RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Around this time each year, we like to remind you that novelist Henry James once said, `The two most beautiful words in the English language are "summer afternoon".' For many of us, the two most beautiful words are summer vacation, in which case, NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg has a list of books that might be good to take along.
SUSAN STAMBERG reporting:
Summer is a time for going places, and each of the independent booksellers we spoke to picked books about journeys of one kind or another. We can always count on Rona Brinlee at The Book Mark in Atlantic Beach, Florida, to name something Southern. This time it's Betsy Carter's first novel, "Orange Blossom Special," about Tessie, a young widow who goes by train to Florida to start a new life. It's the 1960s, a time of racial tensions, the Vietnam War. Here's an excerpt, Tessie getting ready to go out.
Ms. RONA BRINLEE (The Book Mark): (Reading from "Orange Blossom Special") Instead of letting her hair lie limp around her shoulders, as she had since Jerry died, she pinned it up in a French twist. And for the first time in God knows how long, she stood in front of the mirror and put on the bright red lipstick that had sat unused in her drawer for nearly three years. She penciled on some eyeliner and even dabbed on Jean Nate.'
And the reason I love that part is because the Jean Nate is so evocative of the end of the '50s.
STAMBERG: Oh, that's citrusy. My gosh, I haven't thought of that in 40 years. And you splashed it on, right?
Ms. BRINLEE: You did, and you just couldn't breathe for a while after that, if I remember correctly.
STAMBERG: It sounds sort of like a girly book. Is it?
Ms. BRINLEE: It really isn't, because it reminds me somewhat of "Empire Falls" set in the South. Because what compels this book is all the cast of characters. There's Tessie and her daughter and her husband, and then her--there's the new love of her life. All these people are doing the best they can.
STAMBERG: "Orange Blossom Special" by Betsy Carter, Rona Brinlee's choice at The Book Mark in Atlantic Beach, Florida.
Another on-the-road book is the pick of Jake Reiss at the Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, not far from Birmingham. Here's the title.
Mr. JAKE REISS (Alabama Booksmith): "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer."
STAMBERG: Subtitled "A Road Trip Into the Heart of Fan Mania(ph)." And Jake Reiss says the author, Warren St. John, finds some real sports diehards.
Mr. REISS: He found a fan who missed his daughter's wedding because it was scheduled during the Tennessee football game.
STAMBERG: But he did make it back in time for the reception. The author, a New York Times reporter, gets into a beat-up RV and travels with fans of the University of Alabama football team. Reese says people come to the games from all over.
Mr. REISS: There are people from probably 40 states that will drive wherever the game is. And conversely, people who live in Alabama, if the game were in Seattle, would drive their motor home on a 3,000- or 4,000-mile round trip.
STAMBERG: And Jake Reiss says you don't have to be a fan of RVs or football to enjoy it. The Chronicle of Higher Education named "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer" the best book about college sports ever written.
For a colder, deeper journey, Lucia Silva at Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, California, near Los Angeles, loves Ander Monson's book "Other Electricities."
Ms. LUCIA SILVA (Portrait of a Bookstore): I am so, so deeply thrilled and excited by this book. It's the best thing I have read of new fiction in a long, long, long time.
STAMBERG: "Other Electricities" is a series of short stories that are interconnected, or a novel told in short stories, set in the upper peninsula of Michigan.
Ms. SILVA: The snow and the iciness and it's high school stories. And one of the main obsessions of the narrator is a girl, Liz, who fell through the ice in a car on prom night.
STAMBERG: Others meet similar chilly fates. These are stories of high school tragedies and small-town disturbances. But Lucia Silva says Ander Monson is writing about more than that.
Ms. SILVA: These recurring themes of telephone lines and radio and electricity and currents and snow kind of connecting like a web, all of these small and minor tragedies together--I wouldn't say they're happy stories, but they're happy for the beauty that they communicate.
STAMBERG: Lucia Silva also picks a classic for us, a book she makes a point of reading every summer. It's Joan Didion's 1970 novel, "Play It As It Lays."
Ms. SILVA: It's so Los Angeles. It's so dawn of the '70s, sort of nuclear white light, Mojave Desert summer that completely mirrors the sort of grim psychological landscape of the main character.
STAMBERG: She's Maria Wyeth, slowly losing it, drifting out of her own life away from her Hollywood producer husband, her acting career. She spends her time driving obsessively the LA freeways.
Ms. SILVA: (Reading) `She drove it as a river man runs a river, every day more attuned to its currents, its deceptions. And just as a river man feels the pulls of the rapids in the lull between sleeping and waking, still Maria lay at night in the still of Beverly Hills and saw the great signs soar overhead at 70 miles an hour: Normandy, one-quarter; Vermont, three-quarters; Harbor Freeway, one. Again and again she returned to an intricate stretch just south of the interchange, where successful passage from the Hollywood onto the Harbor required a diagonal move across four lanes of traffic. On the afternoon she finally did it once without breaking or once losing the beat on the radio, she was exhilarated and that night slept dreamlessly.'
STAMBERG: The novel is "Play It As It Lays" by Joan Didion.
Finally, "The Beach Book," another pick from Rona Brinlee in Florida, a collection of short stories all set on some beach or other.
Ms. BRINLEE: What I think about short stories, especially in the summer, it's like dipping your toe in the water, and you get to test it and see if you like that author.
STAMBERG: The writers here are big names, like Roald Dahl and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and others less well known. Rona Brinlee says in these stories the beach is not always paradise.
Ms. BRINLEE: Everybody's idea of paradise is very different. So you have stories about someone who had parasites and who's very ill on the beaches in India or a man who's come to a resort at the beach to die or couples who come to work out their marriages. So while the beaches give people paradise, they give them paradise in very unique and different ways that you may not think about.
STAMBERG: Rona Brinlee says "The Beach Book" has another plus.
Ms. BRINLEE: The wonderful thing about this book is that it's actually waterproof. So you can take it to the beach. You can drop it in the ocean. You can get it full of sunscreen and anything you want.
STAMBERG: Happy summer reading. I am the not-vacationing Susan Stamberg, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: All those books and more picks from our independent booksellers are at npr.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.