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NCPR 2002 Summer Reading List

Who says reading is dead? Baloney. Oh, sure, some people have their laptops open on planes and trains, but just as many dig into dog-eared paperbacks and hard-covered classics. And, honestly, when was the last time you saw someone stretched out on a beach blanket dozing off over an electronic device? As far as I’m concerned, the best summer vacations include lots of reading time—guilt-free reading time. Any vacation worth its salt must afford me at least a few occasions when I can say, “I didn’t do anything today…except read.” Yeah. Get down with that book, brothers and sisters. Get down. Sit down. Lie down. Relax. It’s summer.

Thanks to Jill Breit, of Traditional Arts in Upstate New York, and Lenny Golay, owner of The Corner Bookstore, NYC, for joining me as guest hosts for this year’s summer reading call in. The titles listed below were suggested by station staff, listeners and other friends.

Want to suggest a title for the next list or just talk about books? Reach me at ellen@ncpr.org or write: Ellen Rocco, North Country Public Radio, Canton, NY 13617.

Okay, I’ll admit it, email has helped increase communication between parents and children; enhanced research (and shopping) opportunities for residents of remote regions like the North Country; and, provided a network for the instantaneous sharing of jokes. Scattered throughout this list, you’ll find bits from another list that made its way around the world wide web in recent years:


REASONS WHY THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS HARD TO LEARN

1. The bandage was wound around the wound.

2. The farm was used to produce produce.

3. The dump was so full it had to refuse more refuse.


Ellen Rocco, NCPR station manager

New titles I’m reading or have recently finished:

  • True History of the Kelly Gang: A Novel, Peter Carey. This Booker Prize-winner tells the story of the infamous Irish-Australian—an irresistible voice.
  • Stupid White Men, Michael Moore. We all need a dose of Michael Moore to remind us that the more people in power lie, the more important it becomes for each of us to tell the truth…fearlessly.
  • The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith. Precious Ramotsive sets up the only detective agency for ladies in Gaborone, Botswana. The first in a series—get them all if you like this one. BBC based a television program on these books.
  • Fall on Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald. This was an Oprah pick—but don’t turn up your nose: remember, Oprah chose Jane Hamilton, Alice Walker and lots of other exceptional authors.
  • Life’s a Stitch: The Best of Contemporary Women’s Humor, Anne Safran Dalin, editor. It turns out the editor, Anne Dalin, is married to Jimmy Dalin, which is very funny to me in and of itself. Who’s Jimmy Dalin, you ask? Ha! The kid I played doctor with when I was five years old. No kidding. What a collection this is: Erma Bombeck, Cathy Guisewite, Molly Ivins, Christine Lavin, Gloria Steinem, Anna Quindlen and dozens more. A great book to read out loud on your summer road trip.

Two classics have stayed by my bedside for months now and I keep revisiting them:

  • Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (Ralph E. Matlaw, editor; Constance Garnett, translator). I hadn’t read Chekhov in years, then re-read his short fiction a few months ago and remembered how very good he is. No short story writer before or since has a more nuanced touch. Amazing writing. Many of his collections are out of print, sadly. This one is no better than any others, but it is still available.
  • The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition, Ernest Hemingway. We take so much for granted in contemporary literature without recognizing where the 20th century’s stylistic revolution began: Hemingway. Re-reading these stories it was astonishing to be reminded how much Hemingway doesn’t say when he tells a story.

4. We must polish the Polish furniture.

5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.


Jill Breit, Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (and call-in co-host)
  • Burning Marguerite, Elizabeth Inness Brown. The author grew up in the North Country.
  • Clarence Petty, Chris Angus. This is on the top of my reading pile.
  • Northern Pike, Will Ryan. Not just for people who fish.
  • Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver. A perfect summer read.
  • Small Wonders, Barbara Kingsolver. Her latest.
  • Islands, Alistair Macleod. Not a prolific writer, but well worth the wait.
  • Light Action in the Carribbean: Stories, Barry Lopez.
  • Drinking the Rain, Alix Kates Shulman.

Jill asked her colleagues at TAUNY to contribute titles…


Varick Chittenden, Traditional Arts in Upstate New York
  • Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam. Putnam is a political scientist who discusses significant social changes in America in recent decades, and how those changes have made us increasingly disconnected from one another and old social structures.
  • Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America, Stephen Bloom. A fascinating account of ultra-orthodox Hassidic Jews from Brooklyn settling on the outskirts of Postville, Iowa.
  • Too Good to be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends, Jan Harold Brunvand. A fun collection that can alternately scare the daylights out of you or leave you laughing out loud. Easy reading between summer naps—great fun to test on friends to see if they really believe these modern myths.
  • Living North Country, Natalia Rachel Singer, Neal Burdick, editors. Terrific compilation of perspectives on life in our region.
  • The Grid and the Village, Stephen Doheny-Farina. Personal account of living through the Ice Storm of 1998, including lots of details about the struggles and the re-discovery of the importance of neighbors.

Chris Muia, Traditional Arts in Upstate New York   
  • Mules and Men, Zora Neale Hurston. Written in 1935, this is a classic in the field of folklore, relating Hurston’s experiences as a field researcher in the Florida Folklife Project.
  • Clambake: A History and Celebration of an American Tradition, Kathy Neustadt. Another folklore classic.
  • Mapping the Invisible Landscape: Folklore, Writing and the Sense of Place, Kent Ryden.

And from two of Jill’s friends:


Karen Johnson-Weiner
  • E=mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation, David Bodanis.
  • Any of Janet Evanovich’s mysteries—definitely chick books.

Kim Bouchard

  • Wealth and Democracy, Kenneth Phillips.

6. The solider decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10. I did not object to the object.


Lenny Golay, The Corner Bookstore, NYC (and call-in co-host)

(This list is drawn from the Bookstore’s Summer Review, written in collaboration with Dan Lettieri.)

  • Unless, Carol Shields. Written last summer in what Shields called an adrenaline rush of clarity as she coped with Stage 4 breast cancer, this short novel is eminently thoughtful and ultimately optimistic, and should be read and digested as slowly as possible.
  • Fragrant Harbor, John Lanchester. A handful of colorful characters control the dynamics of this marvelous novel which illuminates Hong Kong’s bizarre history. Lanchester’s close personal history with Hong Kong informs and enriches his narrative with the kind of telling details only native son could give us.
  • The Genius Within, Discovering the Intelligence of Every Living Thing, Frank T. Vertosick, Jr. The popular author of Why We Hurt once again translates the mysteries of science into language as engaging and spell-binding as the most riveting of thrillers. Guaranteed—you’ll never think about viruses or germs the same way again!
  • Think of England, Alice Elliott Dark. The author’s first full-length novel is about a thoughtful, gentle girl who blames herself for an accident that occurred when she was only nine years old. You couldn’t ask for a better read on a rainy afternoon.
  • Complications, A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, Atul Gawande. No one writes about medicine as well as Gawande. His essays, which have appeared frequently in the New Yorker, are as entertaining as they are frightening. This one will keep you burning the midnight oil.
  • River Thieves, Michael Cummey. The small community of European settlers in Newfoundland during the early part of the 19th century is the focus of Crummey’s beautifully crafted debut novel.
  • The City of Your Final Destination, Peter Cameron. A spirited and witty novel.
  • Running with Scissors, Augusten Burroughs. In this intimate memoir, both horrific and hilarious, Burroughs relates the story of his incredible childhood. The author has a divine sense of humor—this is a laugh out loud memoir.
Lenny and Dan’s beach reading suggestions:
  • Tell No One, Harlan Coben. For the mystery fans.
  • The Death of Vishnu, Manil Suri. A comic novel combining Hindu mythology with an intimate view into the lives of the residents of a Bombay apartment building.
  • Bel Canto, Ann Patchett. A seductive, elegantly written and riveting story.
  • Seabiscuit: An American Legend, Laura Hillenbrand. Far more than the fascinating story of the legendary race horse—a slice of depression era America.
  • Empire Falls, Richard Russo. Pulitzer Prize winner—an old-fashioned novel in the best sense of the word.
  • Island, Alistair MacLeod. Exquisitely written short stories. (Also one of Jill Brite’s top picks.)
  • The Gardens of Kyoto, Kate Walbert. A hypnotic story of war and lost love set in mid-20th century America.
  • Comfort Me with Apples, Ruth Reichl. Picks up where Tender at the Bone left off.
  • The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, Thad Carhart. Engaging reflection on pianos, their history and how friendships can be formed in the most unlikely circumstances.

11.  The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12.  There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13.  They were too close to the door to close it.

14.  The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15.  A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16.  To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.


Connie Meng, NCPR theatre reviewer and announcer
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie B. King. A young woman apprentices herself to a retired Sherlock Holmes. For the mystery fans.

Jody Tosti, NCPR news reporter and announcer
  • The Letters of Frida Kahlo, compiled by Martha Zamora. A very intimate look at the artist’s life.

And from Jody’s friend (and one-time North Country resident):

Lorien Eck
  • Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinates of Human Behavior, Dr. David Hawkins. This is an unusual book, acclaimed by Nobelists and world leaders, described as “breathtaking,” and as offering a major paradigm jump in human knowledge.

Susan Sweeny Smith, NCPR director of strategic partnerships
  • Never Change, Elizabeth Berg. I love the way she illustrates human relationships and she “writes” women so well. Wonderful example of loving through loss.
  • Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon. Part of the author’s series of historical fiction.

Kelly Jacoby, NCPR development assistant
  • I is for Innocent, Sue Grafton. Yes, I’ve read A through H and have J through P waiting to be read!
  • The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells. Much better than the movie.
  • Talking to Heaven: A Medium’s Message of Life After Death, James Van Praggh.

Elle Garrell Berger, Plattsburgh (and occasional commentator on NCPR)
  • Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser. The NY Times blurb reads, “An avalanche of facts and observations…A fine piece of muckraking, alarming without being alarmist…Schlosser makes it hard to go on eating fast food in blissful ignorance.” It reads like a novel, even though it’s stuffed full of facts. Well-documented.

17.  The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18.  After a number of injections my jaw got number.

19.  Upon seeing tear in the painting I shed a tear.

20.  I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

21.  How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?


Chris Robinson, Clarkson University (and occasional NCPR guest host)

This summer I am focusing on the novels of James Joyce. I will be reading The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegan’s Wake. Growing up in a very Irish neighborhood, I heard all the voices in Joyce’s novels. Reading them is like a tiptoe through the tulips.

I started the summer with two books on environmental toxins and human health by the ecological biologist Sandra Steingraber: Living Downstream and Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood. The material is disturbing, but both works are beautifully written. Steingraber is a published poet in addition to her scientific works.

Next, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Read this and you may never enter a fast food place again. “Supersizing” will be completely out of the question.

I had a couple of quiet days that I spent with my friend Joe Duemer’s new collection of poems, Magical Thinking. Joe can offer more intellectual pyrotechnics in a few lines of verse than most authors can in hundreds of pages of prose. During this time, I also read Mary Zimmerman’s play Metamorphoses. This contemporary take on Ovid is playing to great acclaim on Broadway. It is essential post 9/11 reading or viewing.

Most of the stuff I have to read in my fields of political theory and philosophy would not be of the slightest interest to most readers. But occasionally I read things that deserve a wider audience. Here are a few such recent works by subject area:

Philosophy and Political Thought: Rodney Brooks, Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us; David Edmonds and John Eidenow, Wittgenstein’s Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers; William Irwin, ed., Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book About Everything and Nothing; William Irwin, Mark T. Conard, and Aeon Skoble, eds., The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh! of Homer; Christopher Phillips, Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy; and (on the heavy side, but brilliant) Sheldon Wolin, Tocqueville Between Two Worlds.

Politics: Daniel Lazare, The Velvet Coup: The Constitution, The Supreme Court, and the Decline of American Democracy; Robert Whitaker, Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill.

Science and Energy: Janine Benyus, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature; William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things; and, Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life.


22.  Let’s face it—English is a screwed up language. There is no egg in eggplant or ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.

23.  English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France.


Other titles called in or referenced during the summer reading show…
Andrea Bellinger, Ogdensburg
  • Of Rice and Salt, David Brin. Sci fi.
  • The Last Hero, Terry Pratchett. Sci fi.
  • Revenge: A Story of Hope, Laura Blumenfeld. Non-fiction.

Read these next two non-fiction picks together:

  • Stupid White Men, Michael Moore.
  • The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: An Investigative Reporter Exposes the Truth about Globilization, Corporate Cons, and High Finance Frauds. Greg Palast.

  • The Songcatcher, Sharon McCrumb. Or any of her other mysteries.
  • Booked to Die: A Mystery Introducing Cliff Janeway, John Dunning.

Eva, Colchester, VT
  • The Wilderness Family, Kobie Kruger. Non-fiction.
  • Savages, Joe Kane. Impact of oil drilling on native people in Central America.

24.  Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.

25.  And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham?


Holly, Potsdam
  • Unorthodox Practices, Marissa Piesman. Mystery.

Brad, Madrid
  • The Ten Sleep Murders, Billy Hall. Featuring forensic geologist Sara Andrews.

Bill McKibben, Johnsburg
  • Baseball: A Literary Anthology, Nicholas Dawidoff.
  • The Flyswatter, Bob Porter. Memoir about the author’s grandfather.
  • The Fish’s Eye, Ian (Sandy) Frasier.
  • The Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival, Carl Safina.

Preston, Rupert, VT
  • The Brigade, Howard Blum.

Martha, Trout Lake
  • The Best American Sportswriting 2001, Glenn Stout and Bud Collins, editors.

Ted Tate, Star Lake
  • The Mitford Years, Jan Karon. This is a four-volume series: At Home in Mitford; A light in the Window; These High, Green Hills; Canaan.

Rae Louise Tate, Star Lake

The Clifton Community Library has a book club which meets monthly, inspired by Readers and Writers on the Air. We compiled a book list last month. Here it is.

  • The Red Tent, Anita Diamante. Based on Genesis 34:1-31. The story of Dinah, daughter of Leah.
  • If Looks Could Kill, Kay White.
  • One Hour Before Dawn, Jimmy Carter. (By the former President.)
  • Harry Potter, JK Rowling.
  • The Mitford Series, Jan Karon. (See above for list of four titles.)
  • Shelters of Stone, Jean Auel. Another in the Earth’s Children series which began with Clan of the Cave Bear.
  • Outlander, Diana Gabaldon. A fantasy tale about a woman who goes back in time to Scotland during the Jacobite rebellion.
  • The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay. A coming of age story set during the Boer War.
  • This Camden Summer, LaVyrle Spencer. Light summer reading.
  • John Adams, David McCullough. A fine biography.
  • Desperate Measures, Kate Wilhelm. Mystery and court drama.
  • Rosemary Remembered, Hangman’s Root, Thyme of Death and other titles, Susan Wittig Albert. This series of mysteries features herbalist China Bayles. Each mystery revolves around an herb or other plants.

26.  If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, two geese. So, one moose, two meese?

27.  Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?


And, from the mail bag (virtual and hard copy):
Betsy Folwell, Blue Mountain Lake (and Adirondack Life editor)

My reading these days is books on tape, and the reader is nearly as important as the story itself. An annoying voice can kill a good book.

  • The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood. Read by Margot Dionne. Superb.
  • Bird by Bird, Anne la Motte. Read by the author. A book about the art, craft and pitfalls of writing—it’s like having your own writing coach. Great advice delivered in an engaging, jive-free way.

Bob Monroe, Plattsburgh
  • Stupid White Men, Michael Moore.
  • Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut, Emily White.
  • Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, Rachel Simmons.
  • A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, Ronald Takaki.
  • Femable Sexual Abuse of Children, Michelle Elliott, editor.

Calista Harder, Lake Clear
  • Dreaming Water, Gail Tsukiyama. Fiction.
  • Lying Awake, Mark Salzman. Fiction.
  • The Firehouse, David Halberstam. Non-fiction.
  • What If, Robert Cowley, editor.

And two old classics:

  • The Awakening, Kate Chopin.
  • Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain.

Mary Lou Cole, North Creek

Fiction (mostly mysteries):

  • Hard Eight, Janet Evanovich.
  • Chopping Spree, Diane Mott Davidson.
  • Warning Signs, Stephen White.
  • Without Fail, Lee Child.
  • Widow’s Walk, Robert Parker.
  • Midnight Runner, Jack Higgins.
  • Mortal Prey, John Stanford.
  • If Looks Could Kill, Kate White. A Glens Falls author.
  • Dying to Please, Linda Howard.

Non-fiction:

  • Firehouse, David Halberstam.
  • Last Man Down, Richard Picciotto.
  • Four Wings and A Prayer, Sue Halpern. An every summer read.

Mark Twery, Burlington

Here are two of my favorite authors, not well known:

  • Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. A recent find for me, she is from India and now lives in California. One of her books, Mistress of Spices, is my favorite of all the novels I have read in the “magical realism” genre. Another, Sister of My Heart, is set primarily in Calcutta, and provides grat insight into Bengali culture, families, and the human condition.
  • Jeanne Larsen. Larsen has written three novels, Silk Road, Bronze Mirror, and Manchu Palaces. All are set in medieval China and explore the roles of women in that society while telling engrossing adventure tales.

Carol Kissam, St. Lawrence University

I was recently in Santa Fe, and I was encouraged to read Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The descriptions of the countryside depict the timelessness of the region, even with the influx of people. Santa Fe is an area of mixed cultures, remarkable history, and an undeniable spirituality. I think each of those characteristics play a role in the book so it transcends basic storytelling. Readers who have visited that area of our country will especially appreciate reading the book.


28. If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship?
Justin Brown, Burlington

A couple of non-fiction selections:

  • Ghosts From the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence, Robin Karr-Morse et al. Infant neurobiological development and the origins of violent and impulsive behavior.
  • Brothel, Alexa Albert. The author, as a Harvard med student, petitioned to study the women of one of Nevada’s most famous brothels. Fascinating and disturbing.

Gwen Bell via email
  • A Recipe for Bees, Gail Anderson-Dargatz. Full of bee lore, which is intriguing in itself, but the book also touches on family, friendships, aging and descriptive imagery of rural living.

John Durr, Ogdensburg
  • The Analyst, John Katzenbach. A page-turner.

Lynn Klein, Westview Farm Bed and Breakfast, Boonville

My summer reading almost always include some that take me back out West…

  • Padre Ignacio and The Virginian, Owen Wister.
  • The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper. I love to re-read this, especially since I now live in the upstate area and see the landscapes of the book’s setting.

I also turn back to Zane Grey because his books portray a time that I am sorry I missed—even if romanticized, the basic image of the 1870s out West haunts me.

  • Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand … and
  • Captains and Kings, Taylor Caldwell. Both are fantastically engrossing long reads, perfect for hot summer days when you can’t escape the heat any other way!

I usually don’t read fiction anymore, but summer is when I seem to naturally gravitate toward fiction…and love it!


Eleanor Sweeney, Saranac Lake
  • The City of Our Final Destination, Peter Cameron. The only book I’ve ever read that takes place in Uruguay.
  • The Map of Love, Ahdaf Soueif. This takes place largely in Egypt.

I also keep reading novels by Anita Shreve—perfect for summer.          


David Lemieux via email
  • The Lost Tribe, Edward Mariott. About a Stone Age New Guinea tribe discovered in 1995 and the author’s adventures in reaching them, plus the tribe’s interaction with the modern world. Heard about this on a BBC book club interview.
  • Ghost Soldiers, Hampton Sides. A true account of the WWII rescue of Batan death march survivors behind Japanese lines.
  • Guns Across the River, Donald Graves. Non-fiction. An account of the 1837 raid by Americans on Prescott, Ontario. Interesting for those living on the border.

Grant Simmons, Upper Saranac Lake
  • Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand.

Karen Dawson, Burlington (artist and philosophy student)
  • The Trial of Socrates, I.F. Stone. Stone looks at the premise that there must have been more to the story if Athens was a democratic society. The story we are usually given is from Plato and Xenophon, who were both disciples of Socrates.
  • Naming and Necessity, Saul Kripke. Looks at the relationship between properties and language. Sort of a “must read” in modal logic. It comes from a series of lectures Kripke gave at Princeton, so it is relatively readable.
  • Wheelock’s Latin, Frederick M. Wheelock. Intro to Latin.
  • The Annals of the Former World, John McPhee. A fabulous conglomeration of observation and theory of the geologic history of the United States. This guy is a great writer!

Dudley and Elizabeth Sarfaty, Malone
  • A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born, Bishop John Shelby Spong (ret. Episcopal). Bishop Sprong, who has spent his writing career, among other things, putting down The Indulgent White Bearded Grandfather God sitting on a cloud, and outmoded views of sex in the current churches, has his newest book coming out this fall. He suggests what modern people can really believe and discusses the faith that is emerging amongst those who have rejected the limitations of more ancient world views. Written for the average reader.

29.  In what language do we have noses that run and feet that smell? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposite?

30.  How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or strapful gown?

Or maybe met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulateed, gruntled, ruly or peccable? And where are all those people who ARE spring chickens or who would ACTUALLY hurt a fly?


Wayne Morris, Biblioworks Used Books, Lake Placid

This summer’s reading list includes The Salmon of Doubt. It’s a compilation of previously unpublished writings by the late Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

My reading list for last summer included all five books in that series: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, The Universe and Everything; So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish; Mostly Harmless.

One doesn’t need to be a sci fi fan to enjoy this series. In fact, it probably helps to not be. I’d recommend the entire series for the summer trips to the beach. And, as the Guide says, “Don’t forget your towel.”


Susie Woods, somewhere on the St. Lawrence River

We have a book group on the islands in summer and we met this morning to talk about the second book below. We wanted to read Canadian authors writing about Canada (since we look at Canada—or live in it--all summer and don’t know as much about it as we should). So, we devised this list by taking the 1999 short list from the Giller Prize and adding and subtracting a few.

  • A Student of Weather, Elizabeth Hay.
  • Summer Gone, David MacFarlane.
  • The Love of a Good Woman, Stories, Alice Munro.
  • Elizabeth and After, Matt Cohen.
  • A Good House, Bonnie Burnard.
  • A Recipe for Bees, Gail Anderson-Dargatz.

CM Wright via email
  • The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, Amy and Irving Wallace, David Wallechinsky, Sylvia Wallace.
  • The Prize, Daniel Yergin. The rise of the oil age.

Mary Holland via email
  • Politics in Healing, Dan Haley. The former NYS Assemblyman from Waddington explores the controversy surrounding alternative medicine and therapies.

Karen Morris, Saranac Lake
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon. Simply the best book I have read in the last ten years. Extremely well-written. (A Pulitzer Prize winner.)

Fred Goss, Ogdensburg

I’ve been concentrating this year on a particular hobby of mine: presidential biographies. Here are several I’ve been reading.

  • FDR: The War President, 1940-43, Kenneth Davis. This is volume four of what was planned as a five-volume work, but Mr. Davis has died…
  • John Adams, David McCullough. A wonderfully, graceful writer.
  • Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris. I waited over 20 years since Vol. 1 for this one. (Dutch intervened.) It was worth the wait.
  • LBJ, Master of the Senate, Robert Caro. This is it, the Wayne Gretzky of Presidential biographies. It doesn’t get any better than this.
  • Jack, Geoffrey Peret. This is the Britney Spears of Presidential biogs. Light, frothy, fun.
  • To the Best of My Ability, James McPherson, editor. A collection of articles on every president. Very well done. The photos are marvelous.
  • So You Want to Be President, Judith St. George and David Small (illustrations). An award-winning kids’ book—but I promise adults will enjoy it as much as the 7-10 age group it was designed for.

31.  You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down; in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm goes off by going on.
Donna Bradley, Indian Lake
  • Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry.
  • The Red Tent, Anita Diamant.

Tom Plastino, somewhere in St. Lawrence County
  • Blindness, Jose Saramago.

Dale Chisamore, Brockville
  • Sailing Home, Gary Geddes. About a fellow who sails the BC coast.
  • The Vine of Desire, Chitra Divakaruni. Two cousins from India living near San Jose.
  • Big Chief Elizabeth, Giles Milton. About first English colonies in US.
  • The Book Borrower, Alice Mathison.
  • The Gardens of Kyoto, Kate Walberg.
  • Unless, Carol Shields. A novel about a mother coming to terms with a daughter who has opted out of society.
  • The Stone Carver, Jane Urquhart. Fiction.
  • The Heartsong of Charging Elk, James Welch. Story of Sioux Indian stranded in late 19th century Marseilles.
  • Moth Smoke, Mohsin Hamid. Novel set in contemporary Pakistan.
  • Red Dust, Gillian Slovo. Novel set in modern South Africa.
  • Rivertown, Peter Hessler. Story of a young American living in a town on the Yangtze River.
  • Blue Diary, Alice Hoffman. Novel about a woman whose marriage falls apart.
  • Total Recall, Sara Paretsky. New V.I. Warshawski novel with references to Holocaust.
  • Acid Row, Minette Walters. Gripping story about life in lower class England.
  • Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnick. Memoir about life in contemporary Paris, very funny.
  • Bones, Elaine Dewar. Anthropology—North America.
  • The Birds of Heaven, Peter Mathiesson. A worldwide search for cranes.
  • The Death of Vishnu, Manil Suri. Set in contemporary India.
  • The Ash Garden, Dennis Bock. A scientist looks back on his role in making the atom bombs used on Japan.
  • In the Fall, Jeffrey Lent. Multi-generational novel about the Civil War and its aftermath.

Judy Cohen, summering in the Adirondacks
  • Ashes of Aries, Martha Laurence. For mystery lovers, this newest book of a series, with a twist. The protagonist is a psychic who ends up getting involved in murder investigations.
  • Murder Boogies With Elvis, Anne George. Two middle-aged Southern sisters are involved in the hunt for the murderer of an Elvis impersonator.
  • The Girls in the Van, Beth J. Harper. Non-fiction. A reporter tells the story of covering Hillary Clinton’s senatorial campaign.

Rosalie Smith, Malone
  • Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress, Sijie Dai.
  • The Blue Diary and The River King, Alice Hoffman.

Doris Waterstraat, Redwood
  • The Songcatcher, Sharyn McCrumb. This is a marvelous story of family history brought up to date.
  • The Redwood Casket, Sharyn McCrumb. A very good mystery.

Don Purcell, Potsdam
  • A Sportsman’s Notebook, Ivan Turgenev. A good example of a book I had to read during the “educational” process and put aside as a bore. But now, decades later, I feel lucky to have happened on it.
  • The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Wayne Johnston. Should be read by any one interested in what makes political animals click. It'’ about the rise of a genuine Canadian provincial premier—I learned a lot about Washington from it. It’s a good example of my belief that fine fiction is truer than any non-fiction you’ll ever come across. Readers who feel as I do, will want to get into inter-library loan for Richard Gwyn’s Joey Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary.
  • Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreeland. The book is a pendant to The Girl with the Pearl Pendant.

Am now in an Alice Munro collection—very fine.


Chris Dunn, Potsdam
  • I Hated, Hated, HATED This Movie, Roger Ebert.  The collection is not only entertaining, but instructional, too. Ebert is of course half of the TV-reviewing team that was Siskel and Ebert, now Roeper and Ebert. He is a fine writer. I also recommend his The Great Movies.
  • I’ve also made one of those discoveries every really good reader already knew: Orwell. Specifically, Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in Paris and London. Plain writing, inspired by careful observation, which is apparently the secret of gripping description. Get into either and you’ll finish it.
  • One more, just discovered: The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by W. E. Bowman. According to the introduction by Bill Bryson, after its publication in 1956, inspired by the first successful climb of Everest, it dropped out of print. Which is a great pity. Rum Doodle, it might but probably won’t help to know, is a Himalayan peak of 40,000 feet, near Rankling La and rising from the land of the Yogistani. For grave, straight-faced humor, you might have to go back to Stephen Leacock, or even Jerome K. Jerome to find an equal. Bowman also wrote The Cruise of the Talking Fish, inspired by Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki.

Kenyon Wells via email

Almost as important as the reading material one selects is the venue one chooses in which to read. Much is made of the beach as a proper and fitting arena for summertime reading but it’s precisely that arena-like quality that moves me to seek out another spot. Unless one is fortunate enough to have access to a private beach, the distractions inherent in public ones, however delightful, can detract from the summertime reading experience. And then there’s the sand.

So for this reader it is that classic feature of middle American architecture, seemingly forgotten in new home construction but still a prominent appurtenance of the older neighborhood home, that I seek out, the front porch.  No place so tranquil exists in the modern world than the neighborhood front porch…This porch is, at once, a refuge form the outside world, and at the same time, gently and steadfastly connected to its immediate surroundings, making the perfect haven for the summertime reader.

  • Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury. A small treasurre and, I should think, meant to be read in summer.
  • Red Sky at Morning, Richard Bradford. A very sweet and funny coming of age story set in a remote village in New Mexico during World War II where an Alabama shipyard owner has deposited his wife and teenage son to out the War while he goes off to fight it.

Nancy Herrington, Indian Lake--via email
  • The Seven Daughters of Eve, by Bryan Sykes, Professor of Genetics at the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford University and a leading authority on DNA and human evolution.
  • Three Fates, by Nora Roberts. A good summer read, with romance,
    passion, intrigue, and Greek mythology!
  • AND one I am just starting: The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter. A superbly written book, with suspense, social observation, family secrets, ambition, and murder

32. English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn’t a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible. However, when the lights are out (or you’re unconscious), they are invisible. Why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it.
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