Summer Reading Recs From Boston's Best

By WGBH News


July 6, 2011

BOSTON — Now that the madness of July Fourth is behind us, it might be the best time for relaxing with summer reading. The Emily Rooney Show asked a slate of local luminaries — authors, critics and pop-culture personalities — to recomend the books they've been absorbed in lately. You can find some of their most notable picks below.

You can head here to listen to the whole discussion, and here to see the full list of picks.

Andre Dubus III, New York Times bestselling author of "Townie" and "House of Sand and Fog"

The Hair of Harold Roux, by Thomas Williams"The Hair of Harold Roux"
Thomas Williams
(Bloomsbury, 2011)

This now little-known book was the 1975 National Book Award Winner in Fiction, and it's just being re-released by Bloomsbury USA. Dubus wrote the introduction to the new edition, and he is ecstatic to see it back in print.

"Stephen King actually told me that he thinks it's the best novel he's ever read in his life, including Dickens," Dubus said. "I read the book a year ago; I still feel as though I read it an hour ago."

The Oxygen Man, by Steve Yarbrough"The Oxygen Man"
Steve Yarbrough
(Touchstone, 1999)

Yarbrough is a novelist who teaches at Emerson College. Dubus described this novel, a story of race, class and hardship in a small Mississippi town, as a 300-page poem.

"They're a population of human beings that don't get near enough respect or attention in our culture, in my belief," Dubus said of the book's core characters, who exist at the margins of society. "Yarbrough writes about them with such dignity and compassion."

Tom Hamilton, bassist for Aerosmith, history buff and voracious reader

In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson"In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin"
Erik Larson
(Crown, 2011)

The author of the much-loved "The Devil in the White City," a novelistic account of a serial killer in the background of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, returns with the historical narrative of the family of U.S. Ambassador to Nazi Germany in the first years of Hitler's reign. The book follows the ambassador, William E. Dodd, and his daughter as they come to recognize the danger growing in Berlin.

"Everything was just being rebuilt, and reaccomplished. And then all of a sudden it just started getting darker and darker," Hamilton said. "Over the period of the book you find out how that enthusiasm turns into raw disillusionment and raw terror."

City of Thieves, by David Benioff"City of Thieves"
David Benioff
(Viking, 2008)

This comedic novel follows a pair of young adults in the midst of the Nazi siege of Stalingrad in 1942. A Russian officer forces the two of them to find him a coveted carton of eggs, setting off a bizarre and tricky search.

"Like Dorothy with the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, just trying to deal with life as they go on this mission to try to find eggs for the Russian general," Hamilton said.

Steve Almond, author of "Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life"

Trophy, by Michael Griffith"Trophy"
Michael Griffith
(Triquarterly/Northwestern University Press, 2011)

"It's about a carwash 'host associate' who is crushed by a giant bear. And the novel takes place, I kid you not, in the final second of his life," Almond said. "I promised you total weirdness, Emily, and I am supplying it."

"But it's an absolutely brilliant, strange meditation on love and loss and how memory functions in our life." Almond pointed out it is likely the only novel you'll read on the beach that takes place within the span of a single second.

Songbook, by Nick Hornby"Songbook"
Nick Hornby
(McSweeney's, 2002)

This memoir from the best-selling author of "High Fidelity" chronicles his personal relationship to a set of very specific, beloved songs. "It really revolves around the emotional experiences that people have when they listen to particular songs, the eras that they relive," Almond said.

Carlo Rotella, author of Cut Time: An Education at the Fights; director of American Studies at Boston College; columnist for the Boston Globe

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down"
Anne Fadiman
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998)

A famous anthropological study of Lia Lee, daughter of a Laotian Hmong family living in California, who suffered from severe epilepsy.

Rotella described it as several books at once, so you can have a huge variety at your fingertips for your summer reading: "It's one book that's a family drama, a medical thriller, an immigrant narrative. It gives you a history of the Hmong people from pre-history through the Cold War."

The Heroes, by Joe Abercrombie"The Heroes"
Joe Abercrombie
(Orbit, 2011)

This fantasy writer's latest installment, part of the "First Law" trilogy, is a dark and strange war story. "If you take J.R.R. Tolkien, and reverse the polarity of everything in J.R.R. Tolkien," Rotella said, you would end up with something like this trilogy. "They're sort of noir fantasy stories. In a lot of ways the opposite of that kind of J.R.R. Tolkien kind of noble, high-flown heroic fantasy."

Hank Phillippi Ryan, investigative reporter for 7News in Boston; award-winning author of the novel "Drive Time"

Starvation Lake, by Bryan Gruley"Starvation Lake"
Bryan Gruley
(Touchstone, 2009)

"I think this is perfect for the zeitgeist in Boston right now," Ryan said. "It is a murder mystery about hockey!" Set in a small Michigan town, the fictional Starvation Lake of the title, the novel follows an reporter who investigates the murder of the local hockey coach.

Gruley has often been compared to Dennis Lehane. "It is that kind of tone: that sort of bleak, personal tone," Ryan said.

The Other Side of Dark, by Sarah Smith"The Other Side of Dark"
Sarah Smith
(Atheneum, 2010)

With a plot concerning treasure hidden by an ex-slave trader and Frederick Law Olmstead's Emerald Necklace parks, this young adult novel comes right out of local history: "It's a really interesting — a little bit spooky, a little bit scary — look into Boston history." Ryan said. The protagonists are a young white girl and a young black boy who get drawn into a drama with the ghosts of the past. "It also is a really kind of straightforward story about the complicated racial issues that still linger here."

Kristan Higgins, New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of seven romantic comedies, including "My One And Only"

"Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart"
Sarah Maclean
(Avon, 2011)

"Summer isn't complete unless you have a romance novel on the beach," Higgins said. This one in particular is a romp around British high society, full of scandal, gossip and comedy. "It's a very heartfelt historical romance," she said.

A Lot Like Love, by Julie James"A Lot Like Love"
Julie James
(Berkley, 2011)

Another screwball romance novel, "A Lot Like Love" follows a businesswoman who is pressured by an FBI agent to give up information on her Mafia-connected associates.



More Arts & Drama


Sound Tracks


WGBH Music


Call the Midwife

Sign Up

Sign-up for WGBH Arts & Drama updates, WGBH promotions, and previews of what's coming up on WGBH TV.

Support for WGBH is provided by:
Become a WGBH sponsor