Three Critics Pick The Best Books For Summer

Illustration: Critics Picks
Chris Silas Neal

There are a couple of ways to approach summer reading. You can think of the long, hot days as the perfect time to kick back with an exciting plot-driven thriller by Stieg Larsson. Or you might feel that summer's leisurely pace gives you the space you need to take on more challenging material. (Moby Dick anyone?) What it all boils down to is simple, really: What you want in the summer — or anytime of year for that matter — is a good book. To that end, I spoke with three critics — Laura Miller, reviewer for Salon.com, Ron Charles, fiction critic for The Washington Post and freelance reviewer Rigoberto Gonzalez — about their summer book recommendations. They came up with a list that should appeal to anyone's taste.


Recommended By Laura Miller

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

The Hypnotist

By Lars Kepler, hardcover, 512 pages, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, list price: $27

Miller is a fan of thrillers and she says this one is as good as the Dragon Tattoo series. She calls it "Stieg Larsson without the rough edges" because she thinks it's better written. It has a great plot but is more literary. It's the story of a publicly disgraced hypnotist who has vowed never to hypnotize anyone again. But when he is asked to help solve a terrible crime, he winds up hypnotizing a traumatized young man who is the only survivor of the crime. That decision jeopardizes the hypnotist and his family. Miller says the book is full of surprises and more than enough twists to keep those pages turning well into the night.

The Man In The Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal

The Man In The Rockefeller Suit

By Mark Seal, hardcover, 336 pages, Viking Adult, list price: $26.95

This real-life crime story about a serial impostor began as a magazine piece in Vanity Fair. The Man in the Rockefeller Suit chronicles the exploits of the son of a house painter in Bavaria who entered the U.S. illegally and pretended to be a nobleman. He assumed a series of false identities in communities from California to Connecticut. But his masterpiece was passing himself off as a member of the Rockefeller family. He was so convincing that the smart, successful woman he married never doubted he was a Rockefeller. But when their marriage fell apart and he kidnapped their daughter, she hired a detective who uncovered his true identity. Miller says if someone tried to write this book as a novel you wouldn't believe it.


Recommended By Ron Charles

State Of Wonder by Ann Pachett

State Of Wonder

By Ann Pachett, hardcover, 368 pages, Harper, list price: $26.99

Charles calls this "the book for smart readers this summer." It combines a serious look at some profound ethical issues with an exciting story about a woman going into the Amazon — a journey that Pachett herself took in preparation for writing the novel. Readers follow the journey of Dr. Marina Singh as she travels into the jungle to find out how and why a friend and colleague died there. To get some answers she must meet up with a former teacher, the formidable Dr. Annick Swenson, who wants only to be left alone so she can continue to do her scientific research without any oversight from anyone. The story echoes of both The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Heart of Darkness. Charles says this is a "wonderful, wonderful book".

Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Doc

By Mary Doria Russell, hardcover, 416 pages, Random House, list price: $26

This latest version of the story of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, says Charles, is both smart and fun. The author takes the reader into the wild wild west of Dodge City with vivid portrayals of brawling saloons and whore houses. At the same time she reminds us that the "Doc" in Doc Holliday stood for dentist. It's funny, Charles says, to imagine the mythical Doc Holliday reminding people to brush their teeth. That is just one way, says Charles, that Russell "tweaks the old style westerns we think we know ... she makes fun of them and challenges them and tries to revise them in a way that is interesting".

West Of Here by Jonathan Evison

West Of Here

By Jonathan Evison, hardcover, 496, Algonquin Books, list price: $24.95

This sprawling story of the Pacific Northwest moves back and forth from the late 19th century to contemporary times. Charles likes it because it is full of so many characters doing crazy things. Evison introduces us to the men and women who were determined to settle this wild land. Then he shows us how their dreams turned out as their descendants, a motley crew of misfits, live with the successes and mistakes they inherited. Evison spent most of his life hiking and camping on the Olympic Peninsula and he brings his experience to the book's sweeping descriptions. Charles says the book, like the territory it chronicles, has a "boundless feel" to it.


Recommended By Rigoberto Gonzalez

Orientation And Other Stories by Daniel Orozco

Orientation: And Other Stories

By Daniel Orozco, hardcover, 176 pages, Faber & Faber, list price: $23

Gonzalez says he likes to read books that challenge him. He especially likes books that use fiction to explore contemporary issues and reveal new insights into the way we live our lives. That's why he likes Orientation, a book of short stories that are linked by the idea that in each story a character is being oriented to a new job. It might be in an office or a factory but no matter where it is, these positions make them invisible. Orientation is an exploration of what dehumanizing jobs do to people's psyches, to their personalities and to the way they look at the world.

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Silver Sparrow

By Tayari Jones, hardcover, 352 pages, Algonquin, list price: $19.95

The first line of this book reveals the secret that informs the lives of this family's story: "My father James Witherspoon is a bigamist." Two families live with this reality, but only one knows the truth. The daughters become friends. They are half sisters, but only one of them knows it. One girl moves through life guarding this secret, the other lives in blissful ignorance. While Jones' book is fiction, it has roots in her biography. Gonzalez says this is a fascinating story that examines the psychological effect a father's deception has on his wives and children.

Books Featured In This Story

Silver Sparrow

by Tayari Jones

Hardcover, 340 pages | purchase

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Orientation

And Other Stories

by Daniel Orozco

Hardcover, 162 pages | purchase

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Orientation
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And Other Stories
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West of Here

by Jonathan Evison

Hardcover, 486 pages | purchase

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West of Here
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Doc

by Mary Doria Russell

Hardcover, 394 pages | purchase

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Doc
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State Of Wonder

by Ann Patchett

Hardcover, 353 pages | purchase

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The Man in the Rockefeller Suit

The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter

by Mark Seal

Hardcover, 323 pages | purchase

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The Hypnotist

by Lars Kepler and Ann Long

Hardcover, 503 pages | purchase

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