Librarian Nancy Pearl Picks Summer's Best Books
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Hey, we have some recommended reading this morning in case you're going on vacation, or going nowhere. If you're having a stay-cation, you really need a book, so librarian Nancy Pearl, a frequent contributor to this program, is eager to share some books that she calls great summer reads. Hi, Nancy.
Ms. NANCY PEARL (Librarian): Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: She's at member station KUOW in Seattle today, and I want to begin with a book that's on the stack that you've sent me here called "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks," simply because I live disreputable histories. What is this?
Ms. PEARL: Oh, well, you will love this book because Frankie Landau-Banks is one of the best teen characters that I have read in a long, long time. The best thing about this book is Frankie herself. And in the year between her freshman year at this elite prep school where she goes and her sophomore year, she kind of is transformed from this geeky, nerdy kind of girl into this very attractive young woman who thinks she's shed all her nerdiness, and especially - especially because she catches the eye of the most popular boy on campus, who happens to be the president of a secret organization.
And the secret organization, he won't tell Frankie anything about it. She can't join it because she's a girl, and that really gets her annoyed, and so she decides that she's going to get back at the members of this organization and in a sense bring them to their knees. And it's just - it's funny. Frankie is smart. It's just a really smart book on all levels. It would be great for a mother/teen daughter discussion too.
INSKEEP: So Nancy Pearl is giving us some summer reading here, some vacation reading here, if we have an opportunity to take a vacation. There's another book here, "The Color of Lightning," a novel by Paulette Jiles.
Ms. PEARL: This is Paulette Jiles's third historical novel and I think she just gets better and better and better with each book. This is a book that's set in the very last years of the Civil War and then through the beginning of the 1870s.
And the main character is a freed slave who travels with his family and his former owner to Homestead in North Texas. And the man's name is Britt Johnson, and when he and the other men are off to buy supplies for the camp, the Indians raid the camp and they kidnap Brit Johnson's wife and two of his children. And Britt decides when he gets back and finds out what happens that he is going to go rescue them. Does that plot sound familiar?
INSKEEP: Where, where?
Ms. PEARL: Well, this was the basis of - this was from a book by Alan Le May called "The Searchers," and of course it was made into the John Wayne movie.
INSKEEP: Oh, of course, of course, one of the great Westerns of all time.
Ms. PEARL: Absolutely. But because of the vagaries of movie making, of course, Britt Johnson was transposed into John Wayne. But Paulette Jiles, she's just brought the whole period alive. Can I just read a paragraph?
Ms. PEARL: One of the things that she talks about in this book is the plight of the young white children who are kidnapped and then are raised by Indians and know nothing, remember very little about their previous existence with their white families. And one of the things that Britt Johnson and men like him did was take these children back home to their white families. And this is a description of one little girl's feelings about that event.
And it says: She was not afraid of going hungry or starvation. She was afraid of the slow death of confinement, of being trapped inside immoveable houses and stiff clothing, of the sky shuttered away from her sight, herself hidden from the operatic excitement of the constant wind and the high spirits that came when they struck out like cheerful vagabonds across the wide earth with all of life in front of them and unfolding and perpetually new. And now herself shut in a wooden cave, she could not go out at dawn alone and sing. She would not be seen and known by the rising sun.
INSKEEP: Oh, that's beautiful.
Ms. PEARL: Isn't that great?
INSKEEP: Yeah, yeah, and you just have a person who was taken away from what the white people of that era would have considered civilization and she's not sure that she likes it anymore.
Ms. PEARL: Absolutely, and I think that that's the thing that Paulette Jiles does so well in this book is describe for the reader that great gulf between ways of living.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about somebody else who must have gone a distance just because the book here is called "A Far Cry From Kensington," Muriel Spark.
Ms. PEARL: This is an older title and I always love it when I reread a book and it still is buoyant and wonderful as when I first read it. "A Far Cry From Kensington" is - has one of fiction's great women characters, and that is a woman named Mrs. Hawkins. She's tart, she's loyal to her friends, she is unforgiving toward her enemies, she's easy to confide in, and she's impossibly self-assured. And yet for all that, for the reader she's incredibly easy to love.
It's a book is set in the 1950s in London. Mrs. Hawkins lives in a rooming house and she works in the publishing industry. And she takes an instant and unending dislike to a hack writer named Hector Bartlett, and she calls him a vomiter of words.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. PEARL: And because of that dislike, she incurs his lasting wrath and loses two jobs in the publishing world.
And also to get back at her, Hector either does or does not, we're not really ever sure in this book, but Hector either causes something terrible to happen to one of Mrs. Hawkins's fellow roomers at the house or he does not. And Mrs. Hawkins is just an unforgettable character.
INSKEEP: Another book on your list, Nancy Pearl, is called "The Gone-Away World."
Ms. PEARL: Yes, this is Nick Harkaway's first novel. And with most books that you and I talk about, Steve, I feel like I can tell a little bit of the plot, I can say whether it's character driven, and then people will get an idea of what the book is.
But with Nick Harkaway's book the "The Gone-Away World," I can't tell you anything about it because I don't want to take away from anybody's experience of reading it and almost anything I say will be too much.
But I just - I have to say that it is an incredible experience to read. It's set after an apocalypse. The main character is somebody who all - oh no, never mind. I can't do that. I messed it up too much.
INSKEEP: That's okay.
Ms. PEARL: That's fine. So I can just say that two-thirds of the way through the book there is a plot twist that will knock your socks off and you will want to go back and start all over again and see all the hints that Nick Harkaway gave you that didn't pick up on.
INSKEEP: I guess you can remind us that he comes from a writing family, Nick Harkaway.
Ms. PEARL: He does. He is John Le Carre's son and you can see, I think, some of the great narrative story-telling ability that his father has, has certainly passed on to Nick.
INSKEEP: Some book selections for your summer from Nancy Pearl. Nancy, thanks very much.
Ms. PEARL: Oh, you're welcome.
INSKEEP: She's author of "Book Lust," "More Book Lust," and "Book Crush." And you can nominate your favorite summer reads at npr.org.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee's back with us next week. I'm Steve Inskeep.
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