RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Novelist Henry James said the two most beautiful words in the English language were summer afternoon. And what better way to spend a summer afternoon than with a good book?
As vacation season nears, here come some reading suggestions from independent booksellers. NPR's special correspondent, Susan Stamberg, makes the introductions.
SUSAN STAMBERG: Meet Rona Brinlee, owner of The Book Mark in Atlantic Beach, Florida. Her choices are always lively.
Ms. RONA BRINLEE (Owner, The Book Mark, Atlantic Beach, Florida): You know, I'm in Florida. We like wacky in Florida.
STAMBERG: But in this case, the wacky is set in California, where a successful New York sculptor moves in search of a simpler life.
Ms. BRINLEE: And he's become a Brussels sprouts farmer.
(Soundbite of Laughter)
STAMBERG: A Brussels sprout farmer. Everyone's favorite vegetable, don't you think?
(Soundbite of Laughter)
Ms. BRINLEE: Yeah, next to kale.
STAMBERG: Next to kale.
Ms. BRINLEE: Well in addition to growing Brussels sprouts, he grows a little bit of marijuana on the side.
STAMBERG: Don Lee's novel is called "Wrack & Ruin." The hero does his farming in the fictional town of Rosarita Bay near San Francisco and finds it has a lot to offer.
Ms. BRINLEE: He could get reflexology, myofacial body work or custom aromatherapy. He could get his body contoured and enlightened, detoxified and moisturized. He could get his polarity unblocked, his meridians balances, his lymphatic fluids flowing. But he could not, apparently, get a simple, old-fashioned massage wherein his muscles could be pounded and kneaded into submission.
STAMBERG: Rona Brinlee says "Wrack & Ruin" is a great beach read, full of fabulous characters. In addition to the nouveau farmer, there's an estranged brother, a girlfriend and a guy who wants to buy the farm and turn it into a golf course. She says you'd want to have coffee with any one of them.
Rona finds more great characters in David Benioff's novel "City of Thieves." A successful, 34-year-old L.A. screenwriter is asked to do an essay about his life.
Ms. BRINLEE: Once he starts, he realizes he has what he himself calls an intensely dull life.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STAMBERG: Intensely dull.
Ms. BRINLEE: Intensely dull. Not a bad life, but not all that interesting.
STAMBERG: So he interviews his grandfather, Lev Benioff, about his life and thereby hangs a World War II tale. Lev was a young man during the siege of Leningrad. He's thrown into jail for theft with a cellmate locked up for desertion. They're sure they'll be shot.
Ms. BRINLEE: But they get a reprieve for a very odd reason. The colonel needs a dozen eggs because his daughter's getting married, and his wife wants her to have a wedding cake.
STAMBERG: They have five days to find the eggs, and Rona Brinlee says those days are filled with inhumanity, bravery, humor, desperation and lessons about teenage sex. "City of Thieves" by David Benioff.
In Fairway, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, Steve Shapiro, who was book maven at Rainy Day Books, picks another World-War-II-related book, an epistolary - I always wanted to say that on the radio - novel with a wonderful title.
Mr. STEVE SHAPIRO (Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kansas): "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society."
STAMBERG: The series of letters that authors of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows create are written in 1946 by a young London author and residents of the island of Guernsey.
Mr. SHAPIRO: You discover that this Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society actually came into being because Guernsey was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War.
STAMBERG: Members of the Guernsey society describe life under occupation. They are hungry for food and for news. The letters from London help.
Steve Shapiro also likes "What Happened to Anna K," a first novel by Irina Reyn.
Mr. SHAPIRO: You know, it takes a lot of chutzpah to do a makeover, so to speak, on one of the most memorable characters in world literature.
STAMBERG: That character is Anna Karenina. Reyn's character, also Anna, is a Russian-American. Steve says the book mixes 19th-century romance and longing with 21st-century flash, dash and cash.
Mr. SHAPIRO: The novel is a cross between Tolstoy's original and "The Devil Wears Prada." However, since the focus is on the Russian émigré community in Queens, it's more like "The Devil Wears Imitation Prada."
STAMBERG: "What Happened To Anna K" could, according to Steve Shapiro, be about any émigré community, any hyphenated group: Cuban-Americans, Irish-Americans.
Mr. SHAPIRO: It's the way that people try to bring their past and their present together.
STAMBERG: Another first novel is the choice of book buyer Lucia Silva at Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, California. The heroine of Hillary Jordan's book is a Memphis schoolteacher who marries late in life and moves to a farm in the Mississippi Delta. It's right after World War II in the Jim Crow South. The book is called "Mudbound." Lucia reads why.
Ms. LUCIA SILVA (Manager, Portrait of a Bookstore, Studio City, California): (Reading) When I think of the farm, I think of mud, ringing my husband's fingernails and encrusting the children's knees and hair, sucking at my feet like a greedy newborn on the breast, marching in boot-shaped patches across the plank floors of the house. There is no defeating it. The mud coated everything. I dreamed in brown.
STAMBERG: Another post-World-War-II relationship is the subject of Andrew Sean Greer's new novel, "The Story of a Marriage." Lucia Silva says the book is short and magical - a fable, really, about love. She says the prose is exquisite, suspenseful. What's the story?
Ms. SILVA: I loved reading it blind. So anybody who wants to do that should tune out.
STAMBERG: Oh, not listen to you if you tell - okay, turn off your radio, folks.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SILVA: Um...
STAMBERG: She let us tell this much. It's the story of slowly revealed secrets. A fellow shows up at the door of a San Francisco couple and offers the woman a lot of money to run away with him to the surprise of all involved.
Ms. SILVA: And it ends up ultimately being much more about how much one person can ever know another person, and how much we know about somebody is what we create about them.
STAMBERG: Finally, Lucia Silva chooses a collection of stories called "My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekov to Munro," and in between are Faulkner, Joyce, Nabokov, Carver, Paley, Brodkey, all tales of passion, affairs, failures, achings, even a few happy love stories.
Lucia says it is the best fiction collection she has ever read thanks to the collection's editor, novelist Jeffrey Eugenides. He has curated the stories as you would an exhibition, she says, or a great mix tape.
Lucia's all-time favorite story is part of the mix: "How to Be an Other Woman" by Lorrie Moore. An excerpt.
Ms. SILVA: (Reading) When you were six, you thought mistress meant to put your shoes on the wrong feet. Now you are older, and you know it can mean many things, but essentially it means to put your shoes on the wrong feet.
(Soundbite of Music)
STAMBERG: A bit of Lorrie Moore, part of the collection, "My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead." Thanks to all our independent booksellers. Happy vacation reading. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: And you can read excerpts of all of these books plus find more bookseller recommendations at NPR.org/books. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.