Summer 2010 reading guide

Which new summer releases should you pick up first?

The Faithful Place By Tana French Penguin 416 pp., $25.95

It doesn’t matter whether you’re stacking them into your suitcase or saving them on your Kindle, it still comes down to the same problem: The summer days are somehow never quite long enough to allow you to get through the stack of books that you’ve been amassing all winter.

And then what about all those tempting releases that the publishers have been saving for June? Bookstore shelves are going to be full of flashy new titles. Which are the must-reads for vacation – and which can really wait till next winter?

To help ease reading decisions, the Monitor has put together a summer 2010 reader’s guide. Whether it’s a thriller set in Saudi Arabia, the story of the rise of Facebook, or a literary biography spiked with Chinese history, we hope to lead you to the books that will keep you turning pages all summer long.


If you read his 2006 book “The Last Mughal,” then you are already aware of both the breadth of William Dalrymple’s knowledge and his gifts as a writer of good prose. In his latest book, Nine Lives (Knopf Doubleday, 304 pp., $26.95), Dalrymple tackles a particularly complex and fascinating area of Indian culture as he profiles nine Indians – of widely varying backgrounds – all of whom continue to adhere to their ancient religious traditions, even in the face of the country’s rapid modernization.
The Price of Stones (Penguin Group, 288 pp., $25.95)is being promoted as the African version of “Three Cups of Tea.” Author Twesigye Jackson Kaguri grew up in rural Uganda and then returned home after studying in the United States determined to help his country’s 2 million AIDS orphans by opening a free primary school for them.

“[I]t is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are,” writes Kathryn Schulz. Her latest book, Being Wrong, is a study of how people come to make errors and what the consequences may be. It may not be your typical beach book, but Schulz – a journalist who calls herself the “world’s leading ‘wrongologist’ ” – manages to be at least as witty as she is erudite. Error, she insists, is “a gift in itself, a rich and irreplaceable source of humor, art, illumination, individuality, and change.”

Former Fortune magazine editor David Kirkpatrick was given remarkable access to the inner workings of Facebook. His book The Facebook Effect (Simon & Schuster, 384 pp., $26) moves from the company’s founding in a Harvard dorm room to its present-day involvement with questions of privacy and changing social mores. (If last year’s “The Accidental Billionaires” left you with plenty of questions, this is the book that will answer them.)

In Pearl Buck in China experienced biographer Hilary Spurling looks at the life and work of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner Pearl Buck. Buck, the daughter of American missionaries, came of age during a particularly turbulent period in China’s history. Spurling’s biography offers a slice of world history as well as the life of a writer.

The 1939 New York World’s Fair was seen as an opportunity to promote world unity – a sad irony given that the fair took place on the eve of World War II. In Twilight at the World of Tomorrow, journalist James Mauro relies on many firsthand sources to re-create the fair and the culture and era that fostered it.

Zoo Story by Thomas French is a behind-the-scenes look at the animals living at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. Although the questions surrounding the keeping of wild animals in captivity are not easy ones, this book is a must-read for animal lovers, who will enjoy the starring roles the animals play.

One of the 14 original copies of America’s Bill of Rights was stolen by a ransacking Union soldier during the US Civil War. In Lost Rights (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 352 pp., $26), journalist David Howard traces the stolen document and tells a surprising story sure to delight history buffs.

If you like good writing, you won’t want to miss The Fiddler in the Subway (Simon & Schuster, 288 pp., $15.99) by Pulitzer Prize winner Gene Weingarten. This collection of Weingarten’s writing tackles topics as diverse as the complicated life of William Jefferson Blythe (Bill Clinton’s biological father), the biography of one of the writers of the “Hardy Boys” mystery series, small-town life in America, and what it feels like to send a daughter off to college.


Emily and Jess are sisters – and just about as unlike as possible. One runs a data-storage business while the other is a graduate student mostly attracted to fellow idealists and causes like Tree Savers. But in The Cookbook Collector (Random House, 416 pp., $26) skilled novelist Allegra Goodman (“Kaaterskill Falls,” “Intuition”) weaves their lives and conflicting worldviews into a rich, engaging narrative.

Can you taste emotions in food? Rose Edelstein can. She discovers this unwanted gift at the age of 9, and Aimee Bender uses this conceit to turn her novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Knopf Doubleday, 304 pp., $25.95) into a funny, haunting, hurting, coming-of-age story.

What does it mean to be a Mexican in America today? Brando Skyhorse tackles this question in his debut novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park (Simon & Schuster, 224 pp., $23).The book, which is really a collection of eight linked stories, explores questions of identity and belonging as experienced by a group of Mexican-Americans with connections to Los Angeles’s Echo Park neighborhood.

When a Dutch trader falls in love with a Japanese midwife who is also the disfigured daughter of a samurai doctor in 19th-century Japan, you can be sure that the emotional and cultural clashes will be significant. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Random House, 496 pp., $26) is a historical romance novel by David Mitchell, gifted author of “Cloud Atlas” and “Black Swan Green.” Here, Mitchell melds history and literature into a satisfying blend.

If you want to feel somewhat literary and very hip, try jumping on the speedy ride that is The Thieves of Manhattan (Random House, 272 pp., $15). Novelist Adam Langer delivers plenty of cool in this satire of the New York literary scene in which aspiring writer Ian Minot is tempted – after observing the unearned success of others – into taking part in a literary scam. The question, however, becomes: Who is really scamming whom?


When 19-year-old Frank Mackey is stood up by his lover, Rosie Daly, he leaves home and never looks back. That is, not until 22 years later when, as a senior Dublin investigator, he learns that Rosie’s remains have been discovered. She didn’t leave without him for England, as he had imagined. Instead she may have been murdered. Tana French (author of “The Likeness”) shines again in her latest puzzler, Faithful Place.

At the age of 19, Zoë Ferraris married a Saudi-Palestinian Bedouin who was studying English in California. Eventually, the couple moved to Saudi Arabia where Ferraris discovered what it was like to live the cloistered life of a conservative Saudi female. Now divorced, Ferraris has made excellent use of her unusual background as a writer. Her first novel, “Finding Nouf,” offers an unusual glimpse of Saudi society through the eyes of Katya, a female Saudi lab technician working to solve a murder despite the barriers posed by her sex. City of Veils (Little Brown, 400 pp., $24.99), the sequel, again follows Katya through the streets of Jeddah and the rigors of her next case.

If spy fiction is your thing, it will be hard to find a more stellar grouping than Agents of Treachery, a selection of 14 British and American spy stories edited by Otto Penzler (Knopf Doubleday, 448 pp., $15.95). Locales and eras vary, but the writers are all aces of their genre, and the quality of the stories gathered here is consistently top-notch.

Whether or not you’ve followed the adventures of Isaac Bell, head operative of the Van Dorn Detective Agency throughout the first two books (“The Chase” and “The Wrecker”), you would be well advised to try The Spy (Penguin Group, 448 pp, $27.95) by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott. This third book in the Bell trilogy is set in 1908, when Isaac is called to investigate the murders of several Americans expert in the area of naval technology – an essential field as the world inches ever closer to World War I.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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