Swell Books for Summer Loafing "I lean and loafe at my ease," poet Walt Whitman wrote, "observing a spear of summer grass." But when you get tired of watching the grass grow, you might want to pick up a good book. Susan Stamberg gets suggestions from three independent booksellers.
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Swell Books for Summer Loafing

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Swell Books for Summer Loafing

Swell Books for Summer Loafing

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Here's how the poet Walt Whitman killed some time during the summer: he wrote, “I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass.”

So you can try that, but when you get tired of it, you might want to pick up a good book. NPR's Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg got suggestions from three independent booksellers.


Becoming aware, coming of age - these are some themes in the books they picked. At The Bookmark in Atlantic Beach, Florida, Rona Brinlee likes a small novel called Mademoiselle Benoir by Christine Conrad, about a guy who gives up a good job in New York to go fix up a house in the south of France, and becomes aware of a new way to live.

Ms. RONA BRINLEE (The Bookmark, Atlantic Beach, Florida): He falls in love with the country and the people in the culture, and he falls in love with a woman of a certain age who is 20 years his senior.

STAMBERG: Whoa! This sounds like Peter Mayle(ph) meets Gail Sheehy: Passages in France.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: The story of Mademoiselle Benoir unfolds through a series of letters by the man, his French lover, family, friends...

Ms. BRINLEE: People will say things in letters that they wouldn't say face-to-face, and so they're bolder and say more interesting things. And, you know, there's always that voyeuristic part we love, to read people's letters.

STAMBERG: In Rona's next book pick, the heroine of Susan Richards Shreve's novel, A Student of Living Things, comes of age in an age of fear: the post 9/11 world. Brinlee says the fear gets personal.

Ms. BRINLEE: One day, on the steps of the library, she's standing next to her brother Steven(ph) and he's shot and killed, and everything gets thrown into chaos and all the foibles of the family come out. Her mother starts clipping articles about violent crime all over the city, and her father is building an airplane in the backyard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Everyone just goes haywire for a while.

Tragedy also strikes the heroine of Amy Hempel's story, The Harvest, part of a new compilation of Hempel's stories that bookseller, Lucia Silva, likes for summer. Lucia is book buyer for Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, California. She says The Harvest is one of Amy Hempel's best-known stories, widely translated and taught. Lucia reads the start of it:

Ms. LUCIA SILVA (Portrait of a Bookstore, Studio City, California): (Reading from The Harvest, Amy Hempel's Collected Stories): “The year I began to say vase instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me.”

And that sort of, to me, reveals how, you know, she has these sentences that are packed with worlds and stories within them, and whereas many writers would be tempted to say, the year I was 18 or, just learning things, or...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVA: ...something else. But, she kind of just nails right where that character is.

STAMBERG: Could we hear the next sentence, please?

Ms. SILVA: Um, I'll skip it down a little.

“The man was not hurt when the other car hit ours. The man I had known for one week held me in the street in a way that meant I couldn't see my legs.”

STAMBERG: Short story writer Amy Hempel calls herself a miniaturist. Her writing is small, precise. Somewhere in these collected stories, a character says, “I leave a lot out when I tell the truth.” Silva says that's the perfect description of Hempel's work.

The biography of a hero gone too soon is Matt Tannenbaum's pick at The Bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts. The book is Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero. David Maraniss is the author. Bookseller Tannenbaum says it captures the late Pittsburgh Pirates' power.

Mr. MATT TANNENBAUM (The Bookstore, Lenox, Massachusetts): Great ball player -a, what you'd refer to as a natural - had the natural ability, had the grace. You see it in some kids even walking down the street. They have athletic ability. Clemente could patrol right field like nobody since Carl Furillo in the old days in the Dodgers.

STAMBERG: Roberto Clemente was baseball's first Latin-American superstar. He was 38 years old when he died on New Year's Eve, 1972. Clemente was flying emergency supplies to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua, and his plane went down.

Mr. TANNENBAUM: This is not supposed to happen and baseball lost its - yeah, you might rightfully say he was the last hero.

STAMBERG: Coming of age is the theme of another Tannenbaum pick, a first novel by Dean Bakopoulos called Please Don't Come Back From the Moon.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TANNENBAUM: The title comes from a tune by Charles Mingus.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TANNENBAUM: The first line of the first chapter: “When I was 16, my father went to the moon. He was not the first man from Maplerock(ph) to go there, he only followed the others on what seemed to be an inevitable trail.”

STAMBERG: The father's trail went from a Detroit suburb to who knows where. The three boys in the book grow up fatherless, then start their own families, and come to a crossroad in their lives where they, too, might leave notes behind: Took the cash, gone to the moon.

Running off to the circus is part of a coming of age tale told by the 90-year-old narrator of Sara Gruen's novel, Water for Elephants. Bookseller Rona Brinlee says the old man remembers hopping a train during the depression to join the circus.

Ms. BRINLEE: The ultimate fantasy. The Benzini Brothers most spectacular show on earth.

STAMBERG: And now he waits in a nursing home for his family to take him to the circus. Waiting, he thinks about his life.

Ms. BRINLEE: You know, the whole time you're reading it, that the end is going to define what this book is, and when you get to the end, you just want to cheer, it's so wonderful.

STAMBERG: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

And while we're in the animal kingdom, Lucia Silva wants to recommend Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, a novella Lorrie Moore in 1994 about some girls who come of age in the summer of 1972.

Ms. SILVA: To me, it reveals that really intense, intensely sweet, almost painfully strong burst of devotion that can exist in a friendship between two teenage girls. You know, that one great love that precedes any romantic relationship, but how it, you know, kind of shows you who you are and who you might become and that great sense of possibility that can open up one summer when you're 15.

STAMBERG: One of the characters looks back on that summer years later after her marriage has failed, her career has failed, and wonders just when it was that her sense of life's possibilities began to end. Sounds sad, but Lorrie Moore writes heartbreak and hilarity. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital is a brief, sweet story Lucia Silva says, to be read, if you're lucky enough to have this kind of free time, in a single day.

Ms. SILVA: It's like 150 pages, but it was the best day I've spent all year so far.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: Here's to long summer days of good reading. Thanks to all our independent booksellers for their suggestions. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: All those books and more summer reading are at npr.org.


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