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2005 Summer Reading: The Listeners Choose

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2005 Summer Reading: The Listeners Choose

2005 Summer Reading: The Listeners Choose

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

During August, we asked you to write to us about the books you've most enjoyed reading this past summer. We said we would air a selection of responses over Labor Day weekend, but we had to put that off to provide time last Sunday for comprehensive reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Today, we return to summer reading and the comments we recorded about the novels, biographies and other books that kept you turning pages.

(Soundbites of recordings)

Mr. ERIC WASHINGTON: I'm Eric Washington, and I'm from Harlem in New York City. I really enjoyed "Florence Mills: Harlem Jazz Queen" by Bill Egan. This biography is an exhaustively thorough tribute to a woman who is arguably the 20th century's first international African-American female star. In the 1920s, Mills was the unparalleled song-and-dance jazz artist of her generation. Here was a woman who had the distinction of turning down the great Ziegfeld for his Follies. This was in deference to the work she felt her status obliged her to continue on behalf of her race. Somehow, Mills eluded sound and film recording, so she's largely forgotten today, but I think Mr. Egan's affectionate and scholarly and immensely entertaining biography should correct that.

Ms. STEPHANIE DEE(ph): I'm Stephanie Dee, and I'm from San Mateo, California. I very much enjoyed "Starstruck: When a Fan Gets Close to Fame" by Michael Joseph Gross. He recounts both Gross' own brushes with famous people, as well as with the average Americans who make a living--or at least a hobby of--trying to get within autograph-signing reach of celebrities. It's not just an entertaining book, but quite thought-provoking, making me wonder why I care so much about stars and what makes them seem so much better than your average working-class slob. Did it make me stop reading People and Us Weekly? No, but it definitely made me think about why I want to.

Ms. JEAN SIBLEY(ph): I'm Jean Sibley. I live in Etna, New Hampshire. I've been intrigued by Hannah Holmes' book "Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn." True to its title, it is a detailed, often wacky account of absolutely everything that was happening on Hannah Holmes two-tenths of an acre of back yard in Maine. Chipmunks and crows, ladybugs and weeds demanded her attention. Out of what would appear to be total chaos, she constructed an orderly and very amusing account full of useful information, much of which was new to me, and I've been looking at the same things she has for 79 years without seeing half of it.

Mr. BRIAN BRANNIGAN(ph): My name is Brian Brannigan. I live in Seattle, Washington. My favorite book this summer was "A History of the World in Six Glasses" by Tom Standage. As the title implies, it tells the history of the world by telling the story of the predominant beverage of a time. It covers beer--which may have spurred the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture--and it brings us all the way to Coca-Cola, which the author says is the beverage of globalization. Along the way, he discusses wine, spirits, tea and coffee. I'll never again look at what I'm drinking as simply satisfying my thirst.

Ms. ROBERTA MYRA(ph): My name is Roberta Myra, and I live in Milan, Michigan.

This summer, I picked up and reread Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes." The story is set in a small Midwestern town where an itinerant carnival show with a very dark side makes a late-season stop. When I first read this book, I was in junior high school. I remember the story as being really tense and frightening, with short prose that conveyed the intensity of the fear and disbelief and the confusion of the two 13-year-old protagonists. It was the first book I ever stayed up all night reading. Having been born and raised in Los Angeles, I had never seen a traveling carnival, but now I live in a small Midwestern town and the big event every summer is just such a fair; with music, fireworks and a carnival that features a carousel and a house of mirrors. My first sight of this carnival took me directly back to "Something Wicked." Now my kids will read it and understand why I will never let them go into the house of mirrors.

HANSEN: To learn more about those and other suggestions, visit our Web site, npr.org.

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