The List: Summer Reading 2009

Every summer I create a list of books to read that stretches to about 25 and then I read about 4 of them, what with distractions from new books coming out or just discovered, magazines (which take up more of my reading time than I like to admit) and nice weather that demands going outside and being active, for Pete’s sake, before the hammer of fall hits.

So for this summer, I plan to pare down. I selected 10 books (not including books for the book club I belong to, but more about that later). I suppose there also need to be some alternates because sometimes I finally get to a long-awaited book only to think it’s complete shit and toss it across the room (not really toss but that sounds pleasantly dramatic). This happened when I tried to read Master and Commander, thinking I was in the mood for adventures on the high seas, and The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver because everyone said it was so good. Ick.

So there is the Varsity List and then JV but its entirely possible for a book to be called up to Varsity in a pinch.


1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Is any summer reading list really complete without a few classics thrown in to make you feel entitled to read something like…

2. The Bad Seed by William March – A child serial killer named Rhoda Penmark? Sign me up! I hear the book way kicks ass and the movie, made in the 1950s, is a snooze. I shudder to think what a remake by someone like director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, III, IV and Repo! The Genetic Opera) would look like.

3. Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist – I guess I have a hankering for kids with blood lust this summer. The Twilight series just doesn’t do it for me. I was supposed to read this book over the winter but, alas, never got around to it.

4. The Believers by Zoe Heller – Somehow this new novel by Heller, one of my favorite writers because of her biting sarcasm, slipped past me until now. If you haven’t read Notes On a Scandal: What Was She Thinking, it would be a good one to have on a summer reading list (you can skip the movie unless you’re a big Dame Judi Dench fan because she’s great in it) because it makes one laugh out loud despite it’s sorrowful center. After that book, I read Heller’s first novel, Everything You Know, which is about a man who went to prison for killing his wife but was released on appeal, only to piss off his friends and family by writing a memoir of his married life. This newest novel is described as “a satire of 1960s idealism soured in the early 21st century.”

5. The Women by T.C. Boyle – I saw a profile on my favorite TV news show, CBS Sunday Morning, about Frank Lloyd Wright and a house he built (called the George C. Stewart House) in Montecito, California that the author, T.C. Boyle, now lives in. Boyle restored the house and maintains its Wright perfection. He also wrote a novel about the architect’s personal life, which was apparently filled with marriages and affairs with several ladies. Who knew?

6. A Summer Bird Cage by Margaret Drabble – This is a novel written in the 1960s that I keep seeing mentioned various places so I’m going to read it. A review on Amazon gives this summary, “Sarah had come home from Paris to be a bridesmaid for her sister Louise. When they were young Sarah adored her sister, but her sister never seemed to be the least bit interested in her. The novel traces a year in their lives through Sarah’s eyes. It is a book about growing up, learning about different kinds of people and most of all its about the institution of marriage as viewed by Sarah through Louise’s marriage.” Sounds like a good summer read (maybe a weepy??)  if I’ve ever heard of one. It seems to be out of print but there are plenty of used copies available online. Or perhaps the good ol’ library.

7. Bad Girld Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown by Jennifer Scanlon – Last summer I read Sex and the Single Girl with my book club and I liked some of Gurley Brown’s ideas, although some were shocking and predictably outdated. It’s a mixture of do-it-yourself, make your own money advice and strange notions about dating, what to eat and what to never purchase for yourself if a man can be found to shell out. I find women like Gurley Brown, who came up in a New York that I hope was exactly as envisioned on the show Mad Men, fascinating, so I’m excited to read this biography.

8. The Lost City of Z by David Grann – Every summer reading list requires some adventure and I hope this book will prove to be as captivating as it sounds. John Grisham (!) wrote the “exclusive review” on Amazon. Here’s a synopsis:

“In April of 1925, a legendary British explorer named Percy Fawcett launched his final expedition into the depths of the Amazon in Brazil. His destination was the lost city of El Dorado, the “City of Gold,” an ancient kingdom of great sophistication, architecture, and culture that, for some reason, had vanished… Hundreds of expeditions had gone looking for it. Thousands of men had perished in the jungles searching for it. Fawcett himself had barely survived several previous expeditions and was more determined than ever to find the lost city with its streets and temples of gold. The world was watching… His expeditionary force consisted of three men–himself, his 21-year-old son Jack, and one of Jack’s friends… He and his two companions would travel light, carry their own supplies, eat off the land, pose no threat to the natives, and endure months of hardship in their search for the Lost City of Z.

They were never seen again.” (Insert da-da-dum! music here for emphasis) I like stories where people disappear and are never heard from again, don’t you?

9. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery – This novel, translated from French, is also making it onto a lot of lists for novels to read. From The Washington Post’s Book World: “Renée Michel is the dumpy, nondescript, 54-year-old concierge of a small and exclusive Paris apartment building. Its handful of tenants include a celebrated restaurant critic, high government officials and members of the old nobility. Every day these residents pass by the loge of Madame Michel and, unless they want something from her, scarcely notice that she is alive. As it happens, Renée Michel prefers it that way. There is far more to her than meets the eye.

Paloma Josse also lives in the building. Acutely intelligent, introspective and philosophical, this 12-year-old views the world as absurd and records her observations about it in her journal. She despises her coddled existence, her older sister Colombe (who is studying at the École normale supérieure), and her well-to-do parents, especially her plant-obsessed mother. After careful consideration of what life is like, Paloma has secretly decided to kill herself on her 13th birthday.

These two characters provide the double narrative of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and you will — this is going to sound corny — fall in love with both.”

I’m up for falling in love with some characters. It’s summer. Things are free and easy, barefoot, corn on the cob, fireworks, ice cream, beaches and puppies.

10. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson – It’s summer so I do want to read about horses. I gave this book to my dad as a gift and he read it and said he liked it a lot and that’s enough of an endorsement for me.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
Mrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl Gordon
And a book by Charles Dickens because I’ve never read any Dickens, really, beyond A Christmas Carol in Disney format and Great Expectations.

And then there’s book club, which will mean four more summer books. June is Carrie by Stephen King. I’ve never read it or seen the movie, either. I started it last night and it’s actually good. It’s the solid, vintage King, not the newer, schlocky King. He’s still got an edge.