The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Summertime and the Reading is Easy…

Relaxing photo by halvemaan via stock

Summertime is (finally) upon us, and with it, long lazy afternoons of iced tea and a good book. Since I'm always on the hunt for the next good read, I decided to ask some of the NEA staffers here about their summer reading plans.

"I read mainly nonfiction, but will be reading The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis."

---Carlos Arrien

"My nightstand is splinters away from breaking from all the books I’ve bought and have been meaning to read. ‘Course the surface is also covered with baby bottles, toys, diapers, wipes, eye patches, ear plugs, and whiskey, so it could be anything. Here are some titles I can remember:

  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
  • Queen of America by Luis Alberto Urrea
  • Zone One by Colson Whitehead
  • Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman
  • Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays by Eula Biss
  • The Blue Mountain by Meir Shalev, translated by Hillel Halkin
  • Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives, edited by Peter Orner
  • The Vanishers by Heidi Julavitz"

---Amy Stolls

 "In an effort to preview dystopian YA books my 11-year-old might like (she's a Hunger Games fanatic), I've just started Patrick Ness's highly regarded Chaos Walking Trilogy, the first of which---The Knife of Never Letting Go---is reportedly going to be made into a film with a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman! After that, Richard Ford's Canada and Edith Pearlman's Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories - books writers are raving about. And then, I'll top off my summer reading with another wacky study in family dysfunction with David's Vann's Dirt: A Novel (if you don't know about David Vann, you are missing out on one of the rising stars of American letters)."

---David Low

"I am a devoted reader, especially to work in translation. This summer I am eager to read Sergio Chejfec’s Planets, translated from the Spanish by Heather Cleary. Chejfec is an Argentinian author whose meandering, elliptical narratives I find delightfully disorienting. Also high on my list is Enrique Vila-Matas’s Dublinesque, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean. Vila-Matas is a spectacularly digressive Spanish novelist, whose books gesture toward the literary greats of the past, summoning their spirits as well as the spirit of their works. I also hope to read Wiesław Myśliwski 's Stone Upon Stone, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston), which recently won the 2012 Best Translated Book Award. Stone Upon Stone is a post-WWII novel “filled with interwoven stories and voices, by turns hilarious and moving… [exuding] the profound wisdom of one who has suffered, yet who loves life to the very core.” How could I not want to read such a book?"

---Michael Holtmann

"Swamplandia! by Karen Russell; Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; and Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace."

---Abigail Roberts

"My 10-year-old niece and I just started reading Lost in Petra (an Anatolia Steppe mystery) together. I’m re-reading The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm (Volume One and Two) and Battlebags: British Airships of the First World War. Summer’s going to be geographically interesting."

---Laska Hurley

"Let's see---I recently fell head-over-heels in love with Pam Houston's short story collection Cowboys Are My Weakness, so I'm adding more of her work to my reading list. My favorite romance writer Susan Elizabeth Phillips has a new novel out July 11, so that's definitely a must read (and re-read)! I also plan to dip into the poems of Louise Glück and, of course, our soon-to-be Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey. I'd also love to tackle one of the big classics---like Moby Dick or David Copperfield---but I may just re-read Hermione Lee's biography of Virginia Woolf in hopes of excavating some poems. p.s. Virginia Woolf's always on the list no matter the season!"

---Paulette Beete

"I have a Cape Cod/Massachusetts/island theme working this summer. I’m originally from Boston, so stories set in  New England always bring me home. These books sound wicked cool:

  • Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. I may have reacted in a tween-at-a-Justin-Bieber-concert-esque way when I found out my husband is friends with the author’s brother.
  • The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont, who received an NEA Fellowship last year. I read this over the winter and I want to re-read it because we’re planning on doing a lot of sailing this summer. It’s one of those books that kept me up until the wee hours because I just wanted to read just one more chapter.
  • Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand. I probably shouldn’t read it during swimsuit  season because gourmet food and wine always play a prominent role in Elin’s books. Elin should provide her readers with a companion cookbook. Better yet, a personal chef because it’s hard to read and cook at the same time.

And my other love, mysteries. Maybe one of these will stump me:

  • The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero. Carolina de Robertis, a recent NEA fellow, translated this book into English. It’s about a private investigator in South America who runs into Neruda at a party. Because I’m always running into poets at work, I figure I’ll be able to relate.
  • 1222 by Anne Holt. Scandinavian noir from a noted female author. Icy, cold Norway on a hot summer day? Yes, please.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Just the reviews sent shivers up my spine. I can’t wait to read the entire novel."

---Brenna Berger

"Right now, I'm finishing up What It Was, the latest from DC's native son, George Pelecanos. On deck: Bob Dylan's Chronicles and The Resuscitation of a Hanged Man by Denis Johnson. Since I am easily distracted, I'll probably make a futile attempt to read a biography or two as I go. Otis Redding, I'm looking at you!"

---Adam Kampe

 "I just finished Home, by Toni Morrison. And will probably go in this order:

  • The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King by Rich Cohen
  • The One: The Life and Music of James Brown by RJ Smith
  • They Eat Puppies, Don't They?: A Novel by Christopher Buckley
  • Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide by Henry Jenkins
  • Calico Joe by John Grisham
  • Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow"

---Alyce Myatt

"Am currently reading Gods without Men by Hari Kunzru, a book unstuck in time that is perfect for the summer since it takes place in the Mojave Desert…sun, sand…okay, no ocean. Will also be tackling the biography of Leon Theremin, scientist/inventor/musician/spy?, by Albert Glinsky. I plan to read some things by Harry Crews and Ray Bradbury, two favorite authors who passed away this year (or even re-read: Crews' The Gospel Singer and A Childhood and Bradbury's short stories are exceptional and always  worth revisiting)."

---Don Ball

"Ghost Story by Jim Butcher, the latest in the Dresden Files series. I am not normally a sci-fi/fantasy person at all, but I got sucked into these books in college. I am currently reading its predecessor, Changes, and am entranced in Butcher’s paranormal Chicago. The paperback version of Ghost Story is released next month, and I will be first in line to pick it up!

You Take it From Here by Pamela Ribon. I have been a fan since my mom sent me her first book, Why Girls Are Weird. It was love at first read, and I soon found myself reading everything she had ever written. You Take it From Here is her fourth novel, about one of life’s treasures: female friendship. I think it is going to be some sort of combination of Steel Magnolias and Beaches. I will be sure to have the tissues ready."

---Sarah Metz

  • "HHhH by Laurent Binet: an innovative approach to historical fiction in the telling of a gripping story.
  • Canada by Richard Ford: I love reading Richard Ford.
  • Precious Objects by Alicia Oltuski: an insider’s view of New York’s diamond district, by the daughter and granddaughter of diamond merchants."

---Andi Mathis

  • "Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski
  • Orphan Hours by Stanley Plumly
  • Wicked City by Ace Atkins
  • Canada by Richard Ford"

---Sydney “Pepper” Smith

"A mix of fiction and nonfiction:

Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Holman. This has been on my to read stack for quite a while. The marketing copy notes that it is “the first cultural history of ballet ever written.” Curious description since I read Time and the Dancing Image by Deborah Jowitt, which I thoroughly enjoyed precisely because it was a cultural history, illuminating dance by exploring what other cultural events, trends and personalities were active at the time dance in the West was developing. Holman also makes the claim at the end of the book that essentially ballet is dead today, so am interested in how she gets to and frames that argument.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarity. Liz Auclair just recommended this and it sounds right up my alley including my favorite time period (the Jazz Age and Roaring Twenties) plus dance. It just came out and is USA Today’s #1 hot fiction choice.

Another recent title from one of my favorite non-fiction authors is Birdseye by Mark Kurlansky. I 'ate up' his book Salt, that revealed the fascinating history of the only rock that humans eat. This recent book is about Clarence Birdseye, the man of frozen pea fame, whose invention of flash freezing changed American diets, the nation’s food industry, and ultimately the American landscape."

---Victoria Hutter

"I recently finished and greatly enjoyed Desperate Characters written by Paula Fox. This summer I’m reading another novel written by Fox, The God of Nightmares, set in 1941. A young woman leaves New York City to explore New Orleans. Fox’s protagonist is drawn to a community of bohemians and artsy intellectuals located in the French Quarter.

A couple of years ago I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a phenomenal work of literature written by Junot Díaz. I plan to read Drown, also written by Díaz. Drown, about Dominican identity and experience, is comprised of ten short stories that shift back and forth from the Dominican Republic to economically distraught urban communities in New Jersey.

I also plan to read Now That My Father Lies down Beside Me: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2000 by Stanley Plumly."

---Takenya A. LaViscount

For more information on The Big Read and our participating communities, please go to The Big Read website. Happy reading!




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