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Posts Tagged ‘summer reading’

Jane’s Bookshelf: Traveling Through the Pages

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

JVMWhat does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @janeatrandom.

A trend here in New York City is the “staycation”, meaning you are on vacation, but aren’t travelling anywhere—at least not physically. It’s a time to do fun things close to home, get a few projects done around the house, and travel in your imagination through the pages of books. Those imaginary journeys are often much more exciting, exotic, and memorable than the trips we can take ourselves.

OrphanMaster PBI began thinking about this when I was reading Adam Johnson’s THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON. Set in North Korea, this brilliant novel takes you inside this country that so few outsiders have been able to penetrate. Johnson was able to visit Pyongyang while he worked on the book, but as he shares with his editor in the interview in the paperback, he was only able to visit select places in the company of his “minders.” As I read, I was struck by how deeply immersed I was in the culture and characters—especially Pak Jun Do, the orphan master’s son of the title, whose story is chilling, haunting, and very romantic. It reminded me of two other books that take you to foreign lands: LIFE AND DEATH IN SHANGHAI, Nien Cheng’s memoir about China’s Cultural Revolution, and THIS BLINDING ABSENCE OF LIGHT, Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novel about a prison in Morocco where King Hassan II sent his political enemies. These books invite you to experience life under a totalitarian regime, but even more FrenchLessonsimportant to me as a reader, they offer indelible portraits of the strength of the human spirit to survive and flourish with dignity and love.

Of course I realize that most of the time when we travel we want to go someplace that is beautiful, fun, and interesting—and we’re lucky there are lots of books that can take us to the most beloved vacation destinations. If you wish you could travel in Europe may I suggest: FRENCH LESSONS by Ellen Sussman (Paris), PRAGUE by Arthur Phillips (Prague), THAT SUMMER IN SICILY by Marlena de Blasi (Sicily), THE BIRTH OF VENUS by Sarah Dunant (Florence), RESTORATION by Rose Tremain (London), THE KITCHEN BOY by Robert Alexander (Russia), and GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE by Susan Vreeland (Germany and Holland). Of course you may want to stay closer to home: OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout (Maine), THE DESCENDANTS by Kaui Hart Hemmings (Hawaii), LONESOME DOVE by Larry Olive Kitteridge PBMcMurtry (Texas), DANCING AT THE RASCAL FAIR by Ivan Doig (Montana), NEW YORK by Edward Rutherfurd (New York), and SUMMERLAND by Michael Chabon (Seattle, Puget Sound).

I realize I’ve left out large sections of the world on my list of books and places to go. I’d love to hear from you about the books you’ve read and loved about foreign lands that have made you feel as if you’ve been far, far away even if you never left your couch or hammock! And enjoy all of your travels this summer.

Jane’s Bookshelf: The Books in My Summer Beach Bag

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

JVMWhat does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @janeatrandom.

When I was a kid, summer meant long sunny days in the ocean, tons of fun with my four siblings, and lots of reading in the hammock. Those long days with few responsibilities gave me a love of summer reading that I still indulge in. Deciding what to read while on vacation can be agonizing: I want books that will keep me turning the pages, discovering new authors, or finally reading something I’ve meant to get to. Having just come back from a week at the beach, I’m excited to share my early summer reads!

My son and I read THE HUNGER GAMES together – some of it aloud and some of it by trading the book back and forth. Suzanne Collins has an incredible gift for driving a story forward; we were both utterly taken by Katniss’s prowess in the woods, strategic instincts, and fierce loyalty. I appreciated her emotional complexity more than my son did – especially when her feelings towards Peeta blossomed (which he did not approve of, but at 10 years old, love is not on your radar!) It was so much fun to discuss the moral complexity of the world Collins has created in THE HUNGER GAMES – I’ll be reading the rest of the trilogy soon.

Playing Dead So many people have raved about Gillian Flynn’s writing in the past few years that I had to pick up GONE GIRL. The voices are pitch perfect and the incredible twists and turns in the plot are jaw-dropping, but so believable. Even though you know Flynn was inspired by many a true crime episode about “the missing wife,” you can’t help wondering how she transforms it into such a psychological tour de force. GONE GIRL reminded me of Julia Haeberlin’s debut novel, PLAYING DEAD, which starts with a young woman who receives a letter from someone claiming to be her mother, saying she had been kidnapped 30 years ago. What at first seems completely implausible turns out to be more deliciously complicated and suspenseful than you can imagine – plenty of great plot twists here too!

Going back to an author you haven’t read in a while is one of the pleasures of summer reading and I picked up Ann Patchett’s THE STATE OF WONDER for that very reason. I loved the worlds she creates – Minnesota in winter as compared to the Amazon jungle – but more than anything, I adored the main character, Marina Singh, who goes to find out what happened to her colleague in the jungle and comes face to face with her own memories of tragedy and heartbreak as she navigates this hot (and at times terrifying) world. In the midst of the characters’ compelling stories, Patchett also “presents an alluring interplay between civilization and wilderness, between aid and exploitation.” (Wall Street Journal)

Heat Wave And let’s not forget that summer reads are also known as beach reads—and for the quintessential beach book I turn to Nancy Thayer. Often set on Nantucket, her novels always feature wonderful female characters whose stories of family, friendship, love, and betrayal are a true delight. Every time I look at the cover of her newest paperback, HEAT WAVE, I wish I were on that beach in a red bikini! I’ll be taking another week off from work in late August – what should I take with me for my second spell of summer reading?

The Lights are Stars: the beauty of summer reading

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

hamann_hilary_thayerAnthro of an American GirlHilary Thayer Hamann is the author of the novel Anthropology of an American Girl, available now in paperback.


My summer house has floors of iridescent green and ceilings of moveable blue.

There are papered walls—willowy panels of lavender and lilacs, and curtains of roses, imperfect and heavily hanging. There are tapestries of wisteria with threads that wend their way through decaying trellis. Feelers probing, twisting, vining, making their escape, strangling to survive.

I have carpets of sand, swells of sand, rolling, diving—when you go low, you see the surface, how it  makes architecture, a city of rooftops.

In my house the lights are stars.

My living room shifts shape. It is a park, a lawn, a porch, a garden. A dune, a deck, a boat. No—a rooftop with tar that melts beneath my feet. A fire escape abandoned by the midday sun. Now an air conditioned café. Now a European train station, A mosque, a church, a synagogue, a shrine—a shrine.

In inclement weather, my roof is a tent, a shop awning, a boardwalk overhang, a screened porch, an antique carousel, a potting shed built of boards that meet only in part, finished with paint that does not fully cover. Through the gaps I watch the world. Little me, little you.

My furniture is the best that money can provide. There is a hammock, a folding chair, a wrinkled blanket, a damp towel, a rolled sweatshirt, a front stoop, a picnic bench. Yesterday’s newspaper. The bleachers at a softball field, the warm hood of a car, the shelter of his arms. The stereo plays just one song, again and again—Ella Fitzgerald singing “Do Nothin’ Til You Hear From Me.”

I live near water. I swim in a pool, paddle on the bay, surf in the ocean. I walk the banks of a rushing river. I sail on a lake of glass. I ride ferries; I like ferries. Standing beneath waterfalls, I pretend the sky is falling—the entire galaxy crashing down. When I want to be wet, the water is there. I am grateful. The sea spreading out before me—taunting, teasing, grinding, unfolding. Giving and taking. They say that seals are the souls of dead sailors. I like that they say that. It needs to be said. After all, we are not merely human; we are humane.

I live far from water. In the desert, beneath the rain shadow, within a mountain cave, tucked inside a windowless railroad apartment of a tenement building. I stare into fountains, count the cubes in my drink. I contemplate fish as they tour their tanks. I knock on the aquarium glass, whisper through the bubbles on top. I establish eye contact, reminding them of how fortunate they are to be wet, and also, to come in colors, for fish are truly miracles. I long for rain. I clench my fists and shout to the heavens. I make pleas and promises, then dance when my prayers are answered. I walk through neighborhoods—your neighborhood—and listen like a Ninja for the tick-thuck tick-thuck of a garden sprinkler. I dart past the spray remembering what it once was to dart past the spray. I am amazed to find that what it once was is what it always will be. Here, I am sustained by memories of all the waters I have ever known. Here, there is always the possibility of a shower. No lights, no towels, a whole new naked. Stepping into my own private ice, I become more wet than ever before. Reanimated, rebaptized. Relief is so much sweeter when we need it that much.

In summer, my days are long and unsupervised. If there is work: I avoid it. If there is fun, it comes in unfortunate clusters of twos and threes. Rather than try to be everywhere at once, I remain no place at all times. In such freedom I am attended by my sole companion—my soul companion—my lover, my friend, my partner in crime—my book. If in winter there is a book to escape to, in summer there is one to escape with. If it feels safe in a blizzard to remain reading in a window seat, snug in a quilted bed, curled on a cushion near a hearth, in a heat wave, there is safety in the elements, comfort in the unknown. You will find me there, in the light, in the air. Book in hand, mind wide open. Ready for change, awaiting epiphanies. I travel—we travel—me and my book. Edinburgh, Toronto, Sydney, Sao Paolo, Hong Kong, Hamburg, Vienna, Paris, New Orleans. I am a Mexican, a Turk, a Czech, Swede. I am a queen, a peasant, a physician, a student, a hustler, a vandal, a thief. An heiress, an orphan. A philosopher, a fool. I live high, I live low. I pace castle walls, assessing my dominion. I slither through grass, lying in wait. I am loose, I am chaste. Animal, intellectual, everything rising up—all the snakes set free. I am a child. Every child. I am so ancient that I am new, and it hurts sometimes to see.

In the summer, the world is my home, my home the world. Come visit me, and bring something to read. God be praised, books are portable, little kingdoms in hand.

Escape to Paris for a day: win a copy of Ellen Sussman’s novel French Lessons

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

FrenchLessonsThe perfect read for summer!

**This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to all who entered!**

“Elegant and evocative…Sussman has created wonderful characters who take us through the city as they discover hidden places, including those in their own hearts.” –Luanne Rice

“As inviting as the smell of freshly baked croissants wafting from a Parisian café, this is a novel to savor.”—Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier

A single day in Paris changes the lives of three Americans as they each set off to explore the city with a French tutor, learning not just about language but also about love and loss as their lives intersect in surprising ways.

Please enter your information in the fields below. (While supplies last. Winners will be chosen randomly. We regret we can send books to U.S. addresses only.)

The Beachcombers sweepstakes: Win a trip to Nantucket!

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Enter for a chance to win a trip to Nantucket!

Celebrate Nancy Thayer’s Beachcombers with a New England getaway this summer. You and a guest could win roundtrip airfare and two nights on beautiful Nantucket. Relax and explore the island’s unspoiled beaches and lighthouses on foot or by bicycle, and visit the antique shops and galleries along the cobblestone streets of Nantucket Town.

Beachcombers by Nancy Thayer

“A charming and fun summer read.”—The Plain Dealer

Enter by June 13, 2011 for travel between ?July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012.
Click here for complete rules and conditions.*

Bertelsmann Media Worldwide