STEVE INSKEEP, host:
If you get a chance to read a book this summer during your summer vacation, or stay-cation, that might involve brushing the sand off page five or it might involve firing up your Kindle. However you do it, we have some reading suggestions from independent booksellers around the country. NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg reports their picks every summer.
SUSAN STAMBERG: Memory, marriage, Mandrake roots - the summer reading themes are heavily into the M's - oh, and maps, which are at the heart of a book Rona Brinlee loves. She owns the Bookmark in Atlantic Beach, Florida. The novel is called "The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet" by Reif Larsen. Rona says it's about a boy in Montana who makes maps of everything.
Ms. RONA BRINLEE (Independent Bookseller): He maps your face. He maps your feet. He maps your dinner table.
STAMBERG: Intricate little drawings, and then he makes up stories about what he's mapped. Somebody sends the maps to the Smithsonian, which invites the mapmaker to be key note speaker at their big 150th anniversary gala.
Ms. BRINLEE: Having absolutely no idea that he's 12 years old. And he keeps talking about Gracie, who is his sister, and they say, well, of course your lovely wife is welcome to come with you.
STAMBERG: And off he goes. And "The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet" is all about the characters he meets en route. A great and funny adventure tale, says Rona.
Memory is the theme in another Rona summer pick, "The Housekeeper and the Professor" by Yoko Ogawa, set in Japan.
Ms. BRINLEE: The professor has had an accident in 1975 and he can't remember anything after that time except in 80-minute loops.
STAMBERG: So every morning the housekeeper must reintroduce herself to him. Here's a scene in which she meets the professor. Mathematics is his specialty for the very first time.
Ms. BRINLEE: I was not surprised to find balls of hair and moldy popsicles sticks behind the desk, or a chicken bone resting on top of one of his bookshelves. And yet the room was filled by a kind of stillness, not simply an absence of noise but an accumulation of layers of silence untouched by fallen hair or mold, silence that the professor left behind as he wandered through the numbers.
STAMBERG: From "The Housekeeper and the Professor" by Yoko Ogawa. Rona Brinlee's last summer choice is all about food yet has nothing to do with food. Erica Bauermeister's novel "The School of Essential Ingredients" is set in a cooking school run by a woman who thinks that how you cook is more important than what you cook.
Ms. BRINLEE: And she has this theory, for instance, that couples before they get married should cook their wedding cake together, and that many of them would not get married after that.
STAMBERG: "The School of Essential Ingredients" has no recipes, but Rona Brinlee says it's full of delicious characters.
Ms. BRINLEE: I always judge characters by would you want to have lunch with them and these characters all would be people who are slightly flawed that would be wonderful and the food would be good, I'm thinking.
STABMERG: Ingredients in a summer suggestion from Chris Livingston at The Book Shelf in Winona, Minnesota could kill you; that is, if you foolishly chose to eat anything in Amy Stewart's "Wicked Plants," a book of botanical atrocities. It's a brief lexicon of plants that can be really scary.
Mr. CHRIS LIVINGSTON (Independent Bookseller): Destructive, painful, offensive, dangerous, and even deadly.
STAMBERG: So that prettily named Mandrake root - fans of Harry Potter know the name - can be a real screamer. Chris Livingston also likes a memoir called "The Latehomecomer" by poet Kao Kalia Yang.
Mr. LIVINGSTON: This is really a story about a people that don't have a homeland. Where do they call home?
STAMBERG: Kao Kalia Yang was five when her family fled Laos towards the end of the war in Vietnam. She grew up in St. Paul, in the Hmong Community there, and felt caught between two cultures.
Mr. LIVINGSTON: My mother and father told us not to look at the Americans. If we saw them, they would see us. For the first year and a half we wanted to be invisible. Everywhere we went beyond the McDonough Housing Project we were looked at and we felt exposed. We were dealing with the widespread realization that all Hmong people must do one of two things to survive in America: grow up or grow old.
STAMBERG: From "The Latehomecomer," a memoir by Kao Kalia Yang, read for us by Chris Livingston at the Book Shelf in Winona Minnesota.
Lucia Silva, buyer for Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, California, says Kevin Wilson's miscellanea "Tunneling to the Center of the Earth" is for people who don't like short stories.
Ms. LUCIA SILVA (Independent Bookseller): They maybe feel like there's not enough meat to hold onto or the characters don't develop far enough.
STAMBERG: But Kevin Wilson's stories are full of intrigue and tweaked realities. For instance, an older woman, never married, answers a grandma wanted ad. She's ends up working as a rent-a-grandma for five different families until she quits in despair. Another Kevin Wilson story is narrated by a sorter in a Scrabble factory.
Ms. SILVA: Collecting Q's.
STAMBERG: The letter Q? Tiles with the letter Q?
Ms. SILVA: Yes.
STAMBERG: All the sorters have to wade knee-deep into the tiles to find their assigned letters. Odd things happen. Lucia reads an excerpt.
Ms. SILVA: At the end of work today, the quitting bell rings and we line up. I notice the M woman still on her hands and knees, her face streaked red from crying. When I walk over to her she holds up a handful of tiles, all W's. They looked the same, Leonard, she tells me almost pleading. I mean if you didn't look too closely. She spent the entire day picking up the wrong letter.
STAMBERG: From a story in Kevin Wilson's collection, "Tunneling to the Center of the Earth.
Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano's book, "Mirrors," translated by Mark Fried, has a subtitle, "Stories of Almost Everyone." And Lucia Silva says the book has enormous scope.
Ms. SILVA: Everything from Greek mythology to Fidel Castro to the Berlin Wall to Mark Twain, Django Reinhardt, they're little vignettes formed in almost like a browser's dictionary in vaguely chronological order.
STAMBERG: The vignettes are lyrically written, Lucia thinks, and Galeano seems to have a mission in writing them.
Ms. SILVA: The untold stories of the people on the margins of history, of people and places that have long been ignored.
STAMBERG: Why does he call it mirrors?
Ms. SILVA: Well, there's a great quote: Mirrors are full of people. The invisible see us, the forgotten call us. When we see ourselves, we see them. When we turn away, do they?
STAMBERG: And then what remains? Eduardo Galeano offers some answers in "Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone."
And that subtitle could describe all of this year's summer reading picks from our always independent booksellers. Happy reading, everybody. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.
INSKEEP: And you can find a list of all these books plus more bookseller recommendations at npr.org. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
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