(To help you prepare for the outdoor reading season, each week we’re sharing a list from a different Booklist editor. —Ed.)
One of the trickiest issues for all of us who share books in the library is how to promote our favorites. We know we can’t simply hand them out to everyone who asks for suggestions, because they surely aren’t appropriate for everyone. Besides, the books we love are often the hardest to talk about. The answer is to place them judiciously on displays and let them sell themselves to readers.
As we librarians prepare for summer reading, our myriad displays offer the perfect opportunity to share favorites. Consider this my display—here are some of the summer reads I’ve loved.
The Innocence of Father Brown, by G. K. Chesterton
In the summer of 1972 I discovered G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries and read them all, one after the other. Isn’t that what we do when we find an author or a series that so captures our imagination that we simply want to inhabit that world? This is the first collection of these delightful mysteries in short story form. They feature an unassuming priest who turns out to be surprising adept at using his intuition to solve tricky cases. Gentle humor and clever puzzles fill these satisfying mysteries set in London in the early years of the twentieth century. Even though the British television series relocates Father Brown to an English village in the 1950s, I’ll throw the DVD on the display as well.
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
I first encountered this horror classic one summer in the mid-1970s, and I have a distinct memory of waiting for my husband in a lounge at Northwestern University, while sharing Jonathan Harker’s amazement and dread as he watches Dracula climb the walls of his castle after a night out hunting. I still get chills. I’ve reread it since, but there’s nothing like that first time, and I’ll bet a lot of readers have only seen the movies and never read the novel. No DVD suggestions from me this time; I haven’t seen a version that I think captures the atmosphere and menace of the book. However, there are excellent annotated versions and even a graphic novel if the nineteenth century language seems too obscure.
My summer reading favorites include nonfiction too, and this is a more recent summer read. What a book! As a fairly recent convert to the pleasures of nonfiction, I require both an intriguing topic and compelling storytelling. This has both as it charts the career and brief presidency of James Garfield; the life of his assassin, Charles Guiteau, a disappointed office seeker; and Alexander Graham Bell’s unsuccessful attempt to find the bullet lodged in Garfield’s body. It’s a tragic story of the loss of a man who had the potential to be a great president, but the greater tragedy may be that bad medicine was as much responsible for his death as the assassin’s bullet. This is an elegantly written, gripping story, filled with historical and biographical details, as well as the history of science and medicine.
Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy Sayers
Summer is also a great time for re-reading, and while I don’t consider myself an avid re-reader, I can identify at least three summers during which I read all of Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries. The problem was that I didn’t read them in order the first time, so I had to go back a few years later and follow the story chronologically. Then I read them all again when I needed the comfort of familiar, well-told stories. These fit that criterion. Sayers’ detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, falls into the traditional role of the second son among English aristocracy. Not the heir, he’s free to live as he pleases, and Peter investigates puzzles that interest him. There’s plenty of background in the mostly London settings in the 1920s, and then, when he saves mystery-writer Harriet Vane from a murder charge, there’s also romance. What more could I ask? Some of the language and sensibilities are dated but these still offer marvelous puzzles and wit. While I usually start mystery series with the first, I’m putting Murder Must Advertise on my display. Sayers worked in an advertising agency, and she has fun displaying her insider’s knowledge in this smart mystery. If I’m feeling more romantic, I’ll use Strong Poison, the first to feature Harriet Vane.
The Kill Artist, by Daniel Silva
Vacations require books to entertain during long car trips. These days, that means audiobooks for me, and Daniel Silva’s titles have always provided stories that I don’t want to stop listening to when I reach my destination. Right now I’m anxiously awaiting the 15th title in his Gabriel Allon series, but I’m putting the first title in the series on my display. Allon is an art restorer and a former Israeli agent in the Mossad. He’s drawn back into the world of spies to catch another kill artist, this one with plans to assassinate Yasser Arafat and inflame Mideast tensions. There’s plenty of action and gunplay, lots of twists in the plot, fascinating bits about artists and art restoration, but the characters are also wonderfully developed, and the series just gets better and better. The miles will fly by listening to this read by Voice of Choice George Guidall.
The Son, by Jo Nesbø
Whether we’ve read them or not, we’re all familiar with Nesbø’s gritty Oslo crime dramas starring alcoholic detective Harry Hole. When I started The Son last summer, I wasn’t sure I’d like it. Harry is nowhere to be seen, but the book grew on me. The hero (and eponymous son), Sonny Loftus, is a drugged out youth with multiple convictions for terrible crimes, but when he discovers new information about his policeman father’s death, he’s out for revenge. Although the tone is really dark, the ending is surprisingly upbeat. The complex plot is twisty, the hero surprisingly sympathetic, and the story is smart and compelling, with intriguing details of the Oslo criminal underworld. If you’re a fan of Scandinavian crime novels, be sure you also check out Bill Ott’s “Hard-boiled Gazetteer: Scandinavia.”
The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
Long before the current focus on adult and teen crossover titles, I discovered Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series and read them all. Really, who can resist well-told tales of King Arthur and quests? Last summer something jogged my memory of the books, and I reread (or, rather, listened to) The Dark is Rising again, and it was as powerful and enthralling a story as I remembered. Once again I accompanied Will Stanton on a stormy Midwinter’s Eve as he struggled to connect with the Old Ones and stop the approaching evil. It’s a totally satisfying combination of coming of age, fantasy, and adventure. The series is great for family reading and listening, although adults will probably be happier with the more sophisticated series titles like this one and perhaps The Grey King and The Silver on the Tree.
Blackberry Wine, by Joanne Harris
Harris’ old-fashioned storytelling is perfect for summer reading. Humor and magic often intertwine in a very real but almost mythical story, rich in the sensual flavors of food and wine. Some of her later books are rather dark, but Blackberry Wine, her second novel, is pure pleasure. The setting is the same small French town featured in Chocolat. There’s a fairy tale quality to this novel as well—a little magic and a wine-making ghost who reminded me of Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba—as well as romance and a thoroughly romantic tone. This time the focus is on a writer who has suffered from writer’s block for 14 years. He buys a chateau on a whim and re-discovers himself and his muse in this rural community. Pour yourself a glass of wine, sit on the deck in a comfy chair, and enjoy.