So, what did you read this summer?


Late August. Back to school or work.

beautifulruinsHere’s the question: how many of the books you hoped to read did you get to? And, what did you love? (or hate?)

Between work at the station, including a lot of miles logged around the region, plus farm duties–gardening, haying–I didn’t read as much as I hoped, but enough to have two recommendations for you. One fiction, one non-fiction.

Jess Walter‘s “Beautiful Ruins” is a novel that shifts back in forth along the timeline of the lead characters’ lives, and back and forth between North America and the Italian coast. Walsh is a writer who shapes people you can easily imagine, and who tells a compelling, complex story. This book impressed me enough to make me want to read his other work, including the novels “The Financial Lives of Poets,” “Over Tumbled Graves,” and “The Zero.”

blackcountTom Reiss’s “The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the real Count of Monte Cristo” is at least two things: a biography of the remarkable bi-racial father of author Alexandre Dumas, and a fresh look at France and Europe during the years of the French Revolution and its aftermath, including the rise of Napoleon. Reiss tells a detailed and compelling story, bringing a new perspective to a piece of history all of us studied in school…or thought we did. “The Black Count” won the Pulitzer. The author bases much of the text on original source materials he was able to access in France–materials locked away for centuries. Also by Reiss — “The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life.”

Your turn. Did you read any books this summer that you immediately wanted to share with friends? Or warn them off of? Share those titles here.

Coming Friday, September 27 at 11:00 am: John Ernst joins me on air to talk about books by authors from the American West. Plan to join the conversation with your favorites.

  1. whoops – it did

  2. I read the first two John LeCarre novels -the ones he wrote before the spy who came in from the cold. They were reissues and pretty good for first spy/mystery novels. I am also a few pages from finishing The Orphan Master’s Son. Dark and beautiful. (hopefully this goes through this time).

  3. I read the first two John LeCarre Thrillers (re-releases). Both pretty good for first novels. I have a few pages left of The Orphan Masters Son. Dark but wonderfully written.

  4. Ellen Rocco says:

    The thing about Stephen King is that he is a really good writer. I generally avoid his novels because anything to do with horror, well, horrifies me. But everything I’ve ever read by King–whether fiction or essays (like a lengthy piece he did on being hit by a car) is worth reading. Hate to admit this because of his almost pulp reputation.

    Aside: for some reason, I love shoot ’em ups, serial killers, detectives examining dead bodies, etc. But horror, no. I blame Hitchcock’s version of “Psycho”–seen when I was about 12–for permanently damaging my psyche vis-a-vis horror/terror books and movies.

  5. Chris Morris says:

    Pete: I’m going to roll my eyes a bit at your comment. It’s a little reminiscent of the folks who like a band until said band gets famous, then they’re “sellouts.” Good art is good art, whether it has mass appeal or not. That said: to each his/her own.

    Ellen: As you can imagine, my summer reading list has been jam-packed with crime fiction – and of course there’s some Nordic noir in the mix.

    I read “The Ice Princess” by Camilla Lackberg, mostly because her writing was compared to Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson. Not so. It was a decent book, but not great, and it was a slog to get through.

    Meanwhile, I backed up and read “The Bat” by Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo – this was the first book he wrote in the Harry Hole series, but it hadn’t been translated to English until recently. It was fun to read the origins of his famous, troubled detective – but the writing isn’t nearly as sharp as his more recent works. Kind of cool to see how an author finds their voice.

    I also knocked off a few Raymond Chandler gems that I hadn’t read before – most notably, the fantastic short story collection “Trouble is My Business.” It’s easy to forget that Chandler was a wiz at describing people and scenes.

    I did move away from crime fiction and finally read “Winter’s Bone” – how I waited so long to read this one, I’ll never know. Such an incredible, haunting story. Everything about it is pitch-perfect.

    Currently reading “The Shape of Water” by Andrea Camilleri, and enjoying it very much. More crime fiction (surprise!), this time set in Sicily.

    Quick note about “Under the Dome” – I started reading it, tore through 350 pages, and then had to put it down due to anxiety. I suppose I should take a few deep breaths and finish it, huh?

    By the way: When September rolls around, and fall starts showing its colors, I LOVE reading “Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King. In my opinion, his greatest work. What I love about King is that his books are never really about the monster or the horrific thing – they’re always secondary to the human element. “Salem’s Lot” is a book about small-town life in Maine, and it just so happens that there are vampires, too.

  6. Martha Foley says:

    Loved “Swamplandia.” Couldn’t get hooked on the Tudor-era story, “Wolf Hall.” It’s a Booker Prize winner, but I just wasn’t in a historical fiction/soap opera mood. Also liked “The Art Forger,” which was like a crime procedural with the procedures all detailing painting restoration techniques and fakery. Cool.
    I find you have to go AWAY, even a short distance, for a stretch of time to do any reading, Lucy. (Same for knitting!) You’re right, I have pretty much stopped dead after returning from vacation.

  7. Ellen Rocco says:

    Pete: Aw c’mon. New books that receive a wide audience, even the “bestseller” stamp, are sometimes well worth the read. I, too, tend to shy away from the “blockbusters,” but you’ve got to be careful about that approach. I can think of dozens of incredible books I would have missed if I was too rigid on this score.

    Ellen: You reminded me that I am always curious about how people respond to books re-read in adulthood but first encountered in youth. For example, with the 50th anniversary of the publishing of “On the Road” a few years ago, lots of people went back to re-read. For me, a recent revelation was the re-read of Chekhov short stories. Truly amazing.

    Lucy: Definitely take out “The Black Count” so you can finish it. The history and biographical material get more and more mind-bending. How did I miss all that history of the French Revolution? Seems as if all I learned about was “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality” and something called the “Reign of Terror.” Few details.

  8. I haven’t read anything on the best sellers lists in over 15, maybe 20, years. They have plenty of money and don’t need mine.
    I did read One Man in His Time: a Memoir, by William C. Prentiss and Saving Faith by Patrick M. Garry.

  9. Lucy Martin says:

    I know summer has a reputation as a good time to read, but I don’t find this to be the case. The days are long and there is so much to be done – or enjoyed – outside. The rest of the year seems far more conducive to actually finishing the bedside stacks.

    And that’s my excuse for only getting 1/4 through “The Black Count”. (Library books with a waiting list cannot be renewed and I failed to finish it in a single borrowing period.)

    Just wanted to say the parts I did consume were excellent. It almost reads like a novel. The events detailed are amazing and little-known. I will be borrowing it again, sometime after the garden is put to bed – it’s a ripping yarn, but true. (Note: while the book holds up in any case, it probably helps if you’re familiar with the son’s works: Three Musketeers, Twenty years After, Man in the Iron Mask, Count of Monte Cristo, etc. Apparently Alexandre Dumas’ larger-than-life father was the psychological model for aspects of the heroics peppered throughout those books.)

    Have not read “The Yearling” since I was a child, when I was probably unable to properly appreciate it. Shall have to give that a revisit too. (Hurry winter!)

  10. This was a good summer for reading. I started with “Under the Dome” by Stephen King which was short on supernatural horror but long on small town (read: human) short-sightedness. A pretty subtle book, King speaks directly to the reader through his plots without needing to be too obvious. Don’t watch the TV series, read this.
    The revelation of the summer was “the Yearling” by Marjorie Rawlings Kinnan. Gorgeous writing, attention to detail – I could not anticipate the turns of he plot (except in the broadest case.) Will seek out “Cross Creek” and read it, now.