To commemorate summer, we asked members of Spiegel & Grau Editorial, Marketing, and Publicity to share their most memorable summer reads.September 1, 2008
From Tina Pohlman, Editorial
When I think of "summer reads," I think of books I read when I was a kid, when summers seemed like magic and the thrill of a trip to the bookstore was on par with the race down the street to meet the ice-cream truck. Perhaps there's a theme here in my top three picks . . .
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi—I think I was about twelve when I read this super scary page-turner about Charles Manson and his notorious "family"--and was possibly scarred for life.
The Electric Kool-Acid Test by Tom Wolfe--From the Manson family to the Merry Pranksters. I'm not sure exactly how old I was when I came across this gloriously strange "nonfiction novel." But it doesn't really matter, now, does it? It was the eighties, and I was a teenager. But as far as I was concerned, it was 1964, and I was on the bus!
Papa John by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas--A juicy autobiography with an endlessly fascinating photo insert. It was the summer of '87, I was seventeen, and I had recently discovered "California Dreamin'" on the local classic rock station. I had the mass market edition, and it had a blue cover with pink type.
From Mike Mezzo, Editorial
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer--If summer is the time to indulge in guilty pleasures, well, then, I'm guilty. On a whim while killing time at Grand Central one recent summer Friday, I dropped ten bucks on the first installment of this bestselling young adult vampire saga, figuring if I found it too simple or too stupid, I wouldn't regret the cost so much. Forty-eight hours and five hundred pages later, I was hooked on the romance between mortal Bella and bloodsucking Edward--impossible love, vicious predators, gloomy weather, and teen angst mingle to make for a very addictive summer read.
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber--On a weekend trip to Cape Cod with friends several summers ago, rain kept us all indoors with our noses in books. I had picked up Michel Faber's massively long saga, along with another friend, and within the first several pages we found ourselves in a race through the next thousand or so, riveted by the story of Sugar, a Victorian London prostitute who uses her wiles to rise from the gutter to the upper echelons of society. Sex, duplicity, obscene wealth and poverty, outrageous coincidence, and, most important, wicked humor, stitch together a novel with so many subplots and characters you'll wonder how it all came from the mind of one man.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates--I read Richard Yates's perfect novel of suburban despair maybe five or six summers ago, and it still rests comfortably at the top of my list of favorites. It's rare to read a book in which every single sentence is so expertly crafted, and it's rarer still when such beautiful prose is the vehicle for a genuinely harrowing story--a story so gripping that it makes a literary novel almost as page-turning as a mass-market thriller.
From Gretchen Koss, Publicity
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta--I am reading this right now and it is vintage Perrotta--funny, smart, and sarcastic. Right up my alley.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn--Oh how I loved this book in all of its twisted glory. I could not wait to pick it up at the end of the day and hear more about the Binewski family. Please write another book, Katherine!
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving--I know, I know everyone loves this book but it remains, to this day, the most memorable summer book ever. I read it while backpacking through Europe in 1990 and would scream with laughter every time Owen Meany TALKED IN ALL CAPS.
From Meghan Walker, Marketing
The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson--I didn't so much read this book as it provided me with a very memorable "summer reading" experience. It was the summer between fourth and fifth grade and I was a very precocious (and young for my grade) nine-year-old. We were asked to select one book to read over the summer and submit a book report on it in September. When I alerted my teacher about my selection she insisted it was too hard for me and too scary. All you had to do was tell me I couldn't do something to make me want to do it ten times more. So I insisted. Lo and behold, she was right. It was both too hard and too scary. In a panicked moment in August, rather than admit defeat, I decided to crib from the jacket copy to write my "report." This didn't go over too well when school started up again as I knew nothing about the characters or plot and was immediately found out. I never did read this book, but I will never forget it all the same.
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt--Everyone I know was reading this book at the same time over the course of the same summer and no one could stop talking about it. In fact, you could look up and down the beach, and this book was propped up by tan arms in front of every third beach chair. I love Frank McCourt and I love this book.
Beach Music by Pat Conroy--Pat Conroy is a genius and a tortured soul who I just want to give a big hug. Beach Music is epic and completely captivating. It takes you from the marshes of the South Carolina coast to the piazzas of Italy (with some amazing food writing) all the while giving you a front-row seat to the most messed-up family dramas you can imagine. Just looking at the cover takes me back to a zoned-out sand-between-the-toes state of mind. Great stuff.
What's the Matter with Kansas by Thomas Frank--Summer 2004. Anti-Bush sentiment is at a fevered pitch. I'm about to board the ferry to Block Island for a family vacation the last week in August. There's a guy standing there with this book in his hands, proselytizing to the dude next to him about how good it is. Between that and everything else I'd already read and heard about it, my mind was made up. We get to Block. I go to the bookstore and buy this book. Later that week I watched Barack Obama deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention on a tiny, crappy TV in our rental house. "Who was that?" my husband said. "I have no idea but I think we just saw our next Democratic president." (Let's face it, Kerry's campaign was abysmal.) So I will forever associate Thomas Frank's book with that summer.
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown--Yes, it's S&G. What do you want from me, I'm in marketing. But even if I didn't get paid to pimp our own stuff, I would be an evangelical for Janelle Brown's debut novel. It is so delicious with three amazingly well-drawn female characters and a plot that never quits. You blaze through it so fast and immediately want everyone you know to read it too. If that doesn't describe the perfect beach read, I don't know what does.
From Sonya Cheuse, Publicity
The Mother Knot by Kathryn Harrison's --A raw yet beautifully told memoir about her relationship with her mother. It's both haunting and healing.
Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes by T. Cooper--An engrossing story that includes a quirky Jewish immigrant mother, Charles Lindbergh, and an Eminem-impersonator, what could make for better summer reading!?
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez--I was completely and utterly swept away in mind and heart.
From Mya Spalter, Editorial
Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler--While enduring the sweltering, stereo-less, nine-hour drive from Maine in fourth of July traffic, I read this hardboiled detective classic out loud (with voices!) to my travel companions to great effect. Chandler's dialogue is like poetry written in wet cement and Detective Phillip Marlowe's 1940's L.A. is a dizzying carnival of vice populated by cops, thugs, wannabe-starlets, and society matrons, whose lives depend on an alcoholic, smart-mouthed, private dick's ability to connect the dots.
From Laura van der Veer, Editorial
Straight Man by Richard Russo--A wonderfully witty and sweet book about academia. A joy to read.
The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hašek--Svejk is hopelessly endearing. A great antiwar novel cloaked in delightful humor. It's nothing if not long, but it's definitely worth the read.
Distortions by Anne Beattie--I love short stories in the summer; they provide such a satisfying sense of accomplishment. This collection is quiet but powerful, and a great introduction to her writing.
From Kelsey Nencheck, Marketing
Anybody Out There by Marian Keyes--My summer would not be complete without my chick-lit fix. Keyes is one of my favorite authors, and this book touches on a profoundly sad time in a woman's life yet still manages to make me laugh and smile--the best of the genre.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald--This book was assigned summer reading in 1997 before my first year of high school. Though I usually cringed at the thought of "homework," I was totally captivated by the story, imagining what it would be like to know Nick Carroway and Jay Gatsby. Worthy of many summer re-reads.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson--A fast-paced journey following a middle-aged Bryson on his journey through the Appalachian Trail. Bryson's fear of bears is both too funny and realistically scary. I read this on a long plane ride and almost fell out of my cramped seat and made a few passengers concerned because I was laughing so hard.
From Lauren Lavelle, Publicity
She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb--Wally Lamb's writing always impresses me (so true to life!). This is the first book of his that I read, and I picked it up one summer when I was at the beach on vacation. I was so hooked and impressed, I spent all day in the same position on my beach towel reading it--I didn't go inside to eat, go swimming, turn over to even out my tan lines, nothing. I finished all 500 plus pages in one day, and I regret nothing (except for the horrendous, blistering sunburn I got that day . . . shudder)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky--This book was published the summer before my freshman year of high school, and my friends and I were obsessed with it. It was our modern-day Catcher in the Rye--It's a coming-of-age tale of a high school boy who is troubled with all sorts of teenage angst, most of which I couldn't relate to. What did get me, though, were the great lines that summed up perfectly what my friends and I, and probably everyone else on the planet our age, felt about life and about each other. Reading it now, I would probably find those lines a little cheesy and obvious, but back then, in those times, at that age, with those friends . . . life-changing.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris--I love David Sedaris, but who doesn't? Even though this is an obvious choice, I had to add it to the list because it's been the perfect accessory to my lazy summer weekends spent lying in the sun in Riverside Park. It has thoroughly entertained me and has thoroughly annoyed my sister as I continuously force her to listen to me read sections out loud. Entertaining, funny, easy to put down and pick up....the perfect summer read.
Cindy Chen, Publicity
Atonement by Ian McEwan--This book always reminds me of summer, or at least what a summer would be like if I lived in an English manor in 1935. The languid but evocative first half of this book captures the perfect sinful summer: languishment in heat followed by guilty secrets and unexpected passion. Of course the climax of the first half sets the mood for the heartbreaking second half, but what's summer without a little heartbreak?
The Ghost Writer by John Harwood--The perfect antidote for a hot summer day, The Ghost Writer will provide just the right amount of thrill and chill. And what's more scandalous than reading a booked filled with disturbing family secrets, gothic ghost stories, and a very mysterious and--perhaps a little dangerous--femme fatale?
Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks--For the science fiction guy or gal. If you're bored and waiting for Battlestar Galactica to come back, here's the perfect book to tide you over. For a book that has all the hi-tech gadgetry, space travel, and sarcastic AI to set a fanboy's heart aflutter, it's also incredibly intelligent and one of the most entertaining and interesting ruminations on war that I've ever read.