Summer reading means different things to different people. For kids, the term usually warns of required classics, choked down the last week of the season with the help of a cold soda. Many busy readers wait till summer to catch up on past bestsellers. For most people, though, summer reading means "beach books" – but even that means different things to different people. To many, a beach book is hot mind-candy – a mystery, an adventure novel, a romance; in other words, nothing too heavy on the noggin, something to relax with. Others, on the other hand, see a beach book as that literary masterpiece they've thought about shading their face with while lying on the sand.
While we were creating this list of great summer book recommendations, we gave a lot of leeway to readers' own views of summer reading, and picked a pretty wide variety of books. There are three lists. First up, current books we heartily recommend, based on our own reading or that of trusted fellow book hounds. Second, a list of books to be released this summer we think could be worth your time. Finally, for people who love our Southern summers but wish they weren't so damned hot, books whose setting or story will chill you out. Happy reading, and have a great summer.
• The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare by David Hajdu (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux). Excellent popular history of how the rise of comic books scared the hell out of 1950s authorities (along with commies and rock & roll), and led to a new, restrictive comics code.
• Long Dead Lover by Robert Boisvert (Mint Hill Books). Well-crafted short stories about the complexity, difficulty and absurdity of relationships by a promising new writer who is currently a newscaster at Channel 14.
• The Price by Alexandra Sokoloff (St. Martin's Press). Intelligent, non-gimmicky and scary as hell, this story, by a Raleigh writer, of supernatural goings-on at a huge hospital is riveting.
• I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley (Riverhead). Terrific debut by a sharp, darkly hilarious essayist writing about life in New York.
• The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (Riverhead). The Pulitzer winner is an in-your-face, multi-perspective story of a Dominican family trying to fit in, or at least make sense of, their new U.S. home.
• Hold Tight by Harlan Coben. (Dutton). One of thriller writer Coben's best, this all-too-familiar story touches on teen suicide, the ups and downs of Internet life, and the tensions and game-playing of busy domestic lives.
• Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf). In eight short stories, Lahiri (The Namesake) continues her poignant, insightful exploration of immigrants' experience of angst and transformation in America.
• Bonk by Mary Roach (Norton). Roach, who looked at what happens to bodies after death in Stiff, and the afterlife in Spook, takes on the science and physiology of sex in her usual smart, funny style.
• The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich (Harper). Publishers Weekly says this is "a multigenerational tour de force of sin, redemption, murder and vengeance, [with] roots in the 1911 slaughter of a farming family." We don't know anyone who's read it yet, but a new Erdrich novel is something to be recommended, sight unseen.
Coming This Summer
• Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian (Harmony/Shaye Areheart).
• Everything They Had: Sports Writing From David Halberstam by David Halberstam (Hyperion).
• The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg (Knopf).
• Swine Not? by Jimmy Buffett, illus. by Helen Bransford (Little, Brown).
• The Downhill Lie: A Hacker's Return to a Ruinous Sport by Carl Hiaasen. (Knopf).
• The Front by Patricia Cornwell (Putnam).
• Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science by Robert Preston (Random).
• When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris (Little, Brown).
• The Other by David Guterson (Knopf).
• Resolution by Robert B. Parker (Putnam).
• Me of Little Faith by Lewis Black (Riverhead).
• Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich (St. Martin's).
• This Land Is Their Land by Barbara Ehrenreich (Metropolitan).
• Hit and Run by Lawrence Block (Morrow).
• My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco).
• Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World by David Maraniss (Simon & Schuster).
• Swan Peak: A Dave Robicheaux Novel by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster).
• Pecking Order by Omar Tyree (Simon & Schuster).
• Damage Control by J.A. Jance (Morrow).
• Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America by Thomas L. Friedman (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux).
• The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank (Metropolitan).
• The Assassin by Stephen Coonts (St. Martin's).
• Devil Bones by Kathy Reichs (Scribner).
Beyond Cool To Cold
• Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin. Set in New York, this love story veers into a fantasy of the city captured by Winter. It's about love and justice and God and everything else -- and its overwhelming winter setting makes it a damn cold read.
• The Shining by Stephen King. A couple and their son are isolated in an old resort hotel in the Rockies, in the dead of winter, along with malevolent spirits of some of the hotel's former staff and guests. This one chills you to the bone.
• The Endurance by Caroline Alexander. The book that launched the revival of interest in polar explorers, it's perhaps the greatest true adventure story of all time. This capsule version of the still-unbelievable, 1914 Antarctic expedition led by Ernest Shackelton, and the breathtaking photography of the stranded ship and crew by fellow crew member Frank Hurley, will have you reaching for a blanket.
• A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. If this doesn't cool you off, nothing will. I first read this book in August in South Carolina, and I swear I remember shivering. The events of one day in the life of a prisoner in a Soviet Siberian labor camp was based on Nobel winner Solzhenitsyn's experience. If you want cold, then this is it.