.

I sure appreciated scuffing through the radio static & finding your program, clear as bells, yesterday. I am an avid reader, published writer, & old enough to speak my mind & heart without hesitation. I love language & assisting children (our 7 grandchildren especially) to Story from their muscles & blood & skin & bones, hearts & minds – yeah! You get the drift.

As a reader who is blind, I do much of my reading through audio books.

Fabulous science:

Sam Kean’s 2 nonfiction titles: “The Violinist’s Thumb” and “The Disappearing Spoon.”

Fiction but superbly written on a science topic vital to me since I’m allergic to it: “A Fierce Radiance” by Lauren Belfer (about penicillin).

Since I’m a twin to whom the following could have happened, the following title shivers my What-If timbers.

“Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited” by Elyse Schein and Paula Berstein. About a late 1940s/early50s East coast adoption agency who convinced many parents of twins to separate them at birth, adopt them out, never tell or look back & how the twins discovered each other in adulthood.

Social Science:

“Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You” by Sam Gosling. Endorses & makes legitimate, the fine art of eavesdropping, my bread & butter when traveling by bus etc, & snooping.


“The Tizard Mission: The Top-Secret Operation that Changed the Course of World War II” by Stephen Phelps.

“The Boys In The Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown. A superbly crafted account of specific young men’s lives, the rowing which knit them together & integrated them into a larger world where formidable social issues brewed – all of this served as a carefully documented backdrop for their rowing performance at the 1936 Olympics in Germany.

Literature & place:

Robert Macfarlane’s 2 titles: “The Wild Places” and “Old Ways: Journeys on Foot.”

“The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana,” Rick Bass.

“The End of Night: Searching for Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light” by Paul Bogard.

“Acquainted with the Night” by Erica Abbott. This is such a coming together of lore, science, art, music, mystery & more about each hour of what we call night.


“The Midwife of Hope River” by Patricia Harman.

“Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline.

Michael Preis via email

“Winterdance, the Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod” is the most fun I have ever had reading a book. I highly recommend it for most age groups, say 12 and older, including adults. And of course it is timely since reading about cold weather may help cool us on hot days. 🙂 (We interviewed Paulsen a few years ago for our Readers & Writers program. Here’s the link.)

Lucinda Pytlak via email

Lorraine Duvall of Keene, NY has written a riveting first book entitled “And I Know Too Much to Pretend.”  How many of us wish that we could make a statement like that and mean it? We follow Ms. Duvall from her early childhood in Binghamton, NY to her first days spent in her beloved Adirondack Mountain home. We all know about discrimination on some level.  We hear about it in the news regarding various religious, gender or sexual issues.  Some of us may have experienced it on a more personal level. Ms. Duvall tells compelling stories of her encounters, ones that will shock those who came-of-age after feminism took root in the 60s and 70s.

Becky Pelton, North Creek Rafting

This summer I’m slowly re-reading a book I think everyone ought to read at least once a decade. It’s a book that takes a while to digest and seems like it was written by aliens watching us. The book is “Men are from Mars, Woman are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex” by John Gray. We’ve all heard of it and there’s a reason why. It provides a general framework for understanding the differences between men and women. With the understanding, we can increase effective communication and enjoyment of one another. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “With understanding, those we love will certainly flower.”

Gene Tweraser

“A Passion for the True and Just: Felix and Lucy Kramer Cohen and the Indian New Deal”  by Alice Beck Kehoe deals with two people who loved the Adirondacks and had a summer home at Lake Clear.  The book is about  Native Americans, the Jewish tradition of moral obligation, anthropology and legal concepts.  Another recent book that discussed the Cohens is “The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left” by Landon R. Y. Storrs.  Both are well written historical narratives about a fascinating period in American history.

Steve Gotcher, Madison, WI (former NCPR Production Manager)

I am really enjoying the book, “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson.

Allen Fitz-Gerald

I just finished an astonishing nonfiction book that unearths new material on the American Revolution, titled “Col. William Marsh: Vermont Patriot & Loyalist” by Jennifer and Wilson Brown. Before Vermont became a state, New Yorkers claimed to own its land. They were fiercely opposed by Ethan Allen and other Green Mountain Boys, including Col. Marsh who played a major role but is little known because when the Continental Congress refused to admit Vermont into the Union and back their land claims against the Yorkers, Marsh gained support from the British and switched sides. His mixed legacy caused him to be largely ignored by historians, who tended to dismiss him as unpatriotic. This book corrects the complex record with documentation that is fascinating and superbly researched.

Pat Nelson (aka “Proud Mama”)

I have to start this with a declaration: The author whose books I am about to recommend, Darrell B. Nelson, is my son.

Teachers from Potsdam High School in the early ’80s may recognize the style of a student whose creative imagination some of them appreciated and which drove some of them up the wall. Some teachers, students, local business people and politicians may think they notice a resemblance to themselves. Some may be flattered, others may deny the possibility. (No negative portrayals can possibly refer to persons or aliens alive or dead, so don’t bother trying to sue.)

The book of short stories “Darrell’s Dark Dreams,” published last June in eBook form, is an easy beach or rainy day read for those who have run out of Stephen Kings. “I Killed the Man That Wasn’t There” is also a good collection of short stories for vacation reading.

The most recent “Mind Thief” and an earlier “An Extra Topping of Horror” are full-length novels, so they may be harder to abandon for a dip or a hike. If you find yourself fiendishly addicted, there are more of his books available on line.

Susan Hayden

Yes, “Where’d You Go Bernadette” by Maria Semple is indeed a hoot, and “The Signature of All Things” is a must read, as is “The Lowland”–both by Jhumpa Lahiri. Her elegant prose transports us to the streets of Calcutta during the Naxalite movement of the 1960’s and then to seaside Rhode Island as we follow the lives of two brothers and their families.  Engaging and enlightening. Don’t miss it.

Larry (location unknown)

“The Abandoned House By the River” a North Country mystery/tragedy.


Okay, readers. Keep those titles coming. Add via comment section or email [email protected] and, of course, we’ll be back with another list-making show this fall.

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14 Comments on “The NCPR 2014 summer reading list”

  1. Sage says:

    Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is my pick of the summer. Such fresh writing, hilarious and heart-warming too. Not to be missed!

  2. Jane Ambrose says:

    I agree with Sage about Bernadette, but my absolute favorite of he spring and summer (so far) is Elizabeth Gilbert’s “The Signature of all Things” about a woman botanist born in 1800 and the fascinating life that she leads. A most unusual woman embedded in a beautifully written novel.

  3. Linda Casserly says:

    “The Plum Tree” is my pick of the summer. Just when you think you have read and watched many documentaries on WWII, this is another look into the horrors and sufferings of not only the Jewish people, but the German people, who would not support Hitler. The story stayed with me for days. The author, Ellen Marie Wiseman, is from Three Mile Bay and first generation American with family in Germany. I could not put it down.

  4. Scott Martin says:

    I still think Edgar Lee Masters (1868–1950), ‘Spoon River Anthology’ (1916) is one of the best ‘front porch sitting’ books ever. Just read, and watch; read and watch…

    Not ‘strictly’ literature, but I’ve been enjoying the written poetry and spoken word work of Sekou Sundiata quite a bit this summer, recalling a tradition extending back through another favorite, Vachel Lindsay, to Villon himself.

    Some translation, abridgment, or original text of the ‘Roman de Renart’ is a regular Sunday morning read here at Castle Malperduis- or Joel Chandler Harris occasionally- either are welcome and necessary preparation for the days news and programs. Pope is for days when I just turn the damn thing off.

  5. Susan Hayden says:

    Yes, Where’d You Go Bernadette is indeed a hoot, and The Signature of All Things is a must read, as is The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. Her elegant prose transports us to the streets of Calcutta during the Naxalite movement of the 1960’s and then to seaside Rhode Island as well follow the lives of two brothers and their families. Engaging and enlightening. Don’t miss it.

  6. Larry says:

    “The Abandoned House By the River” a North Country mystery/tragedy. Have you read that one Chris?

  7. Gene Tweraser says:

    A Passion for the True and Just; Felix and Lucy Kramer Cohen and the Indian New Deal by Alice Beck Kehoe deals with two people who loved the Adirondacks and had a summer home at Lake Clear. The book is about Native Americans, the Jewish tradition of moral obligation, anthropology and legal concepts. Another recent book that discussed the Cohens is The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left by Landon R. Y. Storrs. Both are well written historical narratives about a fascinating period in American history.

  8. Jane W says:

    Loved “The Light Between Oceans” by M. L. Stedman. It is about an Australian couple who live on a remote island and take care of the lighthouse there. It takes place after WWI.

  9. Sheryl D says:

    I recently picked up an old favorite I read 30+ years ago: Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Very excited to read it again.

  10. Ellen Rocco says:

    Sheryl: My mother was my reading “guide” when I was a youngster. I devoured books author by author, reading everything I could get my hands on by authors I liked. My mother turned me on to Hardy via “Tess…” when I was about 12. You have inspired me to re-read it–it’s been more than 50 years since I first met Tess…and Hardy!

  11. Julie H says:

    I will share a few of my recent favorites! One of the best perks of retirement is being able to read late and sleep in the next morning!
    “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr…One of the best books I’ve read this year. A blind daughter of a locksmith at the Paris Museum of Natural History and a brilliant orphan boy in Germany with genius self-taught skills in electronics who of course, catches the eye of the Nazi overlords. Their stories are separate but you know they will one day connect. Wonderful writing and characters!

    “The Girl in Hyacinth Blue” by Susan Vreeland. A strange man obsessed with a painting he owns and believes to be an original Vermeer but cannot divulge how it came into his possession begins the book. Then each chapter takes us back in history, owner by owner until we meet the original creator. So different and creative a story!

    “The Storied Life of A.J Fikrey” by Gabrielle Zevin . A grumpy and depressed widower who owns a bookstore on an island not unlike Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket who finds an abandoned baby on his doorstep. A gem for any book lover

    “Norwegian by Night” by Derek Miller… This excellent story is part thriller/part life reflection which takes place in Oslo Norway. An octogenarian Jewish American Korean war veteran who is making a new life, living with his daughter and son in law, becomes involved in a crime and saving a young boy’s life. Beautiful!

    Lastly, my final rave review is for “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd. Based on the lives of Sarah Grimke and her sister, Nina, this historical fiction begins in Charleston, SC when 11 year old Sarah is gifted with a slave girl to take care of her. She rejects this horror and thus begins an amazing story which builds toward her life as a Quaker, abolitionist and feminist. Each chapter switches from Sarah’s story to her African American counterpart, Handful. A winner of a book!

  12. Bev stellges says:

    I got hooked on John Hart’s three books: The
    Iron House, The Last Child and King of Lies! Couldn’t put them down! He has a new one coming out in October. Yippee!

  13. Diane Gayer says:

    Hi Ellen, so good to read thru the list… it is helping me remember all the books I was intending to read this summer! meanwhile I just finished Michael Pollan’s new book “Cooked” and am loaning it out to everyone I know. It is inspiring me to start baking bread again, make pickles, and maybe try my hand at wine (instead of jam) from my grapes this year.
    The other book I just finished was The Round House by Louise Erdrich. It was on the display shelf at the Fletcher Free Library in Burl. I fell into it without knowing anything about the author or that the story is framed by life on North Dakota/South Dakota reservations. It is so easy to read and yet by the time I was done I really wondered how she had managed to convey so many layers of meaning, of tension – from the familiar to the horror – the subtlety must be where her power is.

  14. Gail McKay says:

    This summer I read our very fine local (Keene-Jay) author LORRAINE DUVAL’s memoire ” “AND I KNOW TOO MUCH TO PRETEND”. Give it a read everyone to see how one person got through early years figuring out who she was and wanted to become. Experiences we’ve all been through and this read even gives hints! And she promises a sequel! She is holding readings and discussions and signings at various local sites.

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