How should the D.C. provide oversight for its public schools? What do new polling numbers and endorsements suggest about the Maryland Gubernatorial race? And how are Virginia's Democrats planning to flip key districts in November?
What books are you tossing in your beach bag or taking along on a getaway this summer? Whether you have a predilection for mysteries, novels, or serious non-fiction, we have suggestions that will keep you turning pages, paper or virtual, all season.
- Barbara Hoffert Editor, Prepub Alert, Library Journal
- Alan Cheuse Book Reviewer, All Things Considered; Author, "A Trance After Breakfast;" Author, "To Catch the Lightning: A Novel of American Dreaming"; and University Professor of Writing at George Mason University
- Eileen McGervey Owner, One More Page Books in Arlington, VA.
- Angela Dodson Longtime contributor to Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine; former Executive Editor of Black Issues Book Review.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Whether you plan to toss a paperback into your beach bag or load a Kindle for your commute, odds are you're looking for a good read this summer. There are weighty tones to tackle and page turners to fly through. If you want to beat the heat, there are plenty of Scandinavian thrillers to choose from. If it's laughs you want, loads of comedians have best sellers climbing the chart. So today, we're wondering through the stacks, trolling the aisles and asking you what you can't wait to read this summer.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us in studio is Alan Cheuse. He reviews books for "All Things Considered" on NPR and is university writing -- professor of writing at George Mason University. He's the author of numerous books, the latest of which is "Song of Slaves in the Desert: A Novel of Slavery and the Southern Wild." Alan, good of you to join us in studio.
MR. ALAN CHEUSEMy pleasure, as always, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you. Good to see you again. Joining us from the studios of the Radio Foundation in New York City is Barbara Hoffert. She is the editor of the Prepub Alert for the Library Journal, which keeps librarians up to date on what's new in the publishing industry. Hi, Barbara.
MS. BARBARA HOFFERTHi, Kojo, thanks for having me.
NNAMDIBarbara, I'll start with you. Shakespeare continues to influence literature centuries after his death. This summer, you're recommending a couple of books that borrow from The Bard. Talk about "The Tragedy of Arthur" and "The Great Night."
HOFFERTYeah, I love Shakespeare and I was very excited to see that two favorite authors of mine both had novels having to do with Shakespeare. The first one, Arthur Phillips, "The Tragedy of Arthur." Actually, it purports to be a memoir. He's written a memoir about the fact that his family has a play, a Shakespeare play that's never been released. And he's finally been convinced by his father to release it.
HOFFERTNow the fact that his father is an art fraud, a dealer in art fraud and has been jailed many times does call into question the validity of this particular play. And other things come up that make you start to wonder if this memoir is really a memoir. But you do look at the play itself, which is included after this memoir introduction of many hundred pages and the play sounds an awful lot in Shakespeare in scenes, in language. But doesn't it have a somewhat modern kind of roguish Arthur Phillips slant to it.
HOFFERTIt's great fun to read. I'd love to try to act out the play myself with some friends. And what I particularly like about it is the way it examines truth, falsehood and the importance of imagination.
NNAMDI"The Great Night."
HOFFERTYeah. And "The Great Night," Chris Adrian. This is a retelling in contemporary setting of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," set in San Francisco Buenavista Park. Now "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is really about the dream of how everything can be set right in the end. And this is a sort of darker retelling because things aren't always set right in the end. And, in fact, we see that there's some pain that we can't let go of.
HOFFERTBut it's an enormously inventive play that does take place in the summer solstice and the fairies are coming out from under the hill in the park but they're not going to celebrate because Tatiana's little boy is missing and she's most upset. And in the process of trying to find him unleashes some dark magic that makes you think a lot about how hapless we humans can be. Two great and two very absorbing reads I really recommend.
NNAMDIAlan, marital discord is a common theme in literature. You got several books on your list that chronicle crumbling marriages. Start with "The Astral" and then move on to "Three Stages of Amazement."
CHEUSEYeah, it used to be a sad tale best for winter, Shakespeare said. But, you know, hey, maybe summer, a lot of people are out there.
CHEUSESo those books that Barbara just mentioned offer light touch. These are dark. "Three Stages of Amazement" may be the best novel about a marriage I've read in a long time. It's set in San Francisco. It's about an earnest, intelligent, vivacious young woman and was married to a surgeon who's deeply involved in raising money and giving all of his time to dotcom that's going to develop a surgery -- robotics surgery machine.
CHEUSEAnd while he's off raising money and working in the hospital, the marriage comes down around their heads and it's all set against the crumbling of the dotcom era in San Francisco. And as in all these novels, there's a deep secret about an inheritance and the origins of the wife. And I think it's really a terrific novel. And Carol Edgarian, it's only her second book in 17 years. The pro certainly reveals a lot painstaking work in making terrific sentences.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of pros, let's move to poetry in Brooklyn.
CHEUSEYes, a sad sack poet is the hero of Kate Christensen's new novel. It's set in, again, a kind of crumbling Brooklyn in Green Point. His wife suspects this man, Harry Quirk, nice name for a poet. That's Quirk, not Clark, is having an affair with his best friend, which is not true. But the wife, you know, jealousy takes over and she kicks him out and he discovers there's a life outside of the marriage he really wanted to hold together.
NNAMDIAll taking place in Brooklyn. What books are you reading or eagerly anticipating this summer? You can call us at 800-433-8850 or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Go to our website, kojoshow.org. One of the wonderful things about books is that they can transport you to places that you have never been to and to eras that you can't visit. For those who are not getting out on a vacation this summer and don't have a time machine, Alan recommends "Miss New India."
CHEUSEYeah. It's an old story, a young girl from a small Indian town heads to the big city to make a fortune. I mean, that's the plot of "Sister Carrie," one of our great novels in our culture. Bharati Mukherjee who has lived in North America, Canada and the U.S. for a very, very long time has her finger on the pulse of the new India. This young girl goes and becomes friendly with all the people, work at a call center in Bangalore and they transform her life even as they're transforming all the Indians around them. It's a, you know, an ingénue, hits the road, discovers things that we ought to know about.
NNAMDIBarbara, you're recommending "The Moment" by Douglas Kennedy.
HOFFERTSometimes it's good to sit down with a thriller that keeps you up all night. And the one thing I regret about this book is, in fact, I did start reading it on a Friday night, which was a mistake because it was a very late night. Kennedy is American born, but he's better known in Europe and really beloved there. He's even won medals from the French government and he's just beginning to break out here.
HOFFERTThis particular novel is set in West Berlin, before the fall of communism and the hero is working for Radio Liberty. He falls in love with a coworker who is a young woman who has managed to flee from the east named Petra. And they become seriously involved, but she has secrets that he begins to uncover. And ultimately there is a terrible betrayal. But the question you start to realize as you read is, really, who betrayed whom?
HOFFERTAnd how layered this betrayal is because it's political, it's personal and you were thrust in a role of feeling betrayed yourself. Wonderful literary page turner, which is something that I think we all like to read in the summer.
NNAMDILet's go to the telephones. Here's Andrew in Bowie, Md. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWHi. I just want to recommend the book. I don't think we can talk about summer reading, at least among fantasy fans without talking about "A Dance with Dragons," which is a George R.R. Martin's new book coming out. People may be familiar with his work because he just put in a new HBO show "Game of Thrones." Long-awaited sequel, took him five or six years. It's finally coming out and that's what I'm looking forward to.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned that because joining us now by telephone is Eileen McGervey, who is the owner of One More Page Books in Arlington, Va., an independent bookstore that opened five months ago. Eileen, thank you for joining us.
MS. EILEEN MCGERVEYThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIEileen, you got a comment for Andrew?
MCGERVEYWell, that is the George R. Martin series is one that's been moving quite well in our store, especially since the show's come out. And our customers let us know when we don't have it on the shelf. So...
NNAMDIThere you go, Andrew.
MCGERVEYLots of fans like him.
NNAMDIAndrew, thank you very much for your call. Eileen, five months ago you opened an independent bookstore. A lot of listeners may be wondering, is she insane? Well, are you?
MCGERVEYWell, I always say insane or foolish, who knows? But that is a question that I get a lot. But I have to tell you, it's been something that I've wanted to do for quite some time and, you know, we carefully looked at where we open the store to make sure that we would be in a neighborhood where we could be part of the community and people could just walk, you know, walk here and come here with their families. And we've not been disappointed.
NNAMDIYou have a selection of wine and chocolate, too. Has that been drawing people into the store?
MCGERVEYThat has actually been drawing people and that's one of our lures to bring in people who might not otherwise stop in a bookstore.
NNAMDII was really going to stop in the liquor store down the street, but then I saw this.
MCGERVEYWell, we live in -- our store is in a building that has condominiums above us and an apartment across the street. So we get lots of folks who just drop in to get something for dinner. And after they've been in here once or twice, then they start coming in for our book events, which is great.
NNAMDIWhat has been surprising you most about the books your customers buy?
MCGERVEYI think the thing that surprised me the most at the beginning was that they are not buying what I would consider the traditional best sellers here. When our folks come in the store, a lot of time they're not looking for something in particular. They're looking to find something that's new to them. So they are looking at, you know, tables or we've got books out that, you know, we enjoy or that are indie favorites. And I think that's the thing surprise me the most is, you know, for about two weeks we had New York Times Bestseller shelves up and we didn't move anything on those.
NNAMDIYou find apparently a lot of people are looking for something that they can laugh at while they're reading. What comedy books are hot right now?
MCGERVEYI tell you two books that are really hot for us. One of them is "If You Loved Me, You'd Think This is Cute," which is Nick Galifianakis. And he actually lives not far from the store. And whenever I hear people giggling in the corner of the store, they're usually looking at his book or Richard Thompson's book who does the "Cul-De-Sac" cartoon in the Washington Post. "Bossy Pants" by Tina Fey. But we do see a lot of movement in our comedy section. I think people are looking to just laugh and have a good time.
NNAMDIThrillers by Scandinavian writers continue to be hot imports. Why do you think that is, Alan?
CHEUSEI think it's a fad. I think, you know, I've read into those 2,700 senses of snow started at some years ago. And, you know, I think publishers are translating these by the dozen and they're pushing them. You know, I've read a little way into them. I read "The Girl Who" series. I thought that was splendid.
NNAMDISo did I. So did I.
CHEUSEWonderful entertainment. But, you know, then I read the "Man from Beijing" and it was kind of broken back book, half in Scandinavia, half in Beijing. It didn't promise all the snow it was supposed to deliver. So, again, that's a taste in thrillers. If you like "The Girl Who," you might want to explore them. But...
NNAMDIBarbara Hoffert, as I said, I enjoyed Stieg Larsson's "Millenium" trilogy, but I'm a little puzzled about why all of a sudden that's given rise to what Alan says is a fad.
HOFFERTI think that people who read certain kinds of books, among them thrillers, want to replicate the experience they've had with the last book. And they keep looking for that experience just enough difference so that it doesn't get boring. And I think that's what fuels that kind of trend. And I think it's also publishers recognizing they've had success with this particular book. They can -- or this particular genre, Scandinavian thrillers.
HOFFERTThey can pitch their next book coming out from Scandinavia as a Scandinavian thriller. And somehow, it's a good marketing tool. So I think that gets involved as well. And you sort of wonder, when will it peak? When will it fade? And I don't see any time soon actually.
NNAMDIWell, this brings me to you, Eileen. How is Jo Nesbo's latest, "The Snowman," selling in your store?
MCGERVEYYou know, it's selling very well and then once people come in and get that, they often come back and go back and read his first book that was published in the U.S., "The Redbreast." I confess that I am a person who loves the Scandinavian books and I think that, you know, one of the things with the success of Stieg Larsson, that we've seen is some of these authors that have had a lot of success in Sweden and in Europe.
MCGERVEYThey're books are now being released in the U.S. for the first time. So they've been around for a while and they've been quite popular. They've just not been available here. Jo Nesbo's first couple of books still aren't available in the U.S. "The Snowman," is actually his seventh book. So, like you said, we get a lot of action on him and also Camilla Lackberg who...
MCGERVEYYes. Yes, I'm actually reading her first book right now that was released in the U.S., "The Ice Princess," saving, "The Preacher," for after that.
NNAMDISo you're looking forward to Lars Kepler's, "The Hypnotist," which comes to the U.S. in July?
MCGERVEYWe are. We are. We've got a few people waiting on that one already.
NNAMDIBarbara, it's my understanding that you think there's something about the non-flashy way that Scandinavian write about crime is appealing to Americans. That may be true but the plots tend to be awfully complicated, don't they?
HOFFERTComplicated but, you know, that's part of the appeal. I think, getting involved in something that will keep you up late because you're still trying to figure that out. And I have to say, many of the writers coming over are writing those but also literary. I mean, the authors of, "The Hypnotist," -- two literary authors who teaming together to write something. And, you know, we all love a book that's just plain well written.
NNAMDII've got to take a short break. Eileen McGervey, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIEileen is the owner of, "One More Page Books," in Arlington, Va. And it's an independent bookstore. It opened about five months ago. You can still call us, 800-433-8850. How do you make your summer reading selections? Do you prefer novels or non-fiction in the summer? 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's our summer reading conversation with Alan Cheuse. He reviews books for All Things Considered on NPR. He's also university professor of writing at George Mason University, author of numerous books, the latest being, "Song of Slaves in the Desert: A Novel of Slavery and the Southern Wild." He joins us in studio. Joining us from the studios of the radio foundation in New York is Barbara Hoffert, editor of the Prepub Alert for the Library Journal.
NNAMDIThat keeps librarians up to date on what's new in the publishing industry. Another popular genre, Alan, is science-fiction. It's my understanding that you've been reading science-fiction ever since you were a kid. And now you're recommending, Ben Bova's two Jupiter novels.
CHEUSEYeah, the first Jupiter novel came out a while ago and this is the sequel, "Leviathans of Jupiter." And it's a first contact novel. They discover in this incredibly acid ocean of Jupiter, there are these creatures that seem to be intelligent and have made a culture of sorts as they swim continuously in this sea that's devastating to human beings.
CHEUSEAnd they -- the explorers who go into the water in their spaceship, modified for underwater travel on Jupiter, have to go through a tremendous sea change, a chemical transformation themselves in order to pilot the ships under the water to study these creatures and make contact with them. Fascinating book.
NNAMDIDo you remember how old you were when you first got interested in reading science-fiction?
CHEUSEYou know, I think, I was -- I wrote a science-fiction story before I ever read any. That was -- that's always a mistake, isn't it?
NNAMDISo this stuff was happening in your head before you wrote about it?
CHEUSEYeah, yeah, kind of a science-fiction imagination. But I think I was about nine or 10 when I first started reading -- when I was reading -- or maybe a little earlier, Jules Verne and writers like that. And that naturally lead to Asimov and Robert Heinlein and, you know, the great writers of the '50s.
NNAMDIWell, we'll be talking about children's and teen literature next Wednesday on June 22, so you'll want to tune in for that. Alan, collections of short stories or essays can make for excellent reading when you have short bursts of time to devote to reading, say, on a plane or a train. You recommend the works of Jim Shepard, why?
CHEUSEShepard has a wonderful new book of stories out. He's an absolutely brilliant writer, experimental, all sorts of pyrotechnics, voice, plot. But he's got a deep heart and he uses all of that to make you feel a certain way about characters whom you might not otherwise have felt you could step near. In a way, he's following in the tradition of Happy Bloomsday of James Joyce. Pyrotechnics galore to make a wonderful story about a man and a woman, an accolade of that.
NNAMDIWell, I haven't read Jim Shepard before but you've convinced me. I'm going to be reading Jim Shepard this summer, "You think that's bad?"
CHEUSE"You think that's bad?" That's the title, yeah.
NNAMDIThat's the latest?
CHEUSEThat's the title, right.
NNAMDI"You think that's bad?"
CHEUSEThere's a story in there about a man who's having deep troubles in his life that -- it's called, "In Cretaceous Seas." And it opens with a page and a half of every prehistoric animal you can imagine, killing every other prehistoric animal and all of this at the service of giving you a sense of the deep, deep trouble in this guy's heart. It's just -- that's the kind of brilliant stuff he does.
NNAMDII'm also looking forward to your review of story collections published in Boston from Japan and other eastern countries.
CHEUSEYeah, that's coming out in a couple of weeks. There's a new publisher in Boston, at least new to me, called, Cheng and Tsui. And they've brought out three collections of South Asian and Japanese stories, look quite delicious.
NNAMDIWell, I'm not reading them until I hear you review them. Barbara, there was a spike and interest in books on Navy Seals after Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden. In terms of non-fiction, what other trends are we seeing?
HOFFERTTrends of non-fiction, I think that…
NNAMDI"Rock the Casbah," by Robin Wright.
HOFFERTOh yeah, one of my -- I'm very excited about this book. I think that you'll see, not just the effort to, sort of, reassess where we stand now that bin Laden has been killed but a real effort to look at the Muslim world and see what's happening in the Muslim world. "Rock the Casbah," is about the Muslim rappers, Muslim feminists, the jihads who have decided to quit violence and how they're trying to remake Islam for themselves and not in a mirror image of anything that the West might want.
HOFFERTI think, that we'll see more books like that, that will be talking more about the Islam by and for practitioners and how they can better integrate and how they can feel part of their own religion without feeling so much in debt to the west. So I feel that we'll have a -- I think we'll see more books than that as we -- in the next year or so.
NNAMDIYou also know that there seems to be a fascination with current events. I guess that's a good thing to hear. And a continuing, what, takeover of, "The Memoir?"
HOFFERT"The Memoir," which is something that we've been talking for 20 years and we keep saying, well, when is this -- talking about trends, when will this trend end? And it never will. And, I think, sometimes, as somebody who really likes to read fiction a lot, I worry, well, is all the imagination going into the writing of memoir?
HOFFERTBut in fact, the memoirs are so rich and so wonderful that we're reading particularly a number of wonderful poets, Meghan O'Rourke coming out with -- Rachel Hadas, coming out with some wonderful memoirs in the next few months. And in terms of politics, people really, using their own personal experiences to talk about a larger world. So, I think, the memoir is something that is here to stay and I don't think -- I think that what we find is that instead of being a reflection on someone's life, memoirs are focusing more and more on very specific aspects.
HOFFERTSatisfying the person who wants to read about rock music, the person who wants to read about politics, the person who wants to read about poetry and working in that direction.
NNAMDIYou'll find all of the recommendations from Alan and Barbara and Eileen who joined us at our website, kojoshow.org. We also asked our listeners for recommendations. Here is Anadi in Frederick, Md. Anadi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANADI NAIKYes, I have a book called, "The Nineteenth of November, it's a story about love and life and it is good reading for (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIYou're phone's breaking up a little bit, Anadi. Could you repeat the name of the book a little more slowly, please?
NAIKOkay. The name of the book is, "The Nineteenth of November."
NNAMDI"The Nineteenth of November."
NAIK"Nineteenth of November." It is on list by Xlibris.
NNAMDIWho's the author?
NAIKAnd it is -- I'll tell you, it so happens that I was going to tell you. I'll tell you, it's me. I'll not deny it.
NNAMDIGood for you, Anadi.
NAIKAnd it's a nice book and it's a story of, " The Nineteenth of November," is a poignant story of life and love.
NAIKAnd it is on the 125 plus pages, (unintelligible) pages. And it is a good reading for the summer and...
NNAMDIAnadi, what is your last name? How is it spelled?
NNAMDIOK. Anadi Naik, thank you very much for recommending your own book. Here is Sherry in Leesburg, Va. Sherry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHERRYHello, I'd like to recommend a wonderful read called, "The Last Californio," by Robert Sanabria. It's a story of modern day Los Angeles, illegal immigration, politics, revenge and love.
NNAMDIIs it a novel?
SHERRYIt's a novel. It's just a great read.
NNAMDI"The Last Californio." What's the name of the author?
SHERRYRobert Sanabria, S, like in Sam, A-N-A, B like in boy, R-I-A.
NNAMDIOkay, thank you so much for making that recommendation. You, too, can call us with your recommendations at 800-433-8850. Joining us now by telephone from New Jersey is Angela Dodson, long time contributor to Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine and to diverseeducation.com. Angela, thank you for joining us.
MS. ANGELA DODSONHi, thank you.
NNAMDIAngela, there's a lot of non-fiction out there that chronicles the African-American experience. What have you read lately that has stood out?
DODSONAmong the things I've read recently are, "The Warmth of Other Suns," by Isabel Wilkerson about the great migration. Or actually, I'm in the process of reading it. It's one of the books that I would recommend that everybody read. And it's already won a couple of prizes, I believe. She worked on it for about 15 years and focusing on the stories of three people, in particular, but tells the whole sweeping story of the great migration out of the south.
DODSONSo that's one. And the next one that I highly recommend is not by an African-American, but it's certainly about an African-American experience is, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," by Rebecca Skloot, which is about the woman who's sells or taken and multiplied without her knowledge and her families knowledge. And went on to be used by most of the scientific world and still is.
DODSONAnd it's been used to do things like cure polio and any number of other diseases. That's certainly one that if you haven't already read it, would be good to catch up on this summer.
NNAMDIWell, I've been talking to Alan in the break about the fact that I've been reading Manning Marable's book on Malcolm X, is that one that you would recommend?
DODSONThat is next on my list. I have not read it myself yet. But...
NNAMDIWell, I'm in the process of reading it and I recommend it.
DODSON…it talks about...
NNAMDIBut go ahead.
DODSONYeah, everybody's talking about it. It's got, you know, a wonderful back story in that there's been all this controversy and the fact that Manning Marable died just before it was released. But, you know, he also supposedly has a lot of revelations in there that aren't found elsewhere including that he might've had a homosexual relationship, whether you believe that or not, it's still good reading.
NNAMDIIt's certainly the most thorough book.
DODSONAnd everybody I know who had -- good ahead.
NNAMDICertainly the most thorough book that I have read on Malcolm X...
NNAMDI...so far. And, Alan, you were pointing out, the pity is, of course, that Manning Marable died just before the book came out because given the controversy its aroused, we would like him around to try to...
CHEUSEWe sure would.
NNAMDI...get him to talk about that.
CHEUSEWe sure would. It's very unfortunate after all the years he put into this book.
CHEUSEI'm rereading, as I often do, Richard Wright, at the moment, because I'm going to be teaching his stories in the fall. And, I think, you know, he certainly is a great migrator before the great migration. Certainly, one of the great American -- 20th century American writers. And, I think, you know, if we're talking about black writers, he is someone everybody should go back and reread.
NNAMDIBlack boy, "Native Son." They sent (word?) sent chills...
DODSONOh yeah, definitely.
NNAMDI...up my spine, as a matter of fact.
CHEUSEAnd the story -- I'm reading the stories in "Eight Men," actually. Because that's his most experimental work there and really interesting.
NNAMDIAngela, you're also recommending some novels by two iconic, though very different, African-American women, Sister Souljah and Terry McMillan.
DODSONYes, I do. Of course, both of them have written many other books, but -- and to some extent, they appeal to a different demographic, I guess. Sister Souljah would be more of the hip-hop generation would follow her because that's her generation. But -- and all of her books have done well and some people really credit her with the beginning of hip-hip fiction with, "Coldest Winter Ever."
DODSONAnd then, you know, Terry McMillian is always a good read. This particular novel's been out for a few months but (word?) ...
NNAMDIIt's called, "Getting to Happy."
DODSON"Getting to Happy," right.
NNAMDIAnd it's really a sequel to, "Waiting to Exhale," isn't it?
DODSONYes, it is. It brings back the same characters.
NNAMDIWhat made her decide to do a sequel to, "Waiting to Exhale?"
DODSONI guess people had been asking for it. I don't know if I've seen her quoted on that particular question. But, you know, they've been in her mind since then and now seemed a good opportunity to go back and look at them.
NNAMDIAnd Sister Souljah's book, I should mention, is called, "Midnight and the Meaning of Love."
DODSON"And the Meaning of Love."
NNAMDIAngela, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War is underway. You've got some Civil War histories and examinations of the North/South divide on your list this summer. Care to mention a couple of them?
DODSONYes, I have a whole stack of Civil War books on my desk, as I plan to be reviewing them for diverseeducation.com and Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. But one of them that is particularly interesting to me is called, "Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom," by Ronald Butchart. And it's from the University of North Carolina Press.
DODSONThere's another one called, "Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture," which is also from the UNC Press and it's by an author named Karen Cox. One that I have not acquired yet, but I've been reading about this week is, "1861: The Civil War Awakening," by Adam Goodheart. That's being published by Knopf.
NNAMDIThat's an account of how the Civil War began.
DODSONYeah and how -- like, how different people got involved and were drawn into it, basically, as I understand it. But because of the sesquicentennial, there are, you know, many, many Civil War books are coming out. And will make good reading, I think.
NNAMDIWhich brings me to Alan Cheuse's latest, "Song's of Slaves in the Desert: A Novel of Slavery and the Southern Wild." Synopsize the story, please.
CHEUSEIt's a -- there's a particular angle that I take in the narrative. It's about a young Jewish entrepreneur who comes down the Charleston from New York City at his father's behest to see if they want to buy into the families rice plantations outside of Charleston. And he learns a great deal about the slave system and about life and his own character and the history of slavery.
NNAMDIAnd, you know, when I first heard about that book, I said, you know, I haven't been to Charleston in a while. So I think I'm going to go back to Charleston this summer as I read that book.
NNAMDIThat'll make it...
CHEUSE...I hope it works for you.
NNAMDI...that'll make it a lot better. Angela, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIAngela Dodson is a long time contributor to Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine and to diverseeducation.com. Barbara, you and Alan both have some familiar authors on your list as well. Tell us about their latest books. You can start with Geraldine Brooks latest, "Caleb's Crossing."
HOFFERTThis is a re-imagining of the life of the first Native-American to graduate from Harvard, which is actually in 1665. He was given the Caleb by the family that adopted him on the island where he was living with his tribe. And the young woman of the family, Bethia, bright young woman, brighter than her brother, but definitely not going to be going to school, and she ends up befriending him and they both make the crossing over the water to live in Cambridge and to attend -- he to attend school, she to work as a servant.
HOFFERTThe ending for the -- for Caleb is not altogether a happy one, and -- but the story is extraordinary today in articulating the experiences at the time, the position of Native Americans, the position of a woman at the time, the issues of white arrogance, the issues of gender that are involved, and it's written in language that is of that time, without being grating, which I find difficult.
HOFFERTOften when a novel attempts to replicate the language of another era, it just doesn't work. But in this case, it's most effecting.
NNAMDIAlan, Ann Patchett's latest, "State of Wonder"?
CHEUSEIt's -- along with "The Brooks," I think it's one of the best novels of the summer. It's about an Indian American -- Asian American doctor who gets sent by her pharmaceutical corporation down to the Amazon to check up on a doctor who has disappeared into the jungle. They're doing research, or they hope they're doing research on a fertility drug which this Amazonian tribe supposedly possessed of, and so it's a quest novel.
CHEUSEAnd some reviewers compared it in counterpoint to "The Heart of Darkness." But Patchett's "Heart" is full of bright light. Heart of the Sun it should be called. It's an extraordinarily beautiful novel.
NNAMDIThat's it. I'm taking off the whole summer. There's too much good stuff to read. Here is Kelsey in Alexandria, Va. Kelsey, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KELSEYHi. I wanted to call in to recommend "And Then They Came From Me." It's by Maziar Bahari, and he was -- it's a memoir about his -- when he was arrested by the Iranian National Guard right after the election for quote "media espionage."
NNAMDIYes. I've been hearing about that. You enjoyed it?
KELSEYYeah. I just finished it this morning on my commute. It's an amazing book. It's -- it's amazing. That's the only way to describe it.
CHEUSENow, there's an example of an memoir that people need to read as opposed to the memoir of someone who, you know, stubbed his toe when he was four which is what most of these memoirs turn out to be.
NNAMDII stubbed my toe when I was four.
CHEUSEWell, write a book about it.
NNAMDIOh, I sure will. Got to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation on summer reading, and take your calls at 800-433-8850. Have you -- do you have an e-reader? If so, do you take it to the beach when you go to do your summer reading? Call us, let us know. 800-433-8850. If the lines are busy, just go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking summer reading with Barbara Hoffert, editor of the Prepub Alert for the Library Journal which keeps librarians up-to-date on what's new in the publishing industry. Also, we're talking with Alan Cheuse who reviews books for All Things Considered. He's university professor of writing at George Mason University. His latest book is called "Song of Slaves in the Desert: A Novel of Slavery and the Southern Wild."
NNAMDIIn mid-May Amazon reported that e-book sales outpaced traditional book sales for the first time ever. One of the advantages of a paperback is that it's no big deal if it gets wet or sandy at the beach. A Kindle on the other hand, not so good. Alan, how do you consume your summer reading?
CHEUSEI carry it all around with me, Kojo. You know, traditionalist, old-fashioned. I make a lot...
NNAMDIBag of books.
CHEUSEI make a lot of marks in the books that I read because, you know, I review many of them. And so I need my notes at hand, and I just haven't figure out a way to write notes on the screen. So I have to pack a whole satchel full of them wherever I go.
NNAMDIHow about you, Barbara?
HOFFERTYou know, I don't have an e-reader. There's only so many electronic devices I can afford, and that's just one that I haven't gotten around to yet. I don't particularly mind the idea of reading on an e-reader, because to me it's all about the content, but I'm absolutely with Alan, that one of the big problems is not being able to annotate, you know. I have notes all over everything I read, and that's -- that's part of the reading process that's very important I think to a lot a people, and the e-reader needs to get caught up on that.
NNAMDIBefore I get to the telephones, Barbara, first time authors, it's my understanding that "The Tiger's Wife" is on your radar screen?
HOFFERTYes. And I'm glad you asked me about that. It's one my favorite books of the spring, and it has been out for a couple of months, but I really want to remind your readers -- your listeners rather, to please go read it, because I do think it's a beautiful book. And it is written by a young woman whose family came from the Balkans area, had to flea in the fighting earlier in the late 20th century and eventually came to America.
HOFFERTAnd she is telling the story of a young woman who's a doctor who is actually crossing a border that didn't use to exist in her country, to deliver aid to an orphanage, and she finds out that her grandfather has died. And this sets off reflections, and remembering stories that he told her. And actually, when I first began reading it and I sort of knew about it, I thought it was going to be much more about contemporary events and the fighting in the Balkans at the time.
HOFFERTBut as the -- I actually interviewed the author and she said, well, you know, everything is hearsay, even the fighting in the next village is hearsay, and I'm -- I'm more interested in sort of a broader picture. And she actually uses folklore to talk about -- in a folkloric touch, a folkloric approach, to talk about the other and the insider or outsider of -- kind of circumstances in her country where she came from.
HOFFERTThe two stories that the grandfather remembers, one is the deathless man, who he claims to have met, who is actually -- collects the souls of the dead, and the other is a tiger who escaped from the zoo during the bombardment of the city -- one of the cities in World War II and wandered off to the grandfather's villages when he was a little boy, and was both befriended by and protector of a deaf mute woman in the village, married to an abusive man.
HOFFERTAnd she in fact is sort of again the other. And the sort of multilayered storytelling is just extraordinary. One of the -- I've had a rare experience I had with this book. I've never actually done this before. I finished reading it, and I was so moved, I was reading alone, it was late at night, and I said out loud, remarkable, which is again something I've never in decades of reading. So I feel strongly about this book, and really would encourage people to take a look.
NNAMDIAlan, first-time authors?
CHEUSEFirst-time authors, I would go with Tea Obreht. That was the most memorable first time book of the season. And it's got -- aside from everything else that Barbara says it has, it has one of the most remarkable hunting scenes I've read since maybe Faulkner, in which one of these village guys out to get the tiger blows his own head off. It's quite a stunning thing.
NNAMDISuggestions we got from our Facebook friends, Alan. "When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chodron.
CHEUSEYes. That's a meditative literature. She's a Buddhist Monk -- a Buddhist Priest. I think she lives in Nova Scotia, and I've heard her read a book on tape then that transformed a long car journey I had taken. Remarkable writer.
NNAMDIOn to Max in Silver Spring, Md. Max, what are you recommending?
MAXI'm recommending "The Heavens are Empty," and the author is Avrom Bendavid-Val.
NNAMDIWhy are you recommending it? What's it about?
MAXWell, the book is about -- and the subtitle of the title is "Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod, which is a town that existed in what is now the Ukraine. And what's unusual about that town is that except for the postmistress and her son, all the residents were Jewish. And in August of 1942, they were all wiped out by the Nazis who took over that area.
MAXAnd also, what's interesting is that a lot of the descendants of the people from that town who survived who left before that occurred, many of them live around this area, and many of them are prominent citizens.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you for that recommendation, Max. Onto Sheila in Alexandria, Va. Sheila, your turn.
SHEILAHi, Kojo. I'm calling to recommend "The Big Payback" by Dan Charnas. It's the history of the business of hip-hop.
NNAMDIActually, I've read that, yeah.
NNAMDII've read that. We got it in and I was able to read it. You're right.
SHEILAYeah. It's a really good one. It's such a great mix of social history and politics and, you know, all about the entertainment industry and race and it's just -- it's really fascinating.
NNAMDIReally about the entertainment industry indeed. Sheila, thank you very much for your recommendation.
NNAMDIWe got -- we got several suggestions from our Facebook friends, but we also got a Twitter question. "Jennifer Egan's 'A Visit from the Goon Squad' won the Pulitzer. Is it worth the fuss for a summer read?" Alan, are you familiar...
CHEUSEYeah. Actually I'm guilty of being one of the Pulitzer judges that gave her that prize. Actually, well, the Pulitzer judge, it's an interesting jury. Three people, and you recommend a list of three to the Pulitzer board and they choose it. But usually they take the book that you put in order, you know, that was our top choice. It's -- talk about the music industry, anybody who's interested in music should read it.
CHEUSEShe has a really interesting angle on the growth of new music, and she has a deep mind, and it's about life and the approach of death and how people grapple with the things that come in between.
NNAMDIOoh, thank you very much. Another recommendation we got from one of our Facebook friends, Stephanie Plum novels. The person says, "I'm on 'Four to Score' now, but I'm going through all 16." Barbara Hoffert.
HOFFERTI don't -- I haven't read the Stephanie Plum novels.
NNAMDINor have I.
HOFFERTYou know, so I can only say that I understand they're of a piece, and if you like one you're gonna like the next one and that's part of the thrill of reading thrillers.
NNAMDIHere's Mohammad in Washington D.C. Mohammad, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOHAMMADHi, Kojo. I'd like to recommend "Who Speaks for Islam" by Professor John Esposito of Georgetown and Dalia Mogehad of the Gallup Poll. And it may be a good reading just before the election debates get heated. It's got sections about women and sections about Muslim-Americans and Sharia, which is a buzz word nowadays. And it's a very, very easy read. It's loaded with number from polls and statistics, but it really -- it's really very easy.
NNAMDII've already looked through that book, but I haven't -- I can't say that I've read it. But Mohammad, thank you for making the recommendation.
MOHAMMADThank you. Thank you.
NNAMDIMelissa in Ranson, West Virginia. Melissa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MELISSAHi. Yeah. I wanted to recommend "Family" by J. California Cooper. You were talking about Jerry McMillan and the Civil War...
MELISSA...et cetera. There were so many topics she discussed and she's such a great writer, and "Family" is a book that starts before the Civil War and goes all the way through afterwards, and it follows this family through slavery and through, you know, strange things that happen. It's wonderful writing, and it's another example of, you know, language of the time not being overbearing or seeming false in any way.
MELISSABut her -- she also wrote some short stories before that which are quite good. She has two collections, one is "The Future Has a Past," and another is "Some Love Some Pain Sometimes."
MELISSACan you guys comment on that at all, or I don't know if you've discussed her before, but she's one of my favorite African-American authors.
NNAMDII know I've interviewed J. California Cooper before, and anything by J. California Cooper tends to be pretty entertaining, and she's done a lot of stuff. So yes. J. California Cooper generally always a good read. A lot of celebrities have been on the best-seller list lately, Rob Lowe, Steven Tyler, Keith Richards. Titles including "Stories I Only Tell My Friends" from Lowe. "Does the Noise in my Head," Tyler, and "Life," that Richards with James Fox.
NNAMDIA lot of overlap between the box office and the best seller list.
CHEUSEWell, yeah. I'm already signed up at our local bookstore, Politics and Prose, for the new Anthony Weiner memoir that's going to coming out soon.
NNAMDIIt's being written even as we speak.
NNAMDIFor those of you who are not aware that he has resigned from the...
NNAMDI...House of Representatives of the United States. What do you think about all of these celebrity memoirs, Barbara Hoffert?
HOFFERTI'm not a fan of celebrity memoirs actually. And one of the things I liked about this last BEA here in New York, Book Expo America, was that it didn't seem to be dominated by celebrities, but by a lot more -- of authors whose work I really admired who were authors and worked for a living writing, as opposed to writing a memoir. So I may not be the best person to ask about this. Call me an old fogie.
HOFFERTBut I -- the book -- the memoir that's exciting to read, since we've been talking about memoirs, is the memoir that you had no idea you would have ever wanted to read about that person and you were utterly hooked by the writing. Not something that's read-made because you see that person every night on television. That's my feeling.
NNAMDIYou're absolutely right. Barbara obviously never stubbed her toe when she was a kid.
CHEUSEKojo, I have a lifelong friend who's made his living writing celebrity memoirs, especially autobiographies. And now and then he'll find somebody after the book is -- he's completed the book for them. They will begin to believe that they have actually written it. And they go on book tours and talk about how difficult it was to compose a book, and how they sweated over certain chapters.
NNAMDIStole my game right there. Here's Michelle in Gainesville, Va. Michelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHELLEHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I have a comment about the e-readers.
MICHELLEI absolutely love my e-readers. I have an iPad with a Kindle app and a Nook app on it. I have a Kindle, and your guests had commented that they don't like them because of the inability to take notes. You can easily take notes on them. Actually if you just highlight a word, a paragraph, a page, a little window will pop up and you can type in a note and save them and they will sync them across your devices. It's actually pretty easy to do.
NNAMDIYes. I do have an iPad with a Kindle on it, which I have been doing a lot of my reading on. I have to tell you though, that Alan Cheuse says that the great thing about the Kindle is that it suggests people are reading.
NNAMDIAlan is also happy about the fact that good writers are still writing their hearts out, and that's what we need. His MFA students are working hard as any generation that came before them?
CHEUSEThey write as though there are readers out there, and that's what you need to know when you're writing. Someone will be out there to read it. I think the Kindle is a great invention, because it's making it easier to read for a lot of people. Ten times the power of the Book of the Month Club.
NNAMDIMichelle, thank you so much for your call. Alan thank you so much for dropping by.
CHEUSEGreat pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlan Cheuse reviews books for All Things Considered on NPR. He's university professor of writing at George Mason University, author of numerous books, the latest of which is "Song of Slaves in the Desert: A Novel of Slavery and the Southern Wild." Barbara Hoffert, thank you for joining us.
HOFFERTThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIBarbara is editor of the Prepub Alert for the Library Journal which keeps librarians up-to-date on what's new in the publishing industry. Go forth and read. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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