MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Summer is almost here, and what better way to spend time on the beach or in the park than with your nose in a good book?
NORRIS: Alan Cheuse reviews books for us, mostly fiction, and he joins us here in our studios. Welcome, Alan.
ALAN CHEUSE: Hi, Michele.
NORRIS: And we're joined also by a relatively new voice in the literary world. Her name is Samantha Hunt. She's the author of the novel, "The Invention of Everything Else." Welcome, Samantha.
Ms. SAMANTHA HUNT (Author, "The Invention of Everything Else"): Thanks.
NORRIS: Now, I asked both of you to get busy reading and bring some books back to us that you would recommend for our listeners. And Alan, first, you have a wonderful coming-of-age tale. Tell us about it.
CHEUSE: Yeah, it's Jayne Anne Phillips' novel "Lark and Termite." It's a West Virginia, Falknerian family novel, coming of age, yes in part, about a mute, brain damaged boy, he's the Termite of the title, who will never grow up. And in this character of Termite, we get this wonderful, musical, interior monologue. I want to read a little for you.
NORRIS: Oh, please do.
CHEUSE: Sudden morning air floats low to the ground amid the small houses like fragrant, evaporating mist, a cool bath of dew and shadow and damp honeysuckle scent. Heat will climb down in wisps and drifts, losing itself in pieces until it falls in gathered folds, pressing and pressing to hold the river still.
It's a book so rich. You come for the story, and you stay for the music.
NORRIS: And it feels like July right here in the studio.
CHEUSE: It's heating up already.
NORRIS: (Unintelligible) if you read that. Well, Samantha, now you bring us a story from Jason Brown. It's actually a collection of stories with a wonderful title, "Why the Devil Chose New England for his Works."
Ms. HUNT: Right. And it's really just kind of a perfect summer read, I thought, because so many of the pieces have this wonderful feeling of being ghost stories in some way, literary ghost stories but ghost stories nonetheless.
They're set in a deeply forested Northern Maine. These pieces are all kind of hunted by - you know, there's loggers, there's bodies lost through lake ice. There's teenage lust kind of gone absolutely wild, runaways, drunks, trains, shipwrecks, Mother Nature raging out of control, and something about that really just strikes me as the perfect spookiness for what I want in a summertime read.
NORRIS: Samantha, you have another book for us from Eula Biss. It's called "No Man's Land: American Essays," another collection of short stories.
Ms. HUNT: They're actually, it's a collection of essays, but it's funny that you should say short stories because this collection really surprised me in that I don't think I've ever encountered a work of non-fiction written so lyrically that it reads as a short story. I mean, she's an absolutely beautiful, lyrical writer.
An essay about telephone poles morphs into this lesson on the history of lynching. And I mean, I realize that sounds awful, but let me just read you the end of this essay to let you know what I mean here.
(Reading) My grandfather was a line man. He broke his back when a telephone pole fell, smashed him onto the road, my father says. Now I tell my sister these poles, these wires, do not look the same to me. Nothing is innocent, my sister reminds me. But nothing, I would like to think, remains unrepentant. One summer, heavy rains fall in Nebraska, and some green telephone poles grow small, leafy branches.
And so she's kind of pastiche-ing this whole piece together, moving between histories of atrocities, hatred in America, with her own - spiced with her own history.
NORRIS: I love that you did come to us with a collection of short stories and a collection of essays because even though time does slow down in the summer, many people are still busy and you have this wonderful sense of accomplishment when you can pick up and read a short story start to finish, and there the book is waiting for you for your next visit, wherever you're going.
Ms. HUNT: Right.
NORRIS: Alan, you've carried into us a wonderful, new edition of a beloved older book.
CHEUSE: Yes, it's "A Movable Feast" by Ernest Hemingway that was published posthumously in 1964, and Hemingway's grandson, Sean Hemingway, has now edited a restored edition of the book based on all the scholarship that Hemingway folks have done, pointing out where Hemingway's original emphases lay in some of these essays and restoring about 60 pages of manuscript that was left out of the original Scribner's edition in '64. Listen to this wonderful little passage that he writes about writing.
(Reading) The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener, a pocketknife was too wasteful, the marble top tables, the smell of café crème, the smell of early morning sweeping out and mopping and luck were all you needed. For luck, you carried a horse chestnut and a rabbit's foot in your right pocket, the claws scratched in the lining of pocket, and you knew your luck was still there.
This is just wonderful writer's luck and reader's luck too that we now have this material restored to his original version.
NORRIS: This book has been loved by generations, especially people who take off for Paris and want to experience what Hemingway described as being very poor but also very happy. This was clearly a point in his life where he was carefree and feeling good about things.
We have a wonderful collection of recommendations here. I hope that the two of you won't mind if I make a recommendation of my own or at least share a book that I've read recently that I really have enjoyed and I think others might also if they pick it up over the summer.
It's a book called "Serena" by Ron Rash, and it was a book that just grabbed me. And I picked up the book, and I read the first paragraph, and boy it had me, and if you don't mind, I'll just read quickly from it.
(Reading) When Pemberton(ph) returned to the North Carolina mountains after three months in Boston settling his father's estate, among those waiting on the train platform was a young woman pregnant with Pemberton's child. She was accompanied by her father, who carried beneath her shabby frock coat a Bowie knife, sharpened with great attentiveness earlier that morning so it would plunge as deep as possible into Pemberton's heart.
And bad things happen from that point forward.
CHEUSE: That's a way to get the reader.
NORRIS: Yeah, the great economy (unintelligible).
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHEUSE: It's a way to get the reader's heart beating.
NORRIS: Yeah. And the person - the knife actually goes in a surprising direction, and from there the story sort of hurdles forward, and I couldn't stop when I started reading the book. So that's my summer recommendation.
CHEUSE: Nice kind of book
Ms. HUNT: That's great.
NORRIS: Well, thanks to both of you for coming in and adding to our summer to-do list with many good books, all good recommendations. And just to recap of what we've heard from Alan Cheuse, his summer reading suggestions are as follows: "Lark and Termite" by Jayne Anne Phillips, "A Movable Feast" by Ernest Hemmingway. And from Samantha Hunt: Jason Brown's story collection called "Why the Devil Chose New England For His Works"; and from Eula Biss, "Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays."
And finally, my pick, "Serena: A Novel," and that's by Ron Rash. Thanks to both of you. Thanks so much, Alan. Thanks to Samantha.
CHEUSE: A pleasure.
Ms. HUNT: Thank you for having me.
NORRIS: Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University. His new book, "A Trance After Breakfast," will be published next week. And Samantha Hunt is the author of "The Invention of Everything Else." We've been talking about books for summer reading. For a complete list and for more ideas for reading, you can go to our Web site, that's npr.org/books.
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