8 (smart) books for the beach

From the Monitor's summer reading guide: beach reading for smart readers.

Imperium By Robert Harris Simon & Schuster 320 pp., $14

The Monitor's 2010 summer reading guide goes online on Monday. But until then, here's a list of recent books lively enough to keep the pages turning yet smart enough to keep you thinking. In other words, good reads – but no empty calories.

1. Imperium, by Robert Harris (Simon & Schuster, 320 pp., $14). This “account of Cicero’s dazzling career ... conveys vivid, accurate depictions of Roman political intrigue through the use of historical research.” (CSM review 10/6/06)

2. Little Heathens, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish (Random House, 304 pp., $14). This ­“generous-hearted” memoir about Depression-era life on an Iowa farm “will have you itching [to] put up some tomatoes and try out [Kalish’s] recipe for homemade marshmallows.” (CSM review 8/3/07)

3. Arthur & George, by Julian Barnes (Knopf Doubleday, 494 pp, $16). This novelized account of a true incident in which Sherlock Holmes’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, battled to overturn an unjust conviction is “as pleasing a read as they come, and yet it is also the chance to admire the skillful work of a top contemporary novelist.” (CSM review 1/17/06)

4. The Perfect Summer, by Juliet Nicolson (Grove Press, 290 pp., $15). This “sparkling social history about Edwardian society on the brink of World War I” makes “perfect beach reading for Anglophiles.” (CSM review 5/25/07)

5. Provenance, by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo (Penguin, 352 pp., $16). This “preposterous but true story of ... perhaps the greatest art fraud of the 20th century” is “impossible to put down.” (CSM review 8/11/09)

6. Let Me Finish, by Roger Angell (Mariner Books, 320 pp., $15). Longtime New Yorker editor Roger Angell gracefully recalls “his childhood, service in World War II, and work at the [New Yorker] – along with his love of sailing, movies, and long car trips.” (CSM review 6/6/06)

7. The Telephone Gambit, by Seth Shulman (W.W. Norton, 256 pp., $14.95). “[T]he strangeness of truth definitely overtakes fiction here as Shulman explains how he unraveled Alexander Graham Bell’s claim to have invented the telephone” – making this book a “detective story” that “upend[s] history.” (CSM review 1/8/08)

8. A Summer of Hummingbirds, by Christopher Benfey (Penguin, 304 pp., $16). “Intellectual and personal plotlines intersect, intertwine, collide, and finish by creating a delicate pattern” in this examination of “the lives of the American intelligentsia” of the 19th century, including Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade. (CSM review 5/31/08)

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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