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Beach books: Something for everyone, regardless of your taste.

June 14, 2010

Not a mug shot, but an official publicity photo from Oleg Steinhauer's website.

Looking over even a small number of articles recommending books for summer reading, I’m put in mind of  Barry Schwartz, the Swarthmore social scientist, who argues that too many choices leads to paralysis, anxiety and existential misery.

As Schwartz explains in his widely praised 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, unlimited choice leads to “genuine suffering:” first we’re paralyzed by the task of choosing, then we’re afflicted with regret and buyer’s remorse: Maybe something better was available.

I’m certainly daunted, if not rendered immobile, by the 15 books recommended by this Huffington Post Summer Reading article, which says it derives its selections from the Indie Bound June ’10 Indie Next list, and from this NPR story on independent booksellers’ picks.

That’s a puzzlement, though, because there’s significant variety among the three pieces. NPR, for example, does not include Justin Cronin’s vampire apocalypse, The Passage, the summer’s hottest read. The Huffington Post, on the other hand, doesn’t have Jennifer Egan’s “Facebook” novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, said to be the most stylistically daring novel of the season.

The Indie Next List, for its part, is missing The Prince of Mist, a Young Adult novel from Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafon, an established crowd pleaser with inventive romancers like The Shadow of the Wind. But Indie Next is the only one of the three to recommend what would seem to be traditional beach fare, like Jeffrey Deaver’s thriller The Burning Wire, or Oleg Steinhaur’s outstanding spy novel, The Nearest Exit.

I can say “outstanding,” because The Nearest Exit is the only book on theses lists I’ve read so far this summer. I’ve also already chosen one, The Madonnas of Echo Park–I want to see what kind of novel a writer named Brando Skyhorse might produce.

While I’m overwhelmed by the plentitude of the three lists — reading all these titles would take me well into the Fall, when a fresh raft of new books will arrive — here are a few I’m considering:

The aforementioned Jennifer Egan novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad; Barry Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist, the story of a man with four wives who has an affair; First Contact: Or, It’s Later Than You Think, by Evan Mandery, a sci-fi social satire in the Kurt Vonnegut tradition; Mr. Peanut, by Adam Ross, an examination of the characters involved in a murder investigation, both cops and suspects; and Karen Valby’s nonfiction book, Welcome to Utopia, which explores a Texas hamlet little touched by modern life.

I have to say I’m a bit shocked by the absence of China Mieville, whose The City and the City was my favorite novel of 2009. His new one, Kraken, is next up on my personal list, soon as I finish Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization–an eye-opening nonfiction book, by the way, by geneticist and exlorer Spencer Wells.

Also missing: David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Mitchell wrote the acclaimed novel, Cloud Atlas. These, along with The Madonnas of Echo Park, are at the top of my current reading stack.

Look at the Huffington Post, Indie Next and NPR summer reading lists for yourself — let us know if anything appeals to you. Or if you have summer books not already mentioned that you’d like to recommend.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sophie permalink
    June 14, 2010 1:28 pm

    I’d recommend the new Jon Clinch book, KINGS OF THE EARTH. I saw it recommended on Oprah’s Summer Reading List, and I’m definitely going to check it out. His first book, FINN, was an incredible read, and from what I hear, this one is, too.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    June 14, 2010 2:37 pm

    Jon Clinch is an example for all late starters, too, having gotten Finn published, shall we say, long after the age of accountability. Good suggestion, thanks.

  3. Candice Simmons permalink
    June 15, 2010 2:05 pm

    Why is it that when I go to the Summer Reading section of Barnes and Nobles, the shelf always has the old classics on it rather than any newer stuff?

  4. Connie permalink
    June 15, 2010 2:35 pm

    My summer reading is, of course, work related, but I can unhesitatingly recommend both Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. Very different but both are damned good reads. Up next for me is David Mitchell, though he’s not everybody’s cup of tea.

    But I must warn again: Scale down your hopes if you pick up The Passage. I have officially given up on it. Starts out with a bang and then…well. If you have the courage to make it past page 200, you’ll see what I mean.

    And I love that name Brando Skyhorse, too!

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