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Your Summer Reading List

April may be the cruelest month because it blooms with dreams of summer. Already the pleas for summer reading recommendations are filling up my inbox. The best novels of 2011 — Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, William Giraldi’s Busy Monsters, Roland Merullo’s The Talk-Funny Girl, and Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia — are all being released in paperback this coming summer. But if you insist upon a new book, because the indolence of sunny days requires the toughening grip of literary obligation or something, here are some titles you might consider, starting next month and running through early September.

• M. H. Abrams, The Fourth Dimension of a Poem and Other Essays (Norton, September). One hundred years old in July, Abrams sees his ninth book of criticism into print — essays on Kant, Keats, Hazlitt, and reading poems aloud (their “fourth dimension”).

• Martin Amis, Lionel Asbo: State of England (Knopf, August). A bookish young man finds his natural inclinations thwarted by his uncle Lionel Asbo (self-named for Anti-Social Behaviour Orders), who is determined to teach him the joys of pit bulls, internet porn, and serious criminality.

• Kurt Andersen, True Believers (Random House, July). The author of Heyday, winner of the Langum Prize for the best historical novel of 2007, returns with a novel about contemporary politics, Supreme Court appointments, the Occupy Movement, and the secrets of ex-Sixties radicals.

• Gina Apostol, Gun Dealers’ Daughter (Norton, July). The first American publication by the award-winning Philippine novelist tells the story of a Manila girl, a Communist terrorist while in college, who keeps reliving her radical past now that she is a wealthy woman living in Manhattan.

• Dorothy Baker, Young Man with a Horn (NYRB Classics, August). Baker’s superb 1938 jazz novel based on the life of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke is being reprinted for the first time in three-and-a-half decades.

• Deni Y. Béchard, Cures for Hunger (Milkweed, May). Once his mother tells him that his father was a bankrobber, there is no stopping young Deni Béchard — he hitchhikes to Memphis, steals a motorcycle, beats up classmates, kisses girls. A memoir of growing up by the author of Vandal Love.

• Christopher R. Beha, What Happened to Sophie Wilder (Tin House, June). In his debut novel, the author of the charming memoir The Whole Five Feet: What the Great Books Taught Me About Life, Death, and Pretty Much Everthing Else tells the story of a young writer who is sucked into the mystery of an old flame, who resurfaces after ten years.

• Gordon Bowker, James Joyce: A New Biography (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June). In the first new life of the Irish novelist in thirty years, the biographer of Malcolm Lowry and Lawrence Durrell draws upon newly discovered material to tell the story of Joyce’s “flight into exile.”

• Christopher Buckley, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? (Twelve, May). In Buckley’s latest political satire, Washington lobbyist “Bird” McIntyre joins forces with a leggy blonde telegenic conservative named Ann Coulter — I mean, Angel Templeton — to turn American public opinion against the Chinese by spreading the rumor that they want to assassinate the Dalai Lama.

• Peter Carey, The Chemistry of Tears (Knopf, May). The Australian novelist, a perennial favorite for the Nobel Prize, tells the story of a 200-year-old automaton which is rediscovered and restored by an unmarried museum conservator who has been looking for love in all the wrong places.

• Stephen L. Carter, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln (Knopf, July). The Yale law professor, better known for nonfiction books like Integrity and Civility, imagines an alternate history in which Lincoln is not assassinated but merely impeached for abuse of power during the Civil War.

• Lisa Cohen, All We Know: Three Lives (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, July). Three brief lives of three unusual and forgotten women — a dazzling New York intellectual who never finished the books she was contracted to write, an obscure friend to famous actresses and dancers who established her own identity in a collection of memorabilia, and the fashion editor of British Vogue who stood invisibly at the center of culture.

• Richard Ford, Canada (Ecco, May). Love him or hate him (I hated him), Frank Bascombe has been left behind. Ford’s narrative style is now more straightforward, and though leisurely, it is effective for telling the story of two children — twins, Air Force brats — whose parents are unprofessional bankrobbers.

• Joseph Frank, Responses to Modernity: Essays in the Politics of Culture (Fordham University Press, June). The great scholar of Dostoevsky collects essays on French and German writers — Valéry, Camus, Malraux, Ernst Juenger, Gottfried Benn — and problems in literary criticism.

• Michael Frayn, Skios (Metropolitan, June). The unique British novelist, who likes to write philosophical farces, is back with his 11th novel: Dr. Norman Wilfred, an eminent authority on the scientific organization of science, is held hostage on a private Greek resort island while his impersonator enthralls conference attendees there.

• Michael Gorra, Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece (Liveright, August). The critic and travel writer knits together biography, literary interpretation, and travelogue in reconstructing the fascinating background of The Portrait of a Lady, James’s first masterpiece.

• Kate Grenville, Sarah Thornhill (Grove, June). The Australian novelist rounds off the trilogy she began with the 2006 Commonwealth Prize-winning The Secret River, the saga of an ex-convict’s family whose wealth has been heaped up by expropriating Aboriginals. William Thornhill’s youngest daughter is on the road to marriage and contentment when the family secret is revealed.

• Frank Turner Hollon, Austin and Emily (MacAdam/Cage, June). Two star-crossed lovers, a 347-pound man and the woman he met at a Tampa strip club, set out for Los Angeles with a car full of cats to seek eternal bliss along the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame. A comic novel by a Southern writer better known for his legal thrillers.

• Joshua Henkin, The World Without You (Pantheon, June). An American Jewish family gathers at its summer home in the Berkshires to mourn the youngest of the four children, a journalist killed while on assignment in Iraq. Henkin excels at characterization, and he outdoes himself here in a novel that might have been called Six Characters in Search of Family Happiness.

• Danilo Kiš, Psalm 44 and The Lute and the Scars (Dalkey Archive, August). Two new translations by John K. Cox of the great Serbian novelist and story writer (died 1989). Psalm 44, written when Kiš was only 25, is his only novel about Auschwitz, where his father died. The Lute and the Scars was his last collection of stories, left in manuscript at his death and published posthumously. The Attic, his previously translated first novel, is being released at the same time by the indispensable Dalkey Archive.

• Don Lee, The Collective (Norton, July). Old college friends — a writer and an artist — band together to create the Asian American Artists Collective (the 3AC, as it is more familiarly known), although it does nothing to shield them from misery. The second novel by the director of the creative writing program at Temple University.

• Peter Levine, The Appearance of a Hero: The Tom Mahoney Stories (St. Martin’s, August). The titular hero of these connected stories is blurbed as a “21st-century Gatsby,” and who can resist that? As he enters the middle of his life, a good-looking and popular businessman realizes that something is missing, and begins to disappear from the lives of those who know him.

• Claire McMillan, Gilded Age (Simon & Schuster, June). It is hard to resist Elle magazine’s description of this first novel about a young divorcée who returns to upper class Cleveland society after a stint in rehab: “a beach read with a touch of literary pedigree.”

• Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies (Holt, May). Britain’s gifted historical novelist follows up Wolf Hall, her 2009 Booker Prize-winning novel about Thomas Cromwell, with a sequel on the fall of Anne Boleyn.

• Missy Marston, The Love Monster (Vehicule, September). Margaret H. Atwood has psoriasis, a boring job, a cheating ex-husband, and her pants don’t fit. When she meets a love-sick alien speaking in the voice of Donald Sutherland, she begins to hope again. A comic first novel by an irreverent Canadian.

• D. T. Max, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (Viking, September). In one of those coincidences which prove God loves literature, a staff writer for the New Yorker issues the first biography of the tormented master of postmodern metafiction the same year The Pale King, the novel Wallace left unfinished when he hanged himself in 2008, was snubbed by the Pulitzer Prize. A life as involving and grueling as the fiction.

• Daniel Mendelsohn, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays on the Classics and Pop Culture (New York Review Books, August). Honored by the National Book Critics Circle for his reviewing, Mendelsohn is perhaps best known for The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million. In his latest collection of essays, his interests range from pop culture (Avatar, Mad Men) to bestsellers and phony memoirs.

• Toni Morrison, Home (Knopf, May). The Nobel winner’s fourth novel since taking home the Prize: a Korean War veteran, at loose ends in Seattle, returns home to Georgia to rescue his sister, the victim of a sinister white doctor who has been performing medical experiments upon her.

• Reynolds Price, Midstream: An Unfinished Memoir (Scribner, May). The Southern novelist, who passed away in January 2011 at the age of 77, left this memoir unfinished at his death. It covers the last few years of his aimless twenties as he was suspended between unpublished youth and literary adulthood, upon which he ventured with the publication of his first novel, A Long and Happy Life, in 1962.

• Sarah Terez Rosenblum, Herself When She’s Missing (Soft Skull, June). In the spirit if not the style of A Visit from the Goon Squad and Stone Arabia, first novelist Sarah Terez Rosenblum narrates the cross-country love story of two rock groupies. Told in lists, 3 x 5 cards, and even a screenplay, the book is a postmodern lesbian romance.

• Richard Russo, Interventions (Down East, June). Designed as a tribute to the printed book in an age of electronic texts, Russo offers the title novella and three other stories in a unique format — four individually bound volumes gathered in a slipcase and accompanied by four full-color prints of paintings by Kate Russo, the writer’s daughter. (Russo’s memoir Elsewhere will be published by Knopf in November.)

• Francesca Segal, The Innocents (Voice, June). A “reboot of Wharton’s The Age of Innocence in a London Jewish enclave.” — Mark Athitakis. The Ellen Olenska character, named Ellie Schneider here, brings uncompromising American independence back home to London after several years in New York. Can’t wait for this one.

• Colm Tóibín, New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families (Scribner, June). The author of The Master examines how writers’ unhappy family relationships — Jane Austen and her aunts, Tennessee Williams and his mentally ill sister, W. B. Yeats and his father, Thomas Mann and his children, John Cheever and everyone he ever lived with — work their way into fiction.

• Pauls Toutonghi, Evel Knievel Days (Crown, July). The second novel of immigration by the author of Red Weather is about a half-Egyptian boy growing up in Butte, Montana — the scene of another great immigrant novel — and dreaming of daredevil stunts.

• Mario Vargas Llosa, The Dream of the Celt (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June). In his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize, the Peruvian novelist tells the story of Roger Casement, the Irish revolutionary and diplomat who campaigned against slave labor in Africa and South America.

• Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins (Harper, June). Not quite two months before its scheduled publication date, and already the latest from the author of The Zero, a celebrated 9/11 novel, has 28 mostly enthusiastic customer reviews at Amazon.com. What began as flirtation on the Italian coast in 1962 flowers into a love affair fifty years later in Hollywood.

Read up, because new novels from Tom Wolfe, Louise Erdrich, A. M. Homes, Mark Helprin, and Michael Chabon are coming in the fall.



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