Summer reading list 2013: add your titles

Via Google

Via Google

Thanks to NCPR listeners and visitors, plus Chris Robinson and John Ernst, we have an impressive list of recommendations here.

You can still add your favorite titles in the comment section. You can email me at any time with book suggestions,, which I’ll add to this list or the next one. Yes, there’s always a next one!

Ellen Rocco, NCPR station manager

Here are the books I’m sharing with friends this month:

1. “The Dog Stars, Peter Heller.” Post-apocalyptic (other than Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” I don’t do this genre). Poetic, insightful, strong story, great characters (not many of them).

2. “The Orphan Master’s Son,” Adam Johnson. Dark as it comes–set in North Korea–and incredibly compelling and readable.

3. “The Orchardist,” Amanda Coplin. Another one of those astonishing first novels. Well-told, well-written, rooted Northwestern U.S.

4.”Istanbul Passage,” Joseph Kanon. Set in Istanbul just after the end of WW II, this sort-of thriller explores the gray zones of good and bad behavior, plus all kinds of Istanbul detail and atmosphere.

5. “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye,” Rachel Joyce. A sweet, poignant tale–what we regret, what redeems us.

6. “The Pink Hotel,” Anna Stothard. A first novel with a wonderfully quirky young woman protagonist who is trying to unravel the story of her mother’s life…and her own. We talked to Anna via Skype from Berlin during our reading list call in show and asked her what she’s reading these days:

” The English Patient,” Michael Ondaatje

“Dance, Dance, Dance,” Haruki Murakami

Just back from a July 4th party in Lake Placid, I ran into longtime station friend Parmalee Tolkan (a dedicated reader of books, the printed on paper kind), who recommends:

“Theft,” by Peter Carey–and other novels by him, including “True History of the Kelly Gang.” Carey has won two Mann Booker prizes for his fiction.

“My Beloved World,” by Sonia Sotomayor, a moving autobiography.

FROM JOHN ERNST, call-in co-host

THE BOYFRIEND — Thomas Perry (2013)

Also: Vanishing Act, Poison Flower, The Butcher’s Boy

Photo: Spit-Fire, via Creative Commons, some restrictions

Photo: Spit-Fire, via Creative Commons, some restrictions

Thomas Perry is the winner of an Edgar Award and is the author of 21 thrillers featuring such favorite protagonists as Jane Whitefield, master of hiding and finding fugitives, and the butcher’s boy, an oddly sympathetic killer for hire. Here he introduces a new main character, Jack Till, a retired L.A.P.D. homicide detective with a Down Syndrome daughter, who has turned private eye.

Pitted against him is a vicious and completely amoral hit man who is dangerously attractive to women and is able to exploit the advantage by hiding among high-priced escorts whom he kills when the job for which he has been hired is done. Till is hired by the desperate parents of one of the victims when the local police do little more than go through the motions in looking for the killer. He embarks on a cross-country chase that ends in a shoot-out in a spookily- abandoned new development in the Arizona desert.

Perry is a master at the details of the underworld – from identity-shifting to money laundering to sending a high-powered rifle from one coast to the other without a trace. His characters have enough hair on them so that you care about them, and he understands the nuances of all sorts of human interaction from the sexual to the financial. He is always worth reading.

INFERNO – Dan Brown (2013)
danbrownAlso: The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, Angels and Demons
Dan Brown’s novels are packed with an irresistible combination of elements: arcane but interesting scholarly data, an intriguing series of puzzles, and the suspense of a chase or search. They are entertainments built consciously around what Brown calls “an ethical debate” or “a moral dilemma.” Inferno delivers in spades.

Here the clues to the search, on which the fate of humanity may hang, derive from Dante’s great epic poem. The landscape consists of some of the artistic masterpieces of art and architecture in Florence, Venice and Istanbul, many of which are woven directly into the story so the art history nuggets propel the plot forward. The pace is hard-driving. The problem is the terrible dilemma of the earth’s rampant over-population. And the reader’s comfortable expectations of the characters are virtually all overturned. Nothing is what it seems in Brown’s world.

For a thriller with enough of an intellectual charge to keep you postponing that summer afternoon nap indefinitely, Robert Langdon, Brown’s familiar Harvard professor protagonist, with his Harris tweed jacket, his Mickey Mouse watch, and his ever-present claustrophobia, may be just your man.


CATHERINE THE GREAT: Portrait of a Woman – Robert K. Massie (2011)

Also: Nicholas and Alexander, Peter the Great

Robert Massie is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who brings the skills of an accomplished novelist to his work.

And a great story is what he has here – that of a minor German princess married at the age of 14 to the shiftless heir to the throne of Russia and then subjected to eighteen years of boredom and isolation, rigidly controlled by her mother-in-law, the reigning Empress Elizabeth; ignored and tormented by her husband. But during those years she learned the Russian language. She converted (at great personal cost and to the dismay of her family) from Lutheranism to the Greek Orthodox religion. She read prodigiously in the writings of the Enlightenment. And she prepared herself to rule an empire.

When she moved, she used her supporters in the military to overthrow her inept husband Peter lll, who was threatening to install her in a monastery and marry his serving girl paramour. Thereafter she presided for 34 years over one of the great periods of Russian history – opening a path to the Black Sea, defeating her enemies Turkey and Poland, filling the Hermitage with one of the world’s finest art collections, introducing into the country the most distinguished minds in Europe, and preparing the way for the flowering of Russian culture in the 19th Century.

Massie tells the story in an intimate and compelling way, leaving the reader with a vivid and very personal sense of his protagonist. Named at birth Sophia Augusta Fredericka of Anhalt-Zerbst, she came to fully deserve the name by which we now know her: Catherine the Great.


Also: Brief Encounters with Che Guevara

Ben Fountain has received the Pen/Hemingway Award and this, his first novel, was nominated for a National Book Award.

It is a powerful concoction – an indictment of contemporary American culture that is both funny and acutely painful. The premise is: a U.S. Army squad (Bravo) sparked into three minutes and forty-three seconds of frantic activity by Specialist Billy Lynn, become national heroes. During a U.S. victory tour, they make an appearance at Dallas Stadium as guests of the Dallas Cowboy’s owner for a Thanksgiving Day game.

The disconnect between the young squad, fresh from the horrors of the battlefield and soon to return to it, and the legion of patriotic but clueless fans, the agent promoting a Hollywood film of the squad’s exploits, and the self-serving team owner and executives and players, as well as a crew of murderous roadies working on the halftime show, give the novel its grit .

Fountain is a master at conveying a mego-American insanity in the home of America’s team during a halftime show with more pyrotechnics than were used in World War ll. This novel has been compared to Catch-22 and the writing style to that of James Joyce.

The novel is not perfect. Sometimes it stalls during the endless routine of pre-game and halftime and wrap-up. And Billy’s sudden romance with a gorgeous Dallas Cowboy cheerleader seems a bit much. But as a Washington Post reviewer writes, this is, “a gut punch of a debut novel.”

THE WORST HARD TIME — Timothy Egan (2006)

Also: Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

dustbowlThis book, a National Book Award winner in 2006, is the heartbreaking story of the greatest ecological disaster in U.S. history and an enduring human tragedy. Egan draws blood in describing the ignorance and greed that led to the plowing under in just 30 years of the Great Plains, a grassland paradise of high bluestem and buffalo grass that supported herds of bison that stretched for fifty miles and an empire for the Lords of the Plains, the Comanche Indians. By 1930, when a decade of drought arrived (drouth to the settlers) the damage was done. The land Lewis and Clark had called “so magnificent a scenery” became the dust bowl.

Egan follows the personal stories of sod busters in northern Texas, the Oklahoma panhandle and southern Colorado. Sudden prosperity was swiftly overtaken by plagues of biblical proportions — freezing blue Northers, black blizzards of dust, clouds of ravaging grasshoppers, walls of homes crawling with centipedes and black widow spiders. Year after year the disasters came, destroying the land and wearing down the people, resulting in the erosion of 100 million acres by wind storms that carried topsoil all the way to New York and Washington and leaving towns depopulated, fence posts buried in dust, children dying from dust pneumonia.

Conservation Corps efforts under the leadership of the heroic Hugh Bennett reclaimed some land to grass. But today the draining of the huge Ogallala aquifer at 8 times the rate it can re-fill, driven by hundreds of millions of dollars of Federal subsidies, makes one wonder whether we have learned anything at all.

BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity – Katherine Boo (2012)

Katherine Boo is a New Yorker staff writer and before that was a reporter for the Washington Post. She has won a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur grant and this, her first book, won a National Book Award. It is the story of Annawadi, a slum settlement in the shadows of Mumbai airport on the shores of a sewage pond.

Boo focuses on Abdul, the enterprising eldest son of a Muslim family, whose skill at collecting and sorting recyclable garbage is lifting his relatives enough to give them hope of escape from the teeming, smelly, disease- and rat-haunted place in which they live.

The reader’s admiration for the energy and ingenuity of some of Annawadi’s residents is balanced against fury at the utter corruption of the police, government officials, doctors and judges whose greed and indifference makes progress and even survival a low probability. In what is perhaps the central image of the book, a good number of neighbors walk past a man who has been grievously injured when hit by a car, leaving him pleading for help until he eventually bleeds to death. Some fear authorities, some are in a hurry, some just don’t care.

Boo’s book is fully dramatized and told almost like a novel. Thoughts and dialogue are offered. Boo says that her research over 4 years, checking with eye witnesses, was exhaustive. But the story feels manufactured, massaged, fictionalized. It spins on the self-immolation of a one-legged woman whose case against Abdul’s family frames the narrative. The reader is left to decide whether the essential truths here weigh heavier than the liberties the author may have taken to arrange material for effect.

SWEET TOOTH – Ian McEwan (2012)

Also: Saturday, Atonement, The Cement Garden, Solar

Like an intricate series of jeweled boxes that fit together perfectly, this novel spins a tense cloak and dagger tale that whips back on itself in a surprising and satisfying conclusion.

The plot concerns a beautiful Cambridge University graduate (Serena Frome, rhymes with plume) who enters M-15, the British intelligence service, in 1972 – the year of a bitter miners’ strike and an energy crisis. Her career trajectory from blunder to blunder ends with her disgrace and the embarrassment of a prize-winning young novelist to whom she has funneled untraceable government funding and with whom she is romantically involved.

I’m a big fan of McEwan, but I found his last novel, SOLAR, a sour and overly tricky enterprise – mannered and in the end boring.

Here McEwan has recovered his ability to animate a story. In the process he recounts the plots (invented by the novelist character) of several short stories and a novel with enough verve that one actually wants to read them. He drops literary names and sprinkles in gossip to liven the mix. His description of Alexander Solzhenitsyn whose, “forehead rose like an orthodox dome” gives a sense of the playful spirit he conveys.

This is an exhilarating and thoroughly entertaining novel.

THE WRATH OF COCHISE: The Bascom Affair and the Origins of the Apache Wars – Terry Mort (2013)

Also: The Hemingway Patrols

Cochise, via Google, some restrictions.

Cochise, via Google, some restrictions.

In 1861 in southeastern Arizona, an incident took place that set the scene for decades of bloody warfare between the Chiricahua Apaches and Americans and Mexicans. Cochise, the leader of a Chiricahua band, came with close family members for a talk with a U.S. army unit led by an inexperienced young lieutenant, George Bascom. The subject was  a recent raid and the kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy.  When Cochise denied responsibility, Bascom had the tent surrounded by troops and threatened to hold the Apaches hostage until the boy was returned. With that, Cochise pulled out a knife, cut through the tent wall and made his escape amid gunfire. His family remained behind.

Terry Mort carefully and meticulously sets the scene for this dramatic moment, describing Bascom’s career and West Pont training, delineating Apache social organization and the crucial distinction they made between warfare and raiding. Warfare was revenge; raiding a way of life.

Mort’s narrative problem is that although Cochise was a dynamic and powerful figure, later to lead all the Chiricahuas, he left a thin documentary record. His birth date is unclear, probably around 1810. His death, likely from disease in 1872 is cloudy. No photograph of him has survived.

Given this, Mort does a remarkable job of assembling the existing factual record in a balanced and fair way. Clearly, responsibility for what came to be known as the Bascom Affair is shared.

FROM CHRIS ROBINSON, call-in co-host

Carlo Levi, via Wikipedia

Carlo Levi, via Wikipedia

Last week I read Carlo Levi’s classic memoir, Christ Stopped in Eboli.  The book recounts his life as a political prisoner in Mussolini’s Italy.  Levi was born and raised in Turin.  He was imprisoned in Rome because of his anti-fascist activism. Then he was internally exiled to a small town in impoverished southern Italy.  The book is a magnificent series of sketches of the events and people that animated and populated his exile. It becomes a political tract at the end when Levi reflects on the role of the state in the disenfranchisement of the Italian peasant class.

I first heard of this book in a class on Liberation Theology.  I took this class in the fall of 1979. As was my practice, I wrote down the titles and authors of books I heard mentioned by professors and classmates. I have continued this list to the present day.  Upon graduation, I had a lovely diploma marking the end of my undergraduate career.  More importantly, I had a sizable list of books to read and this marked the beginning of my lifelong education.  Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli was the last book on the list compiled in college.  I did not think I would ever reach the end, honestly. This is not because the list was so long. Rather, the problem was that I kept adding to it.  I did not read in any special order. I just read what I wanted to next.  Without any real plan, I left the best from my youth for last with Levi’s memoir. I can’t help but to feel that this was my actual graduation.

Here’s some of the other things I have been reading since the winter call-in:


  • Rebecca Goldstein, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God.  I am a big fan of Goldstein’s novels since her literary debut with The Mind/Body Problem.  In her most recent novel, Goldstein takes on the various philosophical and experiential arguments for the existence of God through her protagonist, Cass Seltzer, a psychologist of religion. Seltzer wrote a hit book that received enormous critical attention and garnered him a reputation as an “atheist with soul.” Toward the end of the book, Seltzer participates in a public debate with a religious scientist.  This may be the most brilliant presentation of the various arguments available for and against the existence of God ever written.  The debate is a high energy and cerebral affair with much at stake. As I read, I could feel my heart race and perspiration
    Photo: Spit-Fire, via Creative Commons, some restrictions

    Photo: Spit-Fire, via Creative Commons, some restrictions

    began to stream down my brow and back. It is a tour de force in the art of weaving philosophy and fiction.

  • Nicole Krauss, A Man Walks Into a Room.  I watched a recent American Masters on PBS that was devoted to Philip Roth (highly recommended).  Contemporary author Nicole Krauss offered some commentary on Roth’s life and work.  Her thoughts impressed me, and I decided to read a book of hers.  I saw this title on Amazon and when I read the description I was immediately seduced into buying it. A Man Walks Into a Room is about an English professor who is found wandering through the desert near Las Vegas.  He has no identification, and he can remember nothing.  He eventually has surgery to remove a small tumor from his brain. This surgery eliminates much of his memory permanently.  Ironically, as I read I kept feeling a sense of recognition. “Have I read this before?” Well, I had. About fifteen years ago.  You don’t need a tumor to forget stuff, but it is interesting to read a book about memory loss that you have read before and then forgot. In any case, Krauss is a wonderful writer and this book is an involving reflection on how identity is nothing more than the fragile story we tell about ourselves. When this story is interrupted in some way, our sense of who we are – indeed, the very fact of who we are — is changed inalterably.
  • William Gass, Middle C. When Gass publishes a novel, it is a literary event.  I read his last, The Tunnel, in a fever.  That book was about a man so trapped by life that he began a literal escape by digging a tunnel in his basement.  In Middle C we trace the steps of a professor of music back through his falsified credentials to his childhood in London and Austria. The weave of information, psychological reflection, and action is intricate and challenging. Gass is not an easy writer. The effort you have to put into reading his fiction is rewarded with a sense of journey. Plus, you will learn a great deal about classical music in the twentieth century. Where a writer like Rebecca Goldstein explores philosophical themes in her works, Gass offers a different version of the philosophical novel: his writing is philosophical thinking in action. You engage in it as you engage his writing. It is humbling to be in the presence of such a great thinker.
  • Mason Smith, Far Alaska. I wrote about this book on our Readers and Writers Book Club website.  You just have to FarAlaskalove a novel about an erotic journey of sexual self-discovery that stars a couple that have had their AARP cards for decades.  As always, Smith offers a strong sense of place whether you are in the Adirondacks or the Yukon.  The humor of this book should not be underestimated.
  • J.M. Ledyard, Submergence and Giraffe. There’s nothing more satisfying than finding a new author to add to your personal pantheon of literary heroes. Ledyard is a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.  In his novels, he labors to create a new genre he calls “planetary writing.” This category is distinguished from “nature writing” because Ledyard does not conceive of humanity as an exotic species; rather, he studies the immersion of humans in the biosphere. Giraffe s based on an actual event from the early seventies when a herd of giraffes at a zoo in Czechoslovakia were slaughtered.  In Submergence, Ledyard entwines the life of a deep water biologist with that of a CIA operative in the Sudan.  Both books are stunning works of art and thinking.
  • Ben Marcus, The Flaming Alphabet. I might be guilty of loving the idea that animates this novel than the novel itself.  Adults begin to experience debilitating symptoms with no clear cause until it is realized that parents of children are more likely to succumb than those who live apart from children. The carrier of the disease is language itself, and children are the purest conveyors. Eventually, the language of adults can sicken one another. The only cure is silence. The idea behind the book is the question: What happens when we lose the ability to express affection and love verbally?  The result is an interesting literary experiment that is replete with logical infelicities and unanswered ancillary questions.

Memoirs and Biography

  • Daniel Mendelsohn, The Elusive Embrace. In my winter list, I included Mendelsohn’s collection of essays, Waiting for the BarbariansThe Elusive Embrace is a thoughtful coming of age memoir.  Mendelsohn is about my age, and we grew up in similar parts of Long Island. I can tell you from experience that this is hardly fertile ground for classics scholars and for young men coming to terms an identity that challenges heterosexual norms.  Mendelsohn surmounts all the obstacles in his vocational and sexual path.  Why do we still read Greek tragedy?  Mendelsohn provides persuasive testimony that these works grant us a sturdy and clear vocabulary for expressing even the most mystical aspects of human life.
  • Shulamith Firestone, Airless Spaces.  Many readers of Firestone will criticize my decision to place this book of short sketches in the “memoir” category.  The book is advertised as fiction. I don’t buy it. I picked this book up after I read Firestone’s obituary in the New York Times back in February (I think).  Years ago, I read her classic feminist tract, The Dialectic of Sex, and thought it brilliant, challenging, and ultimately unconvincing.  I knew nothing of the author then.  The obituary chastised me for losing sight of this unique political thinker.  Airless Spaces is a dismal artifact of her years combatting mental illness. The book is a series of portraits of the people she met in and around hospitals and institutions.  The pains of the author are never far from the surface of these little studies. There is an insight into madness here that is truly unique and heartbreaking.
  • Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary. Barthes began this diary the day after his mother passed away. It is one of the most important reflections on why we mourn ever written.  So much philosophy, as Julian Baggini as noted recently, is concerned with why we should not fear the experience of our own death. Very little is written on how we should respond to the death of those we love or why we respond the way we do. I certainly contemplate the terms of conditions of my own imagines death. But I am frankly incapable of thinking about the death of my wife, and any thought about the mortality of my children is utterly repugnant.  Barthes’ pain resonated deeply with me as he found himself unable to write or think in any protracted way in the months and years following the death of his mother. The weave of lives is so tight that it renders the fantasies of individuality celebrated by libertarians risible. Who we are is very much a matter of who we love.
  • David Graeber, Project Democracy: A History, A Crisis, A Movement. I have read about a half dozen books on the
    Photo: Antonio Baylos, via Google, some restrictions

    Photo: Antonio Baylos, via Google, some restrictions

    Occupy Wall Street movement, and this is the best – by far. Graeber recounts the origins of the movement in the financial collapse of 2007-8, calls to action in Adbusters, and a move by anarchist activists to move protest away from the verticality of giving speeches then marching to the horizontal character of direct democracy. This is a vital move that builds upon the creativity of those compelled to engage in dissent and challenge the corporatism that leads to the concentration of wealth in the 1%, while half of all Americans live on or near the poverty line and our children are saddled with huge debt for their education. This is a brilliant book by one of the most important anthropologists since Margaret Mead.

  • Michael Chabon, Manhood.  I sure do love Chabon’s novels.  I read this collection of essays because my colleague Martin Heintzelman recommended it.  I’m grateful to him. What does it mean to be male in America today?  What of being a father? A son? A husband? A lover?  There is privilege associated with masculinity that translates into unreflectiveness.  Only those challenged by the dominant norms of society need to understand their strangeness.  Chabon is entertaining and provocative in this strong and consistent series of essays.
  • Jonathan Sperber, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life.  I read the writings of Marx fairly regularly as part of my life and work as a political theorist. I have my favorites and I am guilty of neglecting other works. Sperber engages in a careful historical reconstruction of all of Marx’s writings.  The result is a rich portrait of a bourgeois thinker, an educated man devoted to scholarship and a radical political journalist and activist. Every page contained some sort of surprising insight about the formation of Marx’s political economic ideas. This is a great work of intellectual biography and will be of interest to non-scholars of Marx and Marxism.
  • Rebecca Solnit

    Rebecca Solnit

    Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli. The title of this book refers to a belief held by the peasants of southern Italy that Christianity equals civilization, and that Christ never reached southern Italy. This is a matter of self-identification as well as a realistic reflection of the poverty of their existence.  Levi arrives in town a political prisoner.  He is trained as a physician, but an artist by inclination and vocation. Nevertheless, he must practice medicine among these people who suffer malaria and the effects of malnutrition.   Memoir becomes political tract as the injustices visited upon these simple become too great to bear without outrage.

  • Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby.  Ellen and I had the great honor of interviewing Rebecca Solnit this past February. You can find the interview archived at the Readers and Writers page. The Faraway Nearby had not been published at that point.  I wish it had been because it is beautiful, poetic and brilliant. Within five pages this became my very favorite Solnit book. This is a memoir of Solnit’s childhood, her relationship with her mother, and her development into a writer.  It occurs to me that Solnit has contributed to what Ledyard has called “planetary writing” in this work. It is an intricate weave of the natural – apricots, ice, landscape – and the human.  I’ll be re-reading this book for years to come.

From summer news intern Claire Woodcock

Besides interning here at NCPR, I’ve been dedicating much of my summer to reading up on the classic literature I should have already read (but have yet to read). Here are my current recommendations:

“On the Road”- Jack Kerouac. I started reading this book on the 8 hour bus ride back from NYC yesterday, and I can’t wait to go home and finish it! Based on the travels of Kerouac and his friends across America and back, it is said to capture the essence of the Beat Generation. It’s a good companion book if you’re traveling.

“The Big Sleep”- Raymond Chandler. I had been wanting to read this book for a long time, and I’m so glad that I did. It’s a classic, gritty detective novel. The novel follows detective Phillip Marlowe as he is hired by the wealthy General Sternwood to deal with a blackmail attempt by a local bookstore owner Joe Geiger, dealing with his immature and wild daughter Carmen. The plot thickens when Marlowe goes to stake out Geiger’s home and sees Carmen enter his home. Later, he hears a gunshot… I don’t want to give the plot away… but it’s really fast paced and sucks you in. Also, there are enough characters in the novel to make the plot complicated enough that you won’t figure out “who-dun-it” until the very end.

“Super Sad True Love Story”- Gary Shteyngart. I read this book right before I came home from college, but I think it could have a place on this list. Don’t let the corny title fool you. This is a contemporary dystopian novel that was written in 2009 that imagines a eerily near future in which consumerism runs their lives. People are addicted to their apparats, which are basically really technologically advanced smart phones that allow you to find out everything about someone and rate them based on their appearance and financial income. People no longer read, they scan books for information, oh, and big corporations (funded by consumerism) are selling the guarantee that you can live forever. The protagonist Lenny Abronov takes on a Woody Allen type persona and narrates the story through diary entries. His lover, Eunice Park also narrates the story with through her Globalteens account in her apparat. It’s a great book because it questions big issues that are extremely relevant to  day. This book is so close to today’s society, it’s actually scary. But it’s an interesting and entertaining read.

Via email…

Via Google

Via Google

Phyllis Klein

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” Jonas Jonasson. This is one of the best books that I have read in a long time, a brilliant satire which will have you laughing out loud. You will not want it to end!

Linda Cohen (long-time reading list contributor from Old Forge Hardware book department)

The old favorite “Adirondack Kids” series by the Van Ripers now has #13, with a northern Adk location at the carosel in Saranac Lake.  The tile is “The carosel Case, the Bicycle Race & The Blackfly Bay Guy .

“The Almond Tree”, by Utica native Michelle Cohen (no relation) Corasanti.  The fictional story of a Palestinian family from partition to today.  A somewhat controversial presentation of the ever unfolding drama in the Middle East, and a good read.

“Adirondack Trail of Gold” by Larry Weill, a novel about French Louie, discovery of a treasure of gold, its loss and a modern search to find it.  Larry, a former forest ranger, is the author of the popular “Excuse me sir, Your Socks are on Fire” series. Larry will be in Old Forge this coming Saturday, to chat and sign books at the Old Forge Hardware from 11am to 1pm.

“An Adirondack Passage”, a reprint of the 1994 edition of Christine Jerome’s charming memoir recounting her quest to follow Nessmuk’s epic canoe journey through the Adirondacks in the 1880s.

Finally, a little off the usual track…The new National Geographic maps covering the Adirondacks in 5 maps are a great help to hikers and canoeists throughout the Park and are designed to coordinate with the new Adirondack Mountain Club Guides.


Photo: John Davies, via Creative Commons, some restrictions.

“Where the Light Remains” by Hayden Gabriel. The story winds between the lives of two women who come to live in a farmhouse in Cornwall, 100 years apart from one another. I couldn’t put it down, and at the same time wanted to savor it and make it last!!!

Here’s a blurb…”Set at either ends of a century, Where the Light Remains weaves the stories of two remarkable women linked by art, landscape, and the intricacies of marriage. In 1886 Cornwall, an artist from the Newlyn School paints a portrait of a striking woman, Claira, the wife of a Methodist farmer. In the painting, Claira basks in the luminescence of a woodland sunset, violin in hand, the still air holding the notes she has just played. In 1986, Claire, a painter, and her husband settle with their two boys in the Cornish farmhouse where Claira once lived. As Claire falls in love with the rugged landscape — and her husband with another woman — Claire makes two discoveries that change her as a woman and as a painter. The lives that fill this elegant novel are a testament to the powerful ways that sensual discovery, creativity, and the experience of marriage connect women across time.”
Sarah O’Connell

“The Night Circus”, by Erin Morgenstern.   Magical, romantic, a great read for long lazy summer day when it’s too hot to go outside or too rainy (as this summer seems to be). I’m glad I didn’t read any reviews first, because when I googled it now to get the author’s name and went to some review sites, it seems to be a love it or hate it kind of book. I didn’t have any expectations, I was just delighted and transported, and I wanted to go to that circus (as opposed to the ones I remember from my youth: hot, loud experiences in tents filled with the scents of popcorn and elephant dung, although those were magical in their own way!)

Sage Bissell

A couple of my favorites:

“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

“The Tender Bar” by JR Moehringer

Jamie Sheffield

(Jamie is a Lake Placid-based writer and teacher. He reminded me to mention some regional writers. Below, the titles of the three novels he’s published.)

“Here Be Monsters,” “Bound for Home,” and “Mickey Slips.”

Emmett Hoops

Glad you asked!

1. “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927,”  John M. Barry.  This book not only informed me about the flood, but much, much more.  Suffice it to say that the 1927 flood changed America in ways that still reverberate today.

2. “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said,”  Philip K. Dick.  A great sci-fi confuser from 1974.  Time drying out??  Yep.

3. “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Edward Gibbon, 1776 – 1789.  Quite possibly the longest book ever written, but also the most fun to read.  Your vocabulary will certainly benefit, as will your perception of history.  It will also take you all summer to read, so start right now.

Pat Nelson

In field biologist Thor Hanson’s preface to “Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle” he writes “I’ve seen flycatchers and nightjars burdened with breeding plumes three times their body length and watched penguins plunge beneath ice floes,comfortably watertight inside their satiny coats. I’ve huddled in a goose-down sleeping bag n subzero nights, while the tiny kinglets I studied kept perfectly warm nearby, fluffed up against the winter wind. I’ve traced feather shapes in the stone of dinosaur fossils and seen them in flying machines, fishing lures, Victorian hats, shuttlecocks, fletching, and ancient Peruvian artwork.”

The book lives up to that intro.  The facts will answer questions you didn’t even know bothered you and the writing keeps you riveted until the last paragraph and wishing for more.

Hannah Murtagh (teaching English in Istanbul!)

I started this list based on a “few” books I’ve read in the last year or I have read many times and confirmed two things about myself:
1 – I don’t read many “fun” books &
2- I apparently have no self control or ability to limit myself. I hope you don’t mind my sort-of long list!

– House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (I just read this last year and thought this was beautiful. I’m living in Turkey and was very glad that Mr. Shadid’s body was able to be brought back across the border).

-A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice  (A wonderful book of hope in a less-than-hopeful country)

– The Favored Daughter: One Woman’s Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future (also wonderful)

– The God of Small Things (I’ve read this book 4 or 5 times. It’s certainly not a “light” novel, but it’s beautiful and heartbreaking. I still can’t put it down).

– Hot and Bothered, Annie Downey (my favorite guilty pleasures! I got a copy as a proof several years ago, and still read it on every beach vacation!)

– Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity  (beautiful and heartbreaking)

– All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps (fantastic for short time spans)

–  The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist’s Search for Truth in the Mass
Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo (this book changed my life! It’s graphic and unpleasant at times, but it’s written by a woman who is changing the world and loves her ability to do so)
-First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (this book also had a huge impact on me. I read this book and became involved with ESL, moved to Burlington, VT, and eventually overseas to learn more about the  process and connection between language and culture)

-The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (love serial killer books!)

-Cleopatra: A Life (this is one of the most well-written biographies I have ever read!)

-The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (amazing book! Not only for science, but for the rights we have, and do not have, over our bodies)

– The Emperor of All Maladies (coolest book about cancer! Really interesting science and history)

– The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery (sort of a guilty pleasure. This man must be one of the most amazing scientists ever. He not only dissected everything around him, he infected himself with diseases to have a firsthand account of the side effects!)

Michael Preis

The most facinating, readable book I ever read is “Winter Dance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod,” by Gary Paulsen. Everyone I have recommended the book to has loved it. It inspired me to go to western Alaska to take a 5 day dog sled trip on which I ran my own sled and team of dogs.

Jackie Avignon

“The Woman Upstairs,” the new novel by Claire Messud. I first heard about it on NPR earlier this spring and it’s a terrific read.

Called in

Sarah Harris (NCPR Champlain Valley reporter)

“The Bastard of Istanbul,” Elif Shafak

“A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life From an Unlikely Teacher,” Sue Halpern

Nancy, Blue Mountain Lake

“The Indian in the Cupboard,” by Lynne Reid Banks…and don’t miss the showing of the film and meet the maker at the Indian Lake Theater later this summer.

Leslie Ann, Owego

“The Janissary Tree,” by Jason Goodwin, and the whole Investigator Yashim series.

Also, a vote of “The Bastard of Istanbul,” by Elif Shafak.

Harry, Inlet

“The Sense of an Ending,” Julian Barnes

Bill, Minerva

“Red Sparrow,” Jason Matthews

Trixie, Boonville

“My Beloved World,” Sonya Sotomayaor

“Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash,” Edward Humes

“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” Junot Diaz

“No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes,” Colin Beavan

“Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change,” Elizabeth Kolbert

Via tumblr

Via tumblr

Mike, Brant Lake

“The Operators,” Michael Hastings

Richard,  Essex

“Manifest Injustice: The True Story of a Convicted Murdered and the Lawyers Who Fought for His Freedom,” Barry Siegel

“Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization,” Nicholas Baker

Via Facebook

Patrick Henry

Wonder by PJ Palacio… my daughter told me that I must read it, it is a DCF winner… it tells the story of a boy born with a facial deformity… it tells of his struggles and amazing story.

Sue Taylor

I have two new (ish) first novels that I would like to recommend for your summer reading show: “Seating Arrangements” by Maggie Shipstead and “Rage Against the Dying” by Becky Masterman. Seating Arrangements takes place over the course of a wedding weekend on a small fictitious New England island. The family dramas are humorous and sometimes tragic. A good summer beach read. Rage Against the Dying is a thriller that I just started over the weekend. It’s the type of book that I’m thinking about when I’m not reading it. The main character is a retired FBI agent who is called back to help on a case that was never solved. The author is an editor for forensic textbooks so her science is good and her story is as well! Hope others enjoy these, too.

Mary Lou Hardwich Leavitt

John Grisham: The Appeal.. ~ to Erin Brockovich.. chemical company pollutes southern town; litigation ensues.

Valerie Summer

I picked this one up at the garage sale: “Acts of Faith” by Philip Caputo. It’s about Sudan in 2005, fiction and really compelling. He is a wonderful writer who had me using the dictionary, which I love, and had many pearls of wisdom. I learned a lot about Sudan and the war as well. Tough read emotionally, and a real page turner.

Sarah Cohen, Old Forge

“The Good German,” and “Istanbul Passage,” by Joseph Kanon

Connie Cannon

Connie likes to read books in “groups.” Like this cluster of titles:

“the River Wife,” Jonis Agee

“The Reluctant Wife,” Bronwen Evans

“Runaway Wife”


“Cutting for Stone,” Abraham Verghese

“Pocketful of Names,” Joe Coomer

“Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck

Jackie, Chestertown

“The Woman Upstairs,” Claire Messud

Mary Lou

“The Appeal,” John Grisham

“Miss Montreal,” Howard Schrier


Keep those titles coming…email me,, or post below.

  1. Remarkable Creatures, by Tracey Chavalier, fossils, class, science, religion.

    Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War I.
    by Mitchell Zuckoff

    Central Park: An Anthology

    Artists in Crime, by Ngaio Marsh

  2. I have been addicted to psychological thrillers and murder mysteries this summer. Thank you for this extensive list! I wanted to mention a crime fiction novel I read recently that I could NOT put down. The book is called “The Gemini Factor” by author Philip Fleishman ( The action and surprises in this book never stopped! It is a superb medical/psychological mystery spun with meticulous attention to accuracy. The medical aspects are gruesomely spot-on (the book focuses on serial killers with identical “calling cards” in two different countries). There is excellent character development and plot twists and turns that left me speechless! I cannot wait for this author’s next book and hope you will give it a read :)happy summer

  3. Lucy Martin says:

    I just finished “The Last Runaway” by Tracy Chevalier.

    While Chevalier is a prolific author of notable success, I haven’t liked everything she’s written. Well, I stayed up until 2 am to finish this book in one sitting.

    Jilted by her fiancé, young English Quaker Honor Bright accompanies her sister to Ohio, where her sister plans to marry into a new Quaker community near Oberlin. But her sister dies of yellow fever before they even arrive. Honor must find a place in this new culture. A young woman living then and there would feel intense pressure to resolve the problem through marriage, like it or not.

    This is underground railroad territory. So, from her first wagon ride to the book’s end, Honor and her new neighbors are enmeshed in the issue slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act (1850) – law that compeled the return of runaways, with jail time or ruinous fines for providing food or shelter to runaways.

    What did Honor do, to make a life for herself and assist runaways? What would you have done?

    This is a simply-written “small” story about personal choices and compromises that do not shift history. But I found it thought-provoking and powerful.

    Then or now, at times bad law permits or compels hard ethical conflict. How should individuals respond?

  4. sue davis says:

    I thought I recommended JULY 1914, but can’t find it listed. For history buffs, the secret diplomacy (and lack thereof) that led to WWI-right before Tuchman’s GUNS of AUGUST.
    Yes, I admit it, it’s my son’s Sean McMeekin’s, but it was on cover of May 12 NY Times magazine, so it’s not just my recommendation…

    • Ellen Rocco says:

      My bad, Sue. I remember you sending this recommendation and somehow it fell through the cracks. Thanks for correcting. Ellen

  5. Jerry Manor says:

    “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara.

    A very intense and entertaining account of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. Earlier this month was the 150th anniversary of this important battle. I listened to the audiobook on the way home from my first visit to the battlefield and have read the novel a couple of times as well. The movie based on the book is also very good. For those of you who haven’t been to Gettysburg, I highly recommend it.

  6. Brian Mann says:

    So here’s my summer recommendation.

    I’ve been re-reading VS Naipaul’s “Bend in the River”.

    It was one of the first books that opened my thinking about complex cultural currents, informing the way I look at race relations, class, individuals in stressed societies, and so on.

    It’s also simply an amazing, impossible-to-put-down work of prose.

    But we also now know that Naipaul held a lot of fairly creepy views about the world — about women, about race, about religion — while writing this book. (Salman Rushdie famously called Naipaul “a fellow traveller of fascism.”)

    So reading the book now feels very, very different indeed. It feels fresh, in fact.

    Naipaul, in my reader’s eye, has always been a brilliant observer, an amazing stylist, a fearless writer.

    Now he takes on the additional role of untrustworthy narrator.

    –Brian, NCPR

  7. Flight behavior, as someone mentioned, but I heard it on audio, it was beautiful, as the writer herself narrates it, in the accent of the place, and brings a different hue to it.
    Also heard on audio ” The Yellow Birds” by Kevin Powers, a short very powerful novel of a couple of soldiers in the Iraq war. The author himself had at least two tours of duty there as a soldier. His writing is robust, and it is poetic. A name to watch. Hilary Mantel thought it may be a classic, and she may be right.

    Love your programme.

  8. Scott Martin says:

    “The Kindly Ones” by Jonathan Littell;

    Badly neglected in America,but a must read for anyone who considers themselves literate. Not a winter read- too depressing- but an amazing explication of the feeling soul confronted by atrocity.

  9. marsha butler says:

    I’m a retired teacher and avid reader. My favorite books this year that are good reads and deal with social and cultural issues:

    Russell Banks, Lost Memory of Skin: few options for teens and adults labelled as child sexual abusers

    Louise Erdich, The Round House: culture of native American reservation, rape legalities

    Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants: the rough life in the circus

    Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior: restless farm wife meets Monarch Butterfly and science

    Ann Patchett, State of Wonder: questionable drug research in the Amazon with little known tribe

    Dalla Sofer, Septembers of Shiaz: successful Jewish/Irani family
    harrassed, imprisoned

    Colson Whitehead, Sag Harbor: humorous read on race, class, commerce and culture

  10. Jackie Sauter says:

    Summer’s the time for getting swept away, for getting totally lost in another place. So I’m recommending Edward Rutherfurd’s historical fiction set in the world’s great cities — Paris, New York, London. Great characters, great history.

    And Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries, set in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, each more fabulous and critcally acclaimed than the one before. These books are eapecially poignant since the Lac Megantic train disaster. These books really capture the essencce of lifein a small town and the writiing is lovely.

    And every cook and food lover should spend some time curled up on the porch with Escoffier. It’s old, huge, and a classic.

  11. Claire Woodcock says:

    Besides interning here at NCPR, I’ve been dedicating much of my summer to reading up on the classic literature I should have already read (but have yet to read). Here are my current recommendations:

    On the Road- Jack Kerouac. I started reading this book on the 8 hour bus ride back from NYC yesterday, and I can’t wait to go home and finish it! Based on the travels of Kerouac and his friends across America and back, it is said to capture the essence of the Beat Generation. It’s a good companion book if you’re traveling.

    The Big Sleep- Raymond Chandler. I had been wanting to read this book for a long time, and I’m so glad that I did. It’s a classic, gritty detective novel. The novel follows detective Phillip Marlowe as he is hired by the wealthy General Sternwood to deal with a blackmail attempt by a local bookstore owner Joe Geiger, dealing with his immature and wild daughter Carmen. The plot thickens when Marlowe goes to stake out Geiger’s home and sees Carmen enter his home. Later, he hears a gunshot… I don’t want to give the plot away… but it’s really fast paced and sucks you in. Also, there are enough characters in the novel to make the plot complicated enough that you won’t figure out “who-dun-it” until the very end.

    Super Sad True Love Story- Gary Shteyngart. I read this book right before I came home from college, but I think it could have a place on this list. Don’t let the corny title fool you. This is a contemporary dystopian novel that was written in 2009 that imagines a eerily near future in which consumerism runs their lives. People are addicted to their apparats, which are basically really technologically advanced smart phones that allow you to find out everything about someone and rate them based on their appearance and financial income. People no longer read, they scan books for information, oh, and big corporations (funded by consumerism) are selling the guarantee that you can live forever. The protagonist Lenny Abronov takes on a Woody Allen type persona and narrates the story through diary entries. His lover, Eunice Park also narrates the story with through her Globalteens account in her apparat. It’s a great book because it questions big issues that are extremely relevant today. This book is so close to today’s society, it’s actually scary. But it’s an interesting and entertaining read.

  12. Dale Hobson says:

    I second John Ernst’s recommendation of Tom Perry. I have been catching up on his series of novels featuring Jane Whitefield, a Seneca women who guides people who are being hunted into new lives and identities. “Vanishing Act” was the first book.

    I’ve also been enjoying Craig Johnson’s series of novels about Walt Longmire, the fictional contemporary sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. “The Cold Dish” is the first in the series.

    • Ellen Rocco says:

      I read The Cold Dish a few years ago…and was thrilled when the cable channel A&E turned it into a series last year, called simply “Longmire.” Now in its second season, it is the only tv program my husband and I tune in for specifically. Airs Monday nights at 10 pm on A&E, with repeats of episodes several times during the week. Last year’s programs probably now available digitally.