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Indie Booksellers Target Summer's Best Reads
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Indie Booksellers Target Summer's Best Reads

Journeys, reunions, good food, they figure in many a summer vacation plan. They're also themes in some books that a group of independent booksellers suggest taking a long on a vacation this year.

NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg has their choices.

SUSAN STAMBERG: Lucia Silva's first pick could take care of all your literary needs.

Ms. LUCIA SILVA (Book Buyer, Portraits of a Bookstore): It's a thousand-page novel. So if you only want to read one book this summer, this could be it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Book-buyer Lucia ordered it for Portrait of a Bookstore, in Studio City, California. Filmmaker John Sayles' novel, "A Moment in the Sun," starts in 1897 with the Yukon Gold Rush, and follows a handful of characters over five years and six continents. Lucia says it explores various turning points at the start of the 20th century.

Ms. SILVA: As America began to assert itself as a superpower and struggled with tremendous racial injustice and sexism, and ideas of supremacy and diplomacy and politics, and newspapers and all kinds of meaty stuff.

STAMBERG: It's a real book-book. A cat squasher one reviewer said.

Ms. SILVA: It is not available as an e-book. It's not available on Kindle. You got to lug this hefty thing around, which helps remind you of some of the hefty themes and sentiments it contains.

STAMBERG: Daniel Goldin just sold his first e-book at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he likes Ben Ryder Howe's memoir "My Korean Deli." Howe is an editor at "Paris Review." His wife, a corporate lawyer, wants to buy a deli for her hardworking Korean parents. No pastrami, no rye, not that kind of deli.

Mr. DANIEL GOLDIN (Owner, Boswell Book Company): It's an old school deli with really bad tasting coffee and a very large lottery machine that spews out tickets that say, you know, cash in a flash.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: In Brooklyn, the place has had a loyal following for years. The loyalists don't mind new owners.

Mr. GOLDIN: But if they try to turn off the television that's blaring action movies, or if they change the coffee and raise it 10 cents so that it tastes good, they get a terrible bounce-back from their customers.

STAMBERG: One customer's good coffee could be another customer's poison. But that is not the poison on Rona Brinlee's mind at the Bookmark, in Neptune Beach, Florida. It's Erin Kelly's novel "Poison Tree," which Rona says begins at the end.

Ms. RONA BRINLEE (Owner, Bookmark): For the people who like to skip to the end and find out what's happening, they don't have to do that. But when they get to the end, they're going to have to go back and read the beginning.

STAMBERG: "The Poison Tree" starts with a character driving away from somewhere or someone to somewhere - not clear.

Ms. BRINLEE: And then next chapter, a woman and her daughter are going to prison picking up her husband who's been in jail for 10 years. And that's where it starts.

STAMBERG: A total page-turner, Rona says. As is Amanda Hodgkinson's novel "22 Britannia Road," set before and after World War II. A young Polish family, separated for six years when the man goes off to war, they reunite in peacetime England, in a sweet little cottage at 22 Britannia Road.

Ms. BRINLEE: And everything promises to be good. The man has a job. He has a house. His family is coming back. But there are lots of secrets that are working against that being so simple. And this author knows how to let the secrets simmer and boil in a way that you're just not prepared for.

STAMBERG: Lucia Silva says be prepared to laugh your way through Patrick Dewitt's Old West saga "The Sisters Brothers." According to Lucia, the book is like the TV series "Deadwood," but directed by the Coen Brothers.

Ms. SILVA: All the stuff you love about Westerns, all of the atmosphere and the style, mixed with this deadpan comic narration.

STAMBERG: The brothers - and, yes, their last name is Sisters - travel on bad horses over rugged terrain, past floozies, barmaids, and along the way they find new - to them, anyhow - inventions.

Ms. SILVA: Someone introduces them to a toothbrush and it's this big thing. And it kind of brings them together with other people along the way that have discovered the toothbrush.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: More sober and contemporary themes in Siobhan Fallon's story collection "You Know When the Men Are Gone," another book pick from Rona Brinlee. Fallon writes of women at Fort Hood, Texas, whose men are at war in Iraq or are now back from that war. The author herself is one such woman. Her husband deployed twice to Iraq. So Fallon knows just how lively a military base can be in peacetime.

Ms. BRINLEE: A base is a very small place where everybody knows everybody else's business. You can hear what's going on through the walls. People are very intensely involved with each other. But when the men are gone, there's a certain quiet that comes over the base that is almost palpable.

STAMBERG: In these stories, war is seen from the home front.

Ms. BRINLEE: There are women who just can't stand the wait - it's just too hard for them. There are some who are in love with men who found war to be a new normal, and they are happier when they're at war than when they come home. They have a hard time adjusting. And then there are the men who come home wounded, and the men who don't come home at all.

STAMBERG: Finally, Daniel Goldin - the Korean deli reader in Milwaukee - has a paperback about paper labels cherished by book owners. In "Ex Libris," Latin for "from the library of," the art of bookplates, Martin Hopkinson traces the history of those small, decorative labels that go inside a book. When they first appeared, back in the 15th century, the custom-made labels were like status symbols.

Mr. GOLDIN: To show the pride of ownership in one of the most valuable possessions that you would have, which would be your book.

STAMBERG: In the early days, pride of possession was expressed by family ties.

Mr. GOLDIN: The bookplate originally would have your coat of arms on it. That was the major thing that you would have.

STAMBERG: Well, that's how rich you were that you had a coat of arms, so you could own books, right? Mm-hum.

Mr. GOLDIN: Absolutely. And later on, you would include some sort of representation of your interests. So there's a wonderful bookplate of a travel writer, which has a fez; and another, ethnic hat and a globe. If your name was Rose, there might be a garland of roses.

STAMBERG: Daniel Goldin says bookplates still sell in his Milwaukee shop, even in this age of e-books and Kindle.

Thanks to all our independent booksellers for this garland of summer reading ideas.

I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And we've got more of our booksellers' choices at NPR.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News on Memorial Day, Im Renee Montagne.

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