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