ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
And I'm Melissa Block.
Never mind that the release of the sixth Harry Potter book is still a month away; summer is just around the corner. And our book reviewer Alan Cheuse has been busy compiling his picks for the season. Whether your summer plans include the beach or the mountains or just your own back yard, listen in. There's probably something here for you. And don't worry if you miss something. The complete list is at our Web site.
ALAN CHEUSE reporting:
I want to begin by recommending to you the beachiest of beach books, a new novel called "The Practice of Deceit" by Elizabeth Benedict. It's the first-person story of the marriage between a Scarsdale, New York, therapist and his South Boston-born divorce-lawyer wife, a marriage coming apart at the seams. Benedict tells it from the man's point of view, and the story practically spills into your lap as you turn the pages. Listen to the novelist reading a brief excerpt from a scene in which the therapist husband stops by unannounced at his wife's law office.
Ms. ELIZABETH BENEDICT (Author, "The Practice of Deceit"): (Reading) She replaced the phone in its cradle and looked up at me. `Hi, hon. What can I do for you?'
`You have trials every day for the next six weeks? Did you forget to tell me?'
`No, sweetie, not at all. That's just lawyer talk. My only upcoming trial is the week after next for two days.'
`Lawyer talk for what?'
`I'm not ready to negotiate yet, that's all it means. Goodman's a lawyer. He knows. What's up? Is everything all right at home?'
CHEUSE: Everything's not all right in Elizabeth Benedict's novel, which makes for a lot of wicked fun.
Australian-born Jane Alison's new novel, "Natives and Exotics," is the opposite of wicked. In a lyrical series of chapters, she recalls the adventures of a family of wanderers and settlers and diplomats with an early cameo appearance by the great German naturalist and explorer, Alexander von Humboldt.
Unidentified Woman #1: (Reading) Finally, Humboldt did what he had come for: He climbed Pichincha, the volcanic mountain that loomed over the city. Only a few years earlier, it had erupted so violently that thousands of people had been buried alive or sucked into sudden crevices. He wished to look into Pichincha's crater just as, on an earlier journey, he had descended into Vesuvius. It was really the only way to see a hot little glimpse of how Earth was made.
CHEUSE: "Natives and Exotics" by Jane Alison. It's a fascinating summer journey between book covers that spans centuries and continents.
(Soundbite of symphonic music)
CHEUSE: If novels had background music, William Vollmann's massive new book, "Europe Central," would have the "War" Symphony of the Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich. Vollmann's depiction of the struggle between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia reads like Solzhenitsyn on acid with a surreal romance starring Shostakovich at the center of the book and major battles and betrayals and genocide erupting about the edges. Here's a little taste of this bitter stew from Vollmann's depiction of the Battle of Stalingrad.
Unidentified Man #1: (Reading) What was night in Stalingrad where the sky was black without surcease, the sun gone like last year's summer--black sun, black rain, moonlessly black sky of day and night, everyone coughing, the red gleam of reflected fire on the Volga as planes swooped down on the ferries at midnight, Russians screaming, Germans cursing, sirens sobbing, machine guns marking time just as the broadcast metronome did in besieged Leningrad, long cattails of black smoke hanging as soft and fluffy as an opera diva's boa.
CHEUSE: If you're like me, you may shift back and forth between the heavy books and lighter fare. So here's a little smorgasbord of short-story suggestions for you. First, there's a new book of linked stories by Melissa Bank whose "Girls Guide To Hunting and Fishing" took the publishing world by storm a couple of years ago. This new one is called "The Wonder Spot." Listen to Bank reading about the latest crush of her 30-something heroine, Sophie Applebaum.
Ms. MELISSA BANK (Author, "The Wonder Spot"): (Reading) Even before I really saw Bobby, I sensed him as a sheep does a wolf. I could feel him maneuvering around the easels and stools toward me. This was in Mixed Media I, Wednesday evenings, six to nine at the new school. The only other man in the class was a retired principal. Bobby was good-looking enough, boyish and a little scruffy with meaty shoulders, dark eyes and a square jaw, but that didn't explain his magnetism. When he sat beside me, my shell gave way to feathers.
CHEUSE: And I'd also like to recommend Anne Beattie's latest, "Follies," and new story collections by Roxana Robinson, "A Perfect Stranger"; a debut collection by Uganda writer Doreen Baingana--the title is "Tropical Fish." And--this is something quite special and worthy of your attention--San Francisco writer Leo Litwak, now in his 80s, has come out with a vigorous collection called "Nobody's Baby." Here's Litwak reading the opening of a story called "The Sporting Scene."
Mr. LEO LITWAK (Author, "Nobody's Baby"): (Reading) Charlie Ormont(ph) writes a sports column for a San Francisco newspaper. It's widely read, which is surprising since he's no friend of the sporting scene. He reminds readers that sports are a diversion, not the real show. He ridicules the inclination to adore and glorify. `Quarterback Joe Montana is not Mahatma Gandhi,' he writes. `And the human spirit will not be improved by a home-team victory.' He tells the reader it's only football or baseball or whatever, and deserves to be taken with a grain of salt.
CHEUSE: San Francisco writer Leo Litwak reading from his story collection "Nobody's Baby."
Now some genre books I'd like to recommend, including an absolute must for science-fiction fans, "Sunstorm," Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter's conclusion to their "Time Odyssey" series, and the spy novel of the summer, Robert Littell's new book titled "Legends." It's a tour de force about a former CIA agent who's taken on so many false identities, he's not sure who he is. In this passage read by Littell, he appears as an operative named Dante.
Mr. ROBERT LITTELL (Author, "Legends"): When the battered Ford reached the fertile rift known as the Bekaa Valley, the Palestinians knotted a blindfold over Dante's eyes. Twenty minutes later, the two-car motorcade passed through a gate in a perimeter fence and pulled to a stop at the edge of an abandoned quarry. The Palestinians tugged Dante from the backseat and guided him through the narrow dirt streets to the mosque at the edge of the Lebanese village. In the antechamber, his shoes and the blindfold were removed, and he was led to a threadbare prayer carpet near the altar, and motioned to sit. Ten minutes later, the imam slipped in through a latticed side door. In his early 40s with a crew cut and a neatly trimmed beard, the imam rocked back and forth in prayer for several moments. And finally he raised his eyes and, speaking English with a crisp, British accent, announced, `I am Dr. Izat Al Karim(ph).'
`I suspect you know who I am,' Dante replied.
The corner of the imam's mouth curled into a pudgy grin. `Indeed, I do. You are the IRA dynamiter we have heard so much about.'
CHEUSE: Great trade craft lore in this one, as in all of Littell's fine work, with a cameo appearance by a young Osama bin Laden.
And now there's Montana's answer to Mickey Spillane.
Unidentified Man #2: (Reading) It was a lovely, calm Montana summer evening, a Saturday night after a long weekend of softball. The full moon rose over Mt. Sentinel, outlining the maw of Hellgate Canyon. A streak of summer haze like a line of blood lay across the moon's idiot face.
CHEUSE: James Crumley's new hard-boiled PI novel, "The Right Madness," opens on this seemingly idyllic summer evening, and soon leads to a lot of murder and mayhem, and gruff male meditations on the joys and rigors of Crumley's late-middle-aged private eye.
Now some true crime, vile murders long unsolved in an obsessive non-fiction account by Manhattan writer and former NPR commentator Stacy Horn. Her book's about the New York City Police Department's cold-case squad. It's called "The Restless Sleep." Horn writes in outrage at the crimes, some of them over 50 years cold, and with great affection for both the living and the dead.
Unidentified Woman #2: (Reading) Sitting in a closet in the 7-6 Precinct in a box that hadn't been opened for 20 years is the 1951 Jean Sansabarino(ph) case. On March 8th, 1951, when Jean was 26 years old, she had sex with someone, then was strangled to death. Her autopsy report notes that she was brought in wearing a black brassiere labeled `Forever Yours' and a pale-blue slipover sweater with short sleeves. A month before she died, Jean split from her husband, who might've been a transient according to police records. Even though it had only been a month, the police found a bunch of what looked like love notes written on various scraps of paper in her pocketbook found at the scene. Penciled on the back of a restaurant check are the words, `I love you.'
CHEUSE: Manhattan writer Stacy Horn's "The Restless Sleep."
For young-adult readers on vacation from school--Lori Aurelia Williams. Her new novel, "Broken China," fiction with a true voice about children raising children.
Ms. LORI AURELIA WILLIAMS: (Reading) I had to take Amena(ph) to the clinic today. She caught a bad cold on Saturday from my best friend Yolanda's(ph) little girl, Ebony(ph), the youngest of six snotty-nosed kids whose only talents seem to be getting on their mother's last nerve and mine. That's why I don't like to fool with them too much. But it was Yolanda's 27th birthday. So I gave in. I agreed to hang out in the back yard with her, barbecuing hot links and talking about her favorite subject: Ebony's sorry-ass father, Jamal(ph).
CHEUSE: Lori Aurelia Williams reading from her new novel "Broken China."
Now my rule of thumb is that it wouldn't be summer without some poetry. And some of the poetry I know comes in the free and limber voice of William Carlos Williams. Former poet laureate Robert Pinsky has edited a new volume of Williams' poetry, over a hundred poems including the lively and goofy "Danse Russe," read here by Pinsky.
Mr. ROBERT PINSKY (Poet): (Reading) "Danse Russe." If I, when my wife is sleeping and the baby and Kathleen are sleeping, and the sun is a flame-white disc in silken mists above shining trees; if I in my north room dance naked grotesquely before my mirror, waving my shirt round my head and singing softly to myself, `I am lonely, lonely, I was born to be lonely, I am best so'; if I admire my arms, my face, my shoulders, flanks, buttocks against the yellow drawn shades, who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?
CHEUSE: Robert Pinsky reading "Danse Russe" by William Carlos Williams.
Now I'll make a new rule. It wouldn't be summer without some poetry set to music.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. JOY HARJO (Poet): (Singing) The red dawn now is rearranging the earth thought by thought, beauty by beauty...
CHEUSE: Joy Harjo, the American Indian poet, singing her poems and playing sax.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. HARJO: (Singing) ...thought by thought, beauty by beauty. Flatter the backbone of shimmering deity, thought by thought, beauty by beauty. Child starring in the womb of your mother, don't be afraid. Old man turning to walk through the door, don't be afraid. Do not be afraid.
CHEUSE: So here's your summer dawning, thought by thought, beauty by beauty, book by book.
(Soundbite of music)
BLOCK: More music from Joy Harjo, excerpts from our featured authors, and a list of all of Alan Cheuse's recommendations are at the summer reading page of our Web site, npr.org.
(Soundbite of song)
Unidentified Group: (Chanting in non-English language)
SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.