Summer Reads


Looking for a good book to bring to the beach (or just a new one for the train)? We asked Brooklyn authors to share their summer reads.

Nathaniel Rich, author of “The Mayor’s Tongue”:
cold6.jpgReading: I’m a huge admirer of James Ellroy, and I just finished his last novel, “The Cold Six Thousand.” Ellroy often gets a bad rap. Calling him a crime novelist is like calling Cormac McCarthy a writer of penny Westerns. “Cold Six” is the second installment of
Ellroy’s Underworld U.S.A. novel trilogy, a secret history of the rogue government agents, hit-men, con artists, Cuban exiles, mobsters, and low-lifes who shaped American politics in the years preceding JFK’s assassination through Watergate. In “Cold Six,” Ellroy’s style — a foreshortened, frantic, and inventive machismo argot — reaches a new extremity. Few sentences in the novel are longer than four words, though Ellroy seems to strive for two. I love, for instance, his use of the word “resultant” in the following passage, which takes place in a Vietnamese strip club:

Hey Wayne, dig this: Daddy bought you Dallas. Wayne took it hard. Wayne held his mud. Wayne waxed sullen resultant.
Chuck got drunk. Bob got drunk. They talked Klan shit resultant. Flash got drunk. Guéry got drunk. They talked patois.
Chaffee got drunk. Chaffee waved shrunken heads.
Chaffee spooked the girls off resultant.

I can’t wait for Ellroy’s next book resultant.

Kathryn Harrison, author, most recently, of “While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family”:
cp1.jpgReading: My summer reading list is always too long, and as I’m writing a novel that takes place, in part, during the Russian Revolution and the flight of the White Russains to Paris, I seem to have gone back to a few old favorites. I just finished the newest translation (by Pevear and Volokhonsky) of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” [Also on the list are]  Chekhov’s stories, and  “The Master and Margarita,” by Mikhail Bulgakov, which I’ve read several times before, as I have the others.
The rest of the reading is drier, nonfiction research for the novel: “Empire of the Czar” by the Marquise de Custine, “The Flight of the Romanovs” by John Curtis Perry and Constantine Pleshakov, “Russia and the Russians” by Geoffrey Hosking. “The Rasputin File” by Edvard Radzinsky.
Of course I am slumming here and there by going on insomniac binges of true crime, lust murders mostly, like “Fiend: The Shocking True Story of America’s Youngest Serial Killer,” by Harold Schechter.

Mike Albo, style writer for the NY Times and author of “The Underminer”:
garyindiana.jpgReading: “Horse Crazy” by Gary Indiana [pictured], about a 35-year-old gay writer who is in love with a young hot guy who is either in love with him or totally playing him. It has this crazy clarity about the AIDS crisis…it’s amazing that Indiana could be so articulate about his emotions, without the so-called writerly distance that we are all supposed to have to tell a story.
On His List: “Tree of Smoke” by Denis Johnson; “The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas”; “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin. My bf keeps swooning over the book of essays by Virginia Woolf he’s reading, so I have to read them too I guess…

Lucinda Rosenfeld, currently working on her third novel, “I’m So Happy For You,” (Little Brown, 2009), “about a pair of 30-something “best friends” who don’t actually get along”:
neverland.jpgReading: I have a newborn and a two-year-old, and a book edit due at the end of this month. So I’m not doing as much reading as usual. The last book I read was “Netherland,” by my friend Joseph O’Neill. The novel combines beautiful descriptive writing with a window onto a side of NYC that writers and journalists usually ignore. Like everyone else in the publishing world, I was unduly impressed.

Adrian Tomine, graphic novelist and New Yorker illustrator:
jm.jpgReading: “Feeding a Yen” by Calvin Trillin and “My Ears are Bent” by Joseph Mitchell. I’m a fan of both these guys. These books aren’t really their major works, but they’re still terrific. If you’ve already read “The Tummy Trilogy” and “Up in the Old Hotel,” these are nice to have.
On His List: I don’t plan too far in advance since I’m constantly in bookstores picking up whatever catches my interest. The only thing I have lined up right now is “Patrimony” by Philip Roth, which should be a nice, cheery summer read.

Touré, novelist, cultural critic and correspondent for BET:
jtruby1.jpgReading: John Truby’s “Anatomy of Story” because I’m finishing a novel and Truby’s book is an awesome dissection of how to tell a story. One of the best books I’ve ever read about writing.
On His List: Sudhir Venkatesh’s “Gang Leader For a Day,” a brilliant sociological look at the drug trade; Toni Morrison’s book of essays “What Moves at the Margin”; Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao” (I’m halfway through); and “How To Raise An Amazing Child the Montessori Way” cuz I’ve got an eight-month-old.

Melissa Clark, food writer for the NY Times and cookbook author:
rmusil.jpgReading: My summer reading list is the book I’m reading now — because it’s 1700 pages (in two volumes) and if I’m lucky I’ll finish it by October. It’s “The Man Without Qualities” by Robert Musil. It’s a very interior book — not much happens in terms of plot, but I’m hooked on the meditations of the main characters. They’re fascinating, literate, intelligent, thoroughly strange, and thoughtful (OK, sometimes ponderous), and sitting down to read this book is like getting to have coffee with a brilliant friend who happens to live in early 20th-century Vienna. And the best part — when the characters get annoying, I can just close the book, without having to make excuses about being late or offering to pick up the check.

Darin Strauss, now on a book tour for his third novel, “More Than it Hurts You” (and blogging from the road on Newsweek):
jupdike.jpgReading: “Trust Me” by John Updike. The reading public, and especially critics nowadays, take Updike for granted. When he’s gone, a hundred lesser writers will line up to say that Updike “never reached his potential”; they’ll say — as I’ve heard people already opine, in different ways — that he’s the greatest American writer never to have written a great book. That’s bullshit. The beautiful, languorous strut of Updike’s prose is — when he’s on — unparalleled by that of anyone in his generation, with the possible exception of Bellow. And Bellow’s gone now.
Getting back to Updike’s “Trust Me.” It was written when he was not only at the peak of his strength, but when he was actually a cultural force. Writers don’t hold that spot any longer. But when they did, he was it.
On His List: My summer reading list is the reading list of a “craft class” I’m teaching at NYU’s Graduate Writing Program in the fall:

  1. lc.jpgThe Donald Barthelme story “The School” (and a whip-smart essay about it by George Saunders, which addresses what makes stories fun).
  2. “Little Children” by Tom Perrotta, which shows how efficiently a novel can be told.
  3. Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Remains of the Day,” which shows how to create an unreliable narrator.

Gary Indiana photo via Serpent’s Tail.

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