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10 Recommendations for Good Summer Reads

Washingtonians recommend globe-hopping novels, a Texas saga, the true story of a family farm, new Stephen King, and more.

Susan Richards Shreve, George Mason University creative-writing professor whose novels include last year’s You Are the Love of My Life, suggests Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown—“a wild adventure and epicurean love story with pirates at sea, a kidnapped chef, and a company of strange crew.” Shreve calls it “a delightful, touching read.”

Tania James, author most recently of the story collection Aerogrammes, likes Nicola Keegan’s Swimming: “It’s a debut novel that shoots from small-town Kansas to Seoul, tracing the dizzying rise of an Olympic swimmer named Pip. The voice is exuberant, glowing with wit, and unlike anything I’ve read.”  

Ron Charles, Washington Post fiction editor, admires Anthony Marra’s first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: “The most moving book I’ve read in years. By writing so beautifully about a tiny village in Chechnya, this 28-year-old Washington native has produced a timeless tragedy about the victims of war.”

ChloĆ« Schama—the New Republic’s story editor and the author of the nonfiction book Wild Romance: A Victorian Story of a Marriage, a Trial, and a Self-Made Woman—says “the best bits of your feminist literary-theory classes come to life” in The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud’s novel about a teacher who becomes absorbed by the lives of a pupil’s family. “The main character is a force—one of the most convincing female characters to appear recently in fiction—and the plot is propulsive.”

Allan Fallow, book editor at AARP Media, finds Stephen King’s new “ghost story, murder mystery, and coming-of-age tale,” Joyland, irresistible: “Settle into the sand with this page-turner about Devin Jones, an apprentice carny barker at an amusement park in a North Carolina beach town. The Doors soundtrack and Winston smokers make the novel a gritty but satisfying valentine to 1973.”

Eileen McGervey, owner of Arlington’s One More Page Books, says that in Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm, Forrest Pritchard “shares his warm—and very funny—efforts to save his family’s seventh-generation farm in the Shenandoah Valley.” The book “reminds us of the importance of the family farm and how it ties into our local food supply.”

Dinaw Mengestu—Georgetown writing teacher, MacArthur “genius grant” winner, and author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air—recommends Philipp Meyer’s novel The Son, set in Texas from the mid-19th century onward: “It’s a massive, epic narrative across generations that’s both gripping and beautifully written.”

Vaddey Ratner, Potomac author of In the Shadow of the Banyan, counts Catherine Chung’s Forgotten Country among her recent favorite novels. The book “takes us from America to Korea, in an elegiac yet piercing exploration of the borderless and undemarcated landscapes of a family’s love, loss, and recovery.”

Dan Kois, editor of the Slate Book Review, says he’s pushing Hugh Howey’s Wool—a novel set in a postapocalyptic society living deep underground—on everyone he knows: “This self-published Kindle bestseller turned sci-fi paperback from Simon & Schuster is a great beach read: exciting, surprising, and just shallow enough that you don’t feel guilty about putting it down to go swimming.”

Arlington’s Bethanne Patrick, author of An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy, got a look at a book due in August: Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, “a smart literary thriller about artistic obsession—utterly absorbing, the kind of book that’ll carry you through a summer afternoon regardless of sun or rain.”

This article appears in the July 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

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