News & Politics

Best Books: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Beach Reading

We asked a range of thinkers—from writers and policy wonks to the resident poet of the Wizards—for their favorite summer reads.

Washingtonian > Packages > Best of Washington

Jay Winik, historian and author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval:

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. “It’s a masterpiece I read every summer, a quiet meditation on writing, friendships, and a love for the outdoors.”

William Kristol, editor, the Weekly Standard:

Dirty Money by Richard Stark (pen name of crime novelist Donald Westlake). The ruthless thief Parker goes on the hunt for the loot he left behind in Nobody Runs Forever from 2004. “I consider Westlake the greatest living American novelist, but that’s partly my own low taste—I don’t like anything fancy.”

Deborah Tannen, linguist, Georgetown University:

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. The story of World War II refugee Leo Gursky and his lost book about lost love and the lives—unbeknownst to him—it altered. “It’s a magical novel; imaginative, surprising, beautifully written—with a mystery solved at the end.”

Susan Fisher Sterling, director, National Museum of Women in the Arts:

Mirror Work: 50 Years of Indian Writing, a compilation edited by Salman Rushdie. “It’s in bite-size pieces, so you can read a story, think about it, then put the book down and do something else. It’s a good window into Indian literature. There are a lot of great women writers in this compilation.”

Susan Shreve, novelist, professor of English, George Mason University:

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Thirteen linked tales about solitude and sodality featuring a retired schoolteacher in coastal Maine. “A wonderful, humanistic novel in stories with the amazing, difficult Olive as glue.”

Manil Suri, mathematician and author of The Death of Vishnu and The Age of Shiva:

Fermat’s Enigma by Simon Singh. “A great introduction to the history and present state of number theory, written entirely for lay audiences.”

Franklin Foer, editor, the New Republic:

The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross. A tour of classical music in the 20th century, from Richard Strauss to Philip Glass, Vienna to New York. “Ross manages to make composers jump off the page. There’s enough intellectual, political, and social background that the book is a fantastic read even for non-classical aficionados. Sent me to iTunes downloading like crazy.”

Etan Thomas, Washington Wizards player and poet:

Every Second Counts by Lance Armstrong. “There’s nobody tougher than Lance Armstrong, and in his book he tells the story of everything he had to go through to beat cancer and come back to compete again. It’s inspirational.”

Gail Kern Paster, director, Folger Shakespeare Library:

Intuition by Allegra Goodman. “Set in a cancer lab in Cambridge . . . [a] wonderfully smart look at how science is done and undone without sacrificing complexity of character or plot.”

Ted Genoways, editor, Virginia Quarterly Review:

Behind My Eyes by Li-Young Lee and Native Guard by Natasha Trethaway. “Poetry strikes me as somewhat of an indoor activity, but both these books come with recordings of the poets reading their work. That makes them great for road trips and makes the poetry quite accessible and quite intimate.”

Jewell Stoddard, Politics and Prose’s director of children’s services:

The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith. “I love his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.”