Escaping to a Noirish, 1930s Summer NPR correspondent Jacki Lyden shares her favorite summer books and a few waiting on her shelf for this summer. Among her picks: works by a forgotten female pulp writer.
NPR logo Escaping to a Noirish, 1930s Summer

Escaping to a Noirish, 1930s Summer

Whether it's the indulgent hours or lighter genres, summer reading is characterized by its reverie. In My Summer Books, NPR hosts and reporters share their memories of summer reading and books. Today, correspondent Jacki Lyden.

Do you read differently in the summer?

I like to think I read differently only because it stays light later at night and so it seems like there's more time to read. But I don't read lighter. If anything, I read heavier. The atmosphere is light in the summer, so I don't need to escape. Summer is when I like to take on big books.

I just finished Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski and am always impressed by this brilliant Polish writer and journalist. Imperium deconstructs the former Soviet Union, from his boyhood experiences of the invasion of Poland to all that followed.

And I'm about to start the new Mary Wollstonecraft biography, Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft by Lyndall Gordon. She was the mother of all feminists and went from no education to become one of the most brilliant intellectuals of her day in 18th-century England. I'm in awe of her. I've collected some of her letters over the years. I'm hosting Weekend All Things Considered this summer, and I hope to interview the author.

Do you have an all-time favorite summer book?

I have a fondness for the noir mysteries I used to read as a young teenager in summer. My mother gave me Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1957), an amazing female pulp writer unknown today. Her heroines are from the hard-boiled school, and her 1906 The Circular Staircase is a noir masterpiece way ahead of its time. She wrote the Miss Pinkerton series in the '30s; the Yellow Room in the '40s. You could spend the summer on Rinehart's works, and feel you had lived a 1930s Howard Hawkes summer!

When you think about luxuriating in summer reading, is there a place that comes to mind, the beach, the mountains?

Well, I read in bed, wherever I am. I just came back from six weeks in Iraq, and I'm a night owl, and well, there's nothing to do at night there, so I had lots of time to read. I found the perfect companion for a female war correspondent: Gellhorn: A Twentieth Century Life by Caroline Moorehead.

Martha Gellhorn got her start covering the Spanish Civil War. She was Hemingway's wife for a few years but got a bitter divorce. She was larger than life and traveled places and saw things that were amazing. She was not a particularly nice person. She would cut people in a minute, but she was great earthy, bravado, witchy company for me while I was away.

I left the book in Iraq so other NPR reporters and producers could read it. I think Deb Amos is reading it now.

And then, I read Scott Simon's book Pretty Birds on the plane, and I loved it. I was so happy at the end to find myself in it!

What's sitting on your shelf for this summer?

There's a book called Mother of Sorrows by Richard McCann. He took 20 years to write this book, which is based on his on life. He was tortured by the story. It's a novel but very autobiographical. Yesterday he read it on the Diane Rehm Show, and it was wonderful.