The Callie Crossley Show's Summer Reading Picks

By WGBH News


June 21, 2011

BOSTON — Summer, with long days and, for many, a chance to be a little lazy, is the perfect time to catch up on some reading. The books people turn to this time of year include  everything from lowdown trash to literary treasure.

So... what to pick? We can't choose for you. But The Callie Crossley Show humbly offers you its selection, compiled by "Inside Arts" editor Alicia Anstead, Wellesley College English Professor Yu Jin Ko and Callie herself.

Hear the full conversation and see more book picks here.

Alicia Anstead's Picks 

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas I just saw Woody Allen's film 
Midnight in Paris," Anstead said. "I am now obsessed with Paris in the 1920s and 30s." Anstead thinks of this period, when the highly productive "Lost Generation" of artists and writers convened in Paris — as having shaped American culture in the 20th century more than almost any other time or place.

Gertrude Stein was a huge figure in this generation, and she wrote this novel about her lover, editor and confidant, Alice B. Toklas, in the guise of an autobiography. The book is as much chronicle of Stein's life and their time together.

Vintage; 252 pages.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Suzanne Collins, The Hunger GamesThe bestselling trilogy of young-adult thrillers, Anstead said, is great for summer entertainment at really any age. These post-apocalyptic novels concern a society in which a pair of children are selected annually to fight to the death in a televised event.

“I think they’re extraordinary fiction for young people,” Anstead said. She felt that Suzanne Collins had successfully transported her to another world.

Scholastic; 384 pages.

Callie Crossley's Picks

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by Manning Marable
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Manning MarbleThis new reexamination of the controversial figure's life earned sad notice when the author passed away, two days before its release.

But the book's praise was well and thoroughly earned on its own merits. "He spent 20 years refuting what we think we know about Malcolm X," Crossley said. Marble reveals that the man presented to us in "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" was a misleading, sometimes fictional image. Plus, the book is 600 pages long — perfect for a long summer.

Viking; 608 pages.

The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other SunsWilkerson, the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, chronicles the long African-American migration to the Northern United States.

“A lot of book clubs are off for the summer, and they pick a book that is going to be either thoughtful, or long, and spend some time really revisiting it," Crossley said. “It’s stunning, it reads like a novel.”

Random House; 640 pages.

High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, by Jessica B. Harris
Jessica B. Harris, High on the Hog"A combination cookbook and cultural history," as Callie called it, Harris chronicles the cuisine of the African diaspora and its huge social significance. The book is a full-on celebration of the food and social traditions that sustained Africans in the Americas, and the culture that evolved in the wake of slavery.

Bloomsbury; 304 pages.


Yu Jin Ko's Picks

Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin
Kyung-Sook Shin, Please Look After MomThis novel, which has been a huge bestseller in Korea, is the story of a family searching for their mother, after she disappears into the crowds one day at Seoul Station.

But this may not be the right book for those who want something light or fun for the summer. “It’s not an escapist fantasy, but rather sends you on a guilt trip,” Ko said. “It’s a tear-jerker, and it wrings every last tear form your body.”

Knopf; 256 pages.

Babette's Feast, by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)
Isak Dinesen, Anecdotes of DestinyThis classic short story (here collected with several others by Dinesen), which later became a popular film, tells the story of a French cook working in a puritanical Norwegian community who treats her employers to a decadent feast.

Ko recommends it in part because, while he shares the summer fascination with food, this story is likewise less escapist and more a tale of, as he put it, "An intractable desire that never fully yields to satisfaction.”

Penguin; 256 pages.

On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan
On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwanDespite the title, Ko doesn't think this one is quite right as a beach book. “In many ways it’s the antithesis of the summer reading book," he said.

"Summer reading — a lot of summer reading, I should say — has a particular relationship to desire. Which is that it enacts a fulfillment of desire that leads to a new state — new states of being, new forms of self-actualization, etc. But there’s a category of novel that explores what happens to people when desire is deferred, or unrealized.”

For Ko, McEwan's novel is another story that movingly expresses and relates an unfulfilled desire. Which may be, in the end, a fine thing to contemplate — what is possible, impossible, and what you really want — over the long summer months.

Nan A. Talese; 208 pages.

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