Monday, July 2, 2007

Books of Summer 2007

I suppose we could have given you this a couple of weeks ago. Although a couple of weeks ago we were still obsessed with telling you about Paris and Venice and palazzos and palaces, and I even had put the only book I’ve been reading on hold. However, today, the first day of your July vacation – if you are fortunate enough for a July vacation – is a good day to give you a list of Summer Reading. If you’re not on a vacation, then this list might be a realistic solution.

This list was compiled by Jesse Kornbluth. If you don’t know Jesse, never heard of Jesse; never read Jesse (which is highly unlikely even if you don’t know it), this list will tell you a lot about him. Even his reviews will tell you a lot about him.  He’s one of those people who has specific interests but myriad enthusiasms. He’s very very smart but in a way that is totally entertaining because he shares it with people (rather than holding it over them). So as a result, his list of summer reading is quite varied. I would say he’s a humanist, a music lover (and rock-n-roller), an intellectual, a political junkie, a movie fan, a connoisseur of women, very discreet yet a keeper of excellent gossip (the kind you find in novels). He was a mid-life stepfather and now a later-in-life father; an excellent son who still quotes his mother and among many other things, a reader of such splendid capacity that it dazzles me (or would otherwise make me jealous, real jealous).

When I was looking over this list, I was thinking there really is almost something for everyone here. Or, there’s everyone here for something. Like life. Like Jesse Kornbluth. Knowledge is power and ignorance will never be the bliss you might have hoped for; so partake and live! (Click on the red text to read the full reviews).

I'm the freak who reads books like Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

On the beach, on the theory that serious reading is best attempted with sun and surf as background. You may not feel as I do. So I've pulled together a list that's as entertaining as it is (occasionally) serious. Mix and match. And wear sunscreen.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin
He's rich, French and a snob. (Am I being redundant?) He's also a thief and a prisoner. Not that steel bars stop him. You have to go all the way back to “Butch Cassidy” for theft this satisfying.

To My Dearest Friends
A woman dies, leaving a letter --- and a mystery --- for her two best friends. This short, knowing, funny Manhattan story reads like froth, but when you put it down, you can't stop thinking about it.

The Queen's Gambit
“Rocky” for smart people --- an orphan becomes the Mozart of chess. But can her head and heart catch up with her talent? You won't believe how exciting this indoor thriller is.

James Salter
No writer gets summer light at the beach better. Or the near misses we call relationships. This is fiction for grown-ups, and it's breathtaking.

Five Minds for the Future
Howard Gardner outlines the mental skills we'll need to be successful in a world in which degrees from Groton and Yale no longer matter.

The Tears of Autumn
An alternate theory of the assassination of John Kennedy, written as a nail-biting thriller by a former CIA agent.

Goodbye, Columbus
Philip Roth's debut. Summer. The suburbs. Romance between a poor grad student and a rich college girl. You can smell the Coppertone --- and taste the desire.

Bleak House
In a time when justice seems impossibly slow, consider a law suit that lasted for generations. Romance, intrigue, chicanery --- this Dickens novel has everything. It's thick; you may prefer the DVD of the fantastic BBC series.

Surrender, Dorothy
As the season starts in the Hamptons, a young woman in a group house is killed in a car crash. Who takes her share? Mom.

The Garden of Eden
The Hemingway novel nobody knows. Summer in the South of France. A writer and his wife, on their honeymoon. Strange nights --- she's quite a surprise with the lights off.

Monique and the Mango Rains
A Peace Corps volunteer assists a midwife in Mali. Noble work, astonishing people, magic place.

The Omnivore's Dilemma
So important I reviewed it twice: here and here. If you care about what you eat --- and you should --- here's the first book you need.

The Power of Style
Women who re-invented themselves, how they did it and the price they paid.

Dora Lives: The Authorized Story of Miki Dora
Next time you see a surfer and flinch/gawk/drool, think this: That guy's not half as dangerous as Miki Dora.

Everybody Was So Young
The Murphys were F. Scott Fitzgerald's friends. He invented the idea of the beach in the South of France; she wore her pearls in the sun. How elegant they were...

Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus
He wrote hits (“Stand by Me,” “Save the Last Dance for Me”) we still sing. But nothing he created equaled the story of his life.

The Fabulous Sylvester
The disco queen, all those years ago. Reads like a visit to a fascinating but distant universe.

Nerve Damage
My first suspense thriller by Peter Abrahams, who writes too well to be consigned to a genre.

The Killer Inside Me
The ideal novel when you're alone and the wind is banging the shutters and the last person you saw seemed...weird.

At Blanchard's Table: A Trip to the Beach Cookbook
From the owners of the famed restaurant on Anguilla, recipes that are light and simple.

Improv Wisdom
A Stanford drama professor presents the smartest self-help book I've ever read in the disguise of a short text about improvised theater.

Mating in Captivity
Marriage feeling stale? A noted therapist dares to offer a bold solution, starting with: Talking about it won't help.

Pema Chodron
Just in case your thoughts turn to the condition of your soul, and how you might better care for it.

-- Jesse Kornbluth is editor of