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Heat waves

Summer reads to cool off with
By JOHN FREEMAN  |  June 28, 2007
BURNING: Randall Kenan pays homage to
James Baldwin in The Fire This Time.

“Summer joys are spoilt by use,” wrote John Keats, meaning the less you do between June and August, the better. And so it goes with reading. The beach read, the backpacker’s paperback, the road- tripper’s bible — the hullabaloo over our Summer Read exists because we don’t want to get it wrong. To that end, here’s a guide to the out-of-the-way pleasures coming to your book store soon. All of them will keep your travel bag light and your joys un-spoilt.

The best new work out this summer — with a few exceptions — will appear in translation, starting with Mandarins (July 7, Archipelago), a collection of short stories by famed Japanese author Ryunosuke Akutagawa (best known for Roshomon). This new translation by Charles De Wolf features three gem-like pieces never before seen in English.

If ninjas and samurai warriors are your thing, grab a copy of Heaven’s Net Is Wide: The First Tale of the Otori, by Lian Hearn (August 16, Riverhead). This fifth volume in the series recreates a medieval Japanese world by way of Taoist fable, historical fiction, and high fantasy. Robert Walser’s The Assistant (July 27, New Directions) which tells the tale of a man “drowning in obedience” has finally made it into English. So too has Peter Handke’s Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, (July 10, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), the mystical tale of a female banker on a Don Quixote–like odyssey.

Ice and fire: Ice Cream’s cold contemporary art, Burning Man’s hot stuff. By Greg Cook.

The man who knew too much: Philip K. Dick enters the Library of America. By Peter Keough.
Sifting the trash heap: Things I love about the gold and the garbage in comics. By Douglas Wolk.
This summer also features three intriguing coming-of-age stories: Rajaa Alsanea’s Girls of Riyadh (July 9, Penguin Press), the first chick-lit novel to come out of Saudi Arabia; Aoibheann Sweeney’s stylish Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking (July 19, Penguin Press), the tale of a girl growing up in Maine in the shadow of her father’s re-translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses; and, straight out of Seoul, I Have the RightTo Destroy Myself (July 2, Harcourt), Young-ha Kim’s edgy story of two brothers in love with the same girl.

Some other notable debuts coming down the pike include Ron Currie Jr.’s God Is Dead (July 5, Viking), in which the good Lord comes down to earth and dies in a Darfur refugee camp. Nalini Jones’s What You Call Winter (August 17, Knopf) is a collection of stories set in a Catholic town in India. And in The Tenderness of Wolves (July 10, Simon & Schuster), British film director Stef Penney tells a gripping story about a mother tracking down her fugitive son.

School may be out now, but several novelists will take you back. Stephen Carter’s New England White (July 2, Knopf) revolves around a prominent New England university and its divinity school (Carter teaches at Yale). Taylor Antrim goes old school with his debut, The Headmaster Ritual (July 9, Mariner), a satire set on an Andover-like campus. And in Confessions of aWall Street Shoeshine Boy (July 3, HarperCollins), Doug Stumpf writes of a man who earned his education at the feet of other masters.

At the other end of the age spectrum is G.B. Edwards’s The Book of Ebenezer Le Page (July 10, New York Review of Books), the ornery recollections of an old man living on the isle of Guernsey. If you plan to go to an island and not come back, bring IMPAC winner David Malouf’s The Complete Stories (July 24, Pantheon); it’ll keep you busy till fall, and there’s hardly a dud in the book. If you want a smaller volume, you can’t go wrong with Tessa Hadley’s Sunstroke and Other Stories (July 24, Picador).

Finally, if all this takes you too far out on a limb, William Gibson will delight with Spook Country (August 7, Putnam), his follow-up to Pattern Recognition. Amy Bloom’s much-talked-about Away (August 21, Random House) will devastate. And Vermonter Jeffrey Lent has grown into his talent keenly with A Peculiar Grace (August 10, Atlantic Monthly), the story of a New England family of artists haunted by the past.

Summer nonfiction is always a bit of a relief, because the publishing gods stop expecting you to read thousand-page biographies on the life of minor English novelists, and start cranking up the shoot-em-up yarn- spinning we secretly crave. So we get books like Oliver August’s Inside the Red Mansion (July 18, Houghton), the story of the hunt for China’s most-wanted man — an illiterate billionaire gangster.

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