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Summer Reading List 2000

Compiled by:
Juan Williams,
Host, Talk of the Nation
Ms. Laura Miller, New York Editorial Director of
Carla Cohen, Co-Owner, Politics and Prose Bookstore
Mr. David Kipen, Book Editor, The San Francisco Chronicle

Listen to the program in RealAudio 14.4 or 28.8.

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Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
It's Michael Ondaatje's first book since The English Patient and in some ways a very different book. It reminded me more than anything, strangely enough, of Dorothy Sayer's mystery Whose Body. The lead character's a forensic anthropologist in Ondaatje's native Sri Lanka. And while it's all about the civil wars in Sri Lanka, it takes place about 10 years ago, but--unfortunately, it's still going on--it's just a wonderful character study. Some fascinating people in it and the beauty of his writing, I mean, you can't forget for a paragraph that this is a guy who started out as a poet and still a practicing poet, and just some of the phrasing, you know, it'll stay with you for the rest of your life.
-Mr. KIPEN (Book Editor, The San Francisco Chronicle)

Author: H.P. Lovecraft
If you get really sick of the sunny, pleasant weather, you can always read H.P. Lovecraft, who is one of the classic, incredibly neurotic American horror writers. He's kind of got a weird, creaky style, but he's just so sort of crazed like Edgar Allan Poe that he's also addictive.
-Ms. MILLER (New York Editorial Director of

Bad Jewsby Gerald Shapiro
From a smaller publisher Zoland, and it's a collection of short stories that reminds me a lot of the young Philip Roth circa about 1960. Just really funny, funny stories about poor losers and schnooks, a lot of them, and, oh God, it's just uproarious. A short story called "The Feigenbaum Foundation"(ph) that ends with sort of the battle of the bands between two rabbis, one reformed and one orthodox, and it's just hysterically funny.
-Mr. DAVID KIPEN (Book Editor, The San Francisco Chronicle)

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
It has a very sort of sly sense of humor. It's about a little girl named Eliza Naumann, and she is this very unassuming, meek, unexceptional child in every way with these two sort of distracted parents. Her father is a canter and a scholar, and he, you know, has kind of written her off as not having any particular talents. And then she turns out to be this incredible spelling prodigy and she becomes a spelling bee champion and she goes all the way to the national competition.
-Ms. MILLER (New York Editorial Director of

Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks
Something that a lot of people will enjoy and see themselves, I think, a little bit in it.
-Ms. CARLA COHEN (Co-Owner, Politics and Prose)

Car Camping: The Book of Desert Adventures, by Mark Sundeen
I often think that our fantasy of summer is this kind of carefree getaway and the most of has these vacations that have to over-planned. Sometimes people are traveling with kids and they don't have a lot of freedom and we often wind up fantasizing about our youth, when we could sort of just pick and go at any moment. And this book is a first person story, sort of like, you know, short adventures -- longer and shorter -- that this guy, very young, a house painter in Southern California, would have in the American West. And he would just kind of get into his ramshackle old station wagon and drive off to all sorts of odd places along the back roads and meet all sorts of interesting characters.
-Ms. LAURA MILLER (New York Editorial Director of

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
His previous books were set in the future. They're science fiction to the degree that they're set in the future, but they really just sort of take contemporary social and political trends and sort of extend them, you know, maybe 25 years in advance, and sort of imagine what the world might look like if we had nanotechnology and several other things like that; not the sort of bug-eyed aliens that a lot of people associate with science fiction. He's a very smart--and I would say that if you wanted a science fiction recommendation -- I would say his book Snow Crash is a great introduction to his work. And there are so many things in that book that you can see our world moving towards; a kind of gated communities; the sort of atrophying of the federal government; a lot of really sort of fascinating, shrewd observations about how we live our lives that you, you know, sometimes don't find in the best sort of social criticism
- Ms. MILLER (New York Editorial Director of

Enduring Love by Ian McEwen
The Golden Compass or The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

Gravity’s Rainbow or Slow Learner by Thomas Pynchon
-Mr. KIPEN (Book Editor, The San Francisco Chronicle)

The Human Stain by Philip Roth
is just the best book he's written in years and we're selling it like crazy and people are finding it -- it's both tragic and funny. It's -- I love that combination.
-Ms. CARLA COHEN (Co-Owner, Politics and Prose)

The Man Who Wrote the Book by Erik Tarloff
It’s about an academic who gets drummed out of his college and takes refuge with a friend of his in Los Angeles, who publishes pornographic novels. And this academic winds up writing one pseudonymously and it becomes a sensation, leading to all kinds of complications. And it's just a terrifically amusing book.
-Mr. KIPEN (Book Editor, The San Francisco Chronicle)

Never Bring a Balloon into the National Gallery and Never Bring a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Either one is a great book to give to children who are going to those cities.
-Ms. CARLA COHEN (Co-Owner, Politics and Prose)

No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod

"It's a story about primarily two brothers. Although, there are other brothers you barely get to meet. And they grow up on Cape Breton Island and one of them becomes a dentist, very much sort of a bourgeois. I don't know if he's a Bohemian, but he's very bourgeois and, you know, sort of a pillar of society. The other brother is a wastrel. It reminds me, in a lot of ways--especially since they're Scots who immigrated to Canada a couple hundred years ago, Norman MacLean's A River Runs Through It.
-Mr. KIPEN (Book Editor, The San Francisco Chronicle)

The Onion's Finest News Reporting
Oh, it's all mock newspaper articles. And as somebody in the newspaper business, just to see the way they deploy the conventions of headline writing and caption writing in the most deadpan way -- the back illustration of the book is about this story of a fellow -- they've just invented the remote control for remote controls, so you can sit on your couch, point it at your remote control, and you don't have to actually get up and pick up the remote itself.
-Mr. KIPEN (Book Editor, The San Francisco Chronicle)

The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
I took it home with me last night, and I've dipping into it ever since…You know, it's written very idiosyncratically, and it's very opinionated and very funny, and it's a guide to contemporary literature -- all these writers who've come to prominence since 1960. And it's like transferring to a strange school and finding the one kid who's obsessed with all the same stuff that you are.
-Mr. KIPEN (Book Editor, The San Francisco Chronicle)

Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit
I'm very high on a book called, Wanderlust, by a woman named Rebecca Solnit who lives out our way in San Francisco. This is a non-fiction book. It's a natural history of walking. And I know we've heard a lot about these books that purport to give us everything there is to know in a couple, three hundred pages about crying or laughing or flattery and this book is so different. It talks about the history of something as simple as walking but uses it as sort of a lens with which to talk about public and private property, the history of the states and recreation and leisure time. And it takes it up to the present and talks about how the practice of walking is kind of endangered nowadays, how we've surrendered our streets and even, in some cases, a lot of our sidewalks to automobiles at the expense of just getting around and rambling.
-Mr. DAVID KIPEN (Book Editor, The San Francisco Chronicle)

White Teeth by Zadie Smith
This is a marvelous, very, very funny, but also tells you a lot about present England, London especially. And it's about two families: one is British, there's a working class white man and the other is a statuesque West Indian, is his wife. And then the other family is Bengali, immigrants to England. And it takes place over 50 years and the kids -- well, we all know what happens when kids grow up and how they feel about their parents in any country -- but when their first generation and they're trying to find their own way in a new country, it makes for a zesty mix.
-Ms. CARLA COHEN (Co-Owner, Politics and Prose)

Callers’ Suggestions

Aupres De Mablond by Nicolas Freeling
I wanted to recommend one of my favorite mystery writers, Nicolas Freeling He's written a long series, two different detectives. But what's so wonderful about him is that he is so literate, he makes a lot of literary references that make you want to go and find that particular Jane Austen book, or that particular Dickens book. And there are a lot in paperback, so people can find them easily.
-Rose in San Francisco

The Control of Nature by John McPhee
He's more of an essayist. He used to write for The New Yorker. But his one book that I recommend is called The Control of Nature, which is a fascinating scientific study. All these are non-fiction recommendations.
-Robert in Virginia Beach, Virginia

Danger Close by Mike Yon
It's so intelligent and funny and touching. It's an autobiographical story. He was a really young Green Beret, and it gives you a glimpse into their training. And the best part about the book is that it's got all these, like, hidden jokes in it. Like, you don't necessarily catch 'em the first time you read 'em, but the more you read the book -- I've read the book three times now, and I feel like--that I'm laughing with him; like he's just really cleverly implanted these jokes.
-Ann, Louisville, KY

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
She's often compared to Jane Austen, an excellent writer who is very penetrating, very witty.
–Henry, Williamsburg, VA

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel (also, Longitude)
Terrific book. I'm looking at right now -- because I just pick it up and I read the letters from his daughter, the nun, to her father while he was undergoing his trials. And it's just so overwhelmingly wonderful.
- Rose in San Francisco

The Golden Ocean or The Hornblower by Patrick O'Brian
-Kevin in Madison, Wisconsin

---For those who don't know, his chief claim to fame is a 20-volume series. And if someone's kind of intimidated about setting out into a 20-volume series, he wrote a couple of books earlier, and I would recommend his first one -- his first novel, which is called The Golden Ocean, which I think is as good as anything he wrote... some of his juvenilia has just been published -- books he published, I think, under a different name, or didn't even publish but put aside. But they've only recently come out into print. And people seem to think that they're as good as his mature work.
-Mr. KIPEN (Book Editor, The San Francisco Chronicle)

Hyperion by Dan Simmons
It's really deep; deep science fiction fantasy.
-Gary in Ramstein, Germany

Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
or The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger

A great summer read... a fine book.
-Robert in Virginia Beach, Virginia

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
-Chris in St. Louis, Missouri

Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked by David Sedaris
There's a book that should come with a label on the front cover that says, `May cause hyperventilation.' It's by an author that NPR introduced me to named David Sedaris. He has several books out. And I'm in the middle of the new one... And the one that caused me to hyperventilate on an airplane is called Naked.
-Michelle in St. Louis

My Family and Other Animals and Birds, Beasts and Relatives By Gerald Durell
-Robert in Virginia Beach, Virginia

Neuromancer or Idoru by William Gibson
William Gibson is the inventor of the term `cyberspace.' And he's a writer that belongs to a school of science fiction writers called the cyberpunks, although he wasn't really called that when he wrote his first book Neuromancer really sort of postulated an imaginary world that existed inside the worldwide network of computers. And that's exactly the world that I work in, as you observed earlier.
-Maurice in Cleveland, Ohio
Ms. CARLA COHEN (Co-Owner, Politics and Prose)

The Quincunx by Charles Palliser (also, The Unburied)
It's a mystery, intrigue, revenge -- it's kind of Dickens. Just like Dickens... I do like the character. It's about a little boy and his struggle to get the money that he's due... and it's -- he writes so well. He instantly grabs you, even though it takes place in 19th century England. And most of his novels do take place in, you know, past times, but he's fascinating, and he knows it all, and you can see it. He's a very vivid writer.
-Madeline in New York City

Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham
-Greg in Boston, Massachusetts

Spindle's End by Robin McKinley
This perhaps would be a recommendation for the person asking for a fantasy book.
-Mary in St. Louis

What was recommended in previous years? Check out the 1999 and 1998 lists as well.

And add your comments on the reading list, as well as your suggestions of additional titles to our Summer Reading Lists discussion.

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