Make the most of your summer by toting along some of these new paperbacks on vacation, or just to the backyard. It will be easy to carry around softcover editions of “The Wright Brothers” or “Seveneves.”
Here’s my summer reading philosophy: Make the most of it. Reading time is so precious; why not devote it to a book you’ll still be thinking about when the fall winds blow?
Here are 10 memorable titles, including a bunch of recent prizewinners, just out in paperback. Five fiction, five nonfiction — find the one that fits you the best.
“The Gilded Hour” by Sara Donati (Berkley, $17). Donati (pen name for Bellingham’s Rosina Lippi) excels at deeply researched historical fiction with strong characters. It’s the story of two such women in 1883 New York, both recent graduates of a women’s medical school, as they try to practice their profession in a world where the deck is stacked against females. Donati’s painstaking historical spadework and her vivid descriptions of the Gilded Age’s extremes of wealth and poverty make for a “spellbinding” book, wrote Melinda Bargreen in a Seattle Times review. “ … Readers will live in hope of a sequel.”
“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press, $16). This novel by a relatively unknown writer won both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the Carnegie Medal for Excellence this year. The narrator is a Vietnamese man who was a double agent for both the fallen South Vietnamese regime and the Viet Cong victors, and his double identity endures once he lands in America. In a 2015 Seattle Times review, David Takami wrote that “this remarkable, rollicking read by a Vietnamese immigrant heralds an exciting new voice in American literature.”
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“Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson (Morrow, $17.99). This novel by Stephenson, a Seattle-based science-fiction author, might be the ideal summer book for the ambitious reader. The premise: Something makes the moon blow up, creating an asteroid rain that will eventually kill everyone on Earth. Earth’s leaders have two years to figure out how to preserve the human race. Stephenson has thought out every angle — psychological, political, environmental — and has an expert’s grasp of the science involved. One of Bill Gates’ five picks for summer reading.
“A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler (Ballantine Books, $16). Tyler’s 20th novel, a study of the Baltimore Whitshank family, beautifully interweaves the profound and the everyday, wrote Moira Macdonald in a Seattle Times review: “What happens in the book … is the stuff of everyday life and not of high drama: here, a troubled son trying to find his place in the family; there, an unexpected funeral; elsewhere, a longtime pet growing old.” Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
“The Cartel” by Don Winslow (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, $16.95). This epic tragedy, the sequel to Winslow’s “Power of the Dog,” tells the ongoing story of the Mexican drug wars through the eyes of two central characters — Adan Barrera, a drug lord, and ex-DEA agent Art Keller. It is by turns horrifying and funny, and inspiring in its stories of people who resist the cartels’ takeover. Readers will have their eyes opened to the havoc wrought by the “war on drugs,” and by the end you will get Winslow’s point — America is complicit in the carnage. Available May 31.
“Rain: A Natural and Cultural History” by Cynthia Barnett (Broadway, $17). The perfect gift for that newcomer basket! Barnett explains everything about our near-constant companion in Seattle. “Everyone thinks about rain, but few have done so more than environmental journalist Cynthia Barnett … (who) explores every possible aspect of rain you can think of, and probably many you didn’t consider,” said David Williams in a Seattle Times review.
“Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” by William Finnegan (Penguin, $17). This memoir by a New Yorker staff writer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for autobiography/biography. It’s Finnegan’s story of his lifelong obsession with surfing, as he follows the waves from California to New York, Samoa to Fiji. “Mr. Finnegan has moved about the Earth like a man in a ballad, testing himself at every opportunity, always willing to obey ‘dog-whistle orders from the collective surf unconscious,’ ” said Dwight Garner in a New York Times review.
“The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top Secret Military Research Agency” by Annie Jacobsen (Back Bay Books, $17.99). In this book, the third in a series, Jacobsen, author of “Area 51” and “Operation Paperclip,” digs up information stashed deep in government vaults about the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. military’s powerful military science agency. You’ll learn how DARPA’s discoveries have shaped the future, for good and for ill. Available June 7.
“Hold Still” by Sally Mann (Back Bay Books, $18.99). Critics raved about this memoir by Mann, an accomplished photographer who weathered scathing criticism for her photographs of her own children in the nude. New York Times critic Dwight Garner praised “Hold Still” as a “weird, intense and uncommonly beautiful new memoir … a cerebral and discursive book about the South and about family and about making art that has some of the probity of Flannery O’Connor’s nonfiction collection ‘Mystery and Manners’ yet is spiked with the wildness and plain talk of Mary Karr’s best work.” With dozens of Mann’s superb photographs.
“The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, $17). McCullough, who at age 82 surely qualifies for the label “living legend,” proves he can still tell a story in this biographical portrait of the whole Wright family — Wilbur the genius; Orville, fellow flyer, mechanic, entrepreneur; their inspirational sister Katharine; and father Bishop Milton Wright, who instilled in his sons a moral core that enabled them to work tirelessly, without short-term gain, until they had achieved mechanical magic.