Books

Reading always turns any season into summer. Maybe it's because I associate my first bouts of time with books with time out of school, with summer afternoons on the back porch when the weather made it too hot to play, and the air seemed just quiet enough that you could focus your early reading skills on the page before you and make a story emerge from the shapes and squiggles printed there. Even for someone as fortunate as I am, someone who reads for a living, summer always feels like a special time.

When the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was growing up in Nigeria she was not used to being identified by the color of her skin. That changed when she arrived in the United States for college. As a black African in America, Adichie was suddenly confronted with what it meant to be a person of color in the United States. Race as an idea became something that she had to navigate and learn.

It looks like a last-minute gift, like one of those tiny tomes that live near the register on the counter of your favorite bookstore, hoping to catch the attention (or at least the impulse) of shoppers in the check-out line. Given its digest-sized dimensions and jokey title, you'd be forgiven for assuming A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting is a hastily assembled collection of cornball homilies, like those miniature books about dads, grads and golf that double as greeting cards this time of year. But don't be fooled.

Curtis Sittenfeld is the Ed Norton of the literary world. Popular but intellectual, accessible but mysterious and, above all — a perspective chameleon with an uncanny ability to enter the minds of callow prep school outcasts and devotedly compromising first ladies alike. With Sisterland, she takes this mind-entering business to a literal level. The story of a pair of adult psychic twin sisters in St. Louis, it would have been an obvious choice for Sittenfeld to tell her story in the form of dueling narration.

'The Hare' Leads A Merry Chase

Jun 26, 2013

To love the novels of Cesar Aira you must have a taste for the absurd, a tolerance for the obscurely philosophical and a willingness to laugh out loud against your better judgment. His latest novel to be translated into English, The Hare, is set in the Argentine pampas at the end of the 19th century. But don't let any veneer of realism fool you.

Making Art From Art: 5 Nonfiction Reads For Summer

Jun 25, 2013

An elaborate cake exactingly modeled from the work of a Dutch minimalist painter. A piece of literary criticism as interesting and expansive as its subject. A photograph of an eerie, antlered hat sculpted from feathers and tulle. Art criticism, written with a novelist's eye. Here are five books that traverse genre and medium, while keeping the same aim: to analyze, celebrate and re-imagine beautiful works of art.

Israeli graphic novelist Rutu Modan's deceptively clear and simple line work — she can conjure a face in two dots and a single, expressive pen stroke — is a deliberate artistic choice. Narratively, Modan's work (including the acclaimed Exit Wounds and her Jamilti and Other Stories) lives in the realm of the indistinct, the undefined and the hotly disputed. In her books, conflicts between family members, lovers and nations all occur in the context of Jewish cultural history.

About 25 years ago, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter were students in a Philadelphia high school and they wanted to impress a girl. So they formed a band ... which would go on to become the Grammy Award-winning hip-hop band The Roots. Questlove, the drummer for The Roots, says that for him, a musical future was preordained. As he recounts in a new memoir, Mo' Meta Blues, his father, Lee Andrews — a member of the successful 1950s doo-wop group Lee Andrews and the Hearts — groomed Questlove for show business from an early age.

Most NFL punters spend the majority of their time focusing on one thing: kicking the ball, and kicking it well. But Chris Kluwe — the most successful punter the Minnesota Vikings ever had and now signed to Oakland — has a few other things on his mind. Like bad drivers, and the proper degree of pressure for a handshake. And more substantive issues, like gay marriage.

Walter Mosley fooled us: We thought he'd killed off Easy Rawlins, the protagonist of his much-loved series. But it turned out Mosley just needed a break from the work — a long break. Six years later, in May, he came back with Little Green, possibly the best Easy Rawlins to date. Like the rest of the books in the series, it's strongly influenced by Los Angeles, the city that helped shape Mosley himself.

Louise Monaghan's journey to Syria to rescue her kidnapped daughter begins years ago at a club in Cyprus. It was there she met a Syrian man named Mostafa, whom she would marry.

"I was smitten from the first second," she tells NPR's Jacki Lyden. "I felt he was what I needed. He made me feel safe."

But Monaghan was not safe. Mostafa was verbally abusive and beat her. They married, and the couple had a daughter named May. When they divorced, Mostafa was given visitation rights, but he wanted more.

'New Strange' Stories Hold A Chilling Mirror To Life

Jun 22, 2013

If you want a chilly comedown from summer's heat, you can't do much better than the work of Robert Aickman (1914-1981), a master of "strange stories" whose books, long out of print, are now being republished by the small U.K. press Tartarus.

This interview was originally broadcast on Nov. 6, 2012.

In Oliver Sacks' book The Mind's Eye, the neurologist included an interesting footnote in a chapter about losing vision in one eye because of cancer that said: "In the '60s, during a period of experimenting with large doses of amphetamines, I experienced a different sort of vivid mental imagery."

If you'd like your summer reading to take you beyond the beaten path, librarian Nancy Pearl is here to help. NPR's go-to books guru joins us regularly to reveal "under the radar" reads — books she thinks deserve more attention than they've been getting. Pearl talks with NPR's Steve Inskeep about some of the titles she picked out for the summer reading season.

It's impossible to open the newspaper or turn on the TV these days without seeing some outrageous example of new Asian money. From a castle modeled on Versailles in Changsha to billion-dollar penthouses in Bombay to the Marina Bay Sands casino in Singapore, with its seven celebrity-chef restaurants, the inescapable truth looms before us: We Asians are not just rich but also, frankly, somewhat crazy.

Ignoring Threats, An American Reports On His Native Mexico

Jun 20, 2013

Alfredo Corchado, the Mexico bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News, has dedicated his life to investigating government corruption, murders and ruthless drug cartels in his native Mexico.

He received death threats multiple times, and doesn't feel safe, but he says he has "learned to embrace the fear." Corchado, an American citizen, has written a memoir about the complicated relationship he has with the country of his birth, entitled, Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter's Journey Through a Country's Descent into Darkness.

In the 1500s, Italy is bursting with some of the most influential and vivid figures in history. Many — like Leonardo da Vinci, who balanced art and the sciences; Galileo Galilei, who turned his telescope to the heavens; and Niccolo Machiavelli, who calculated the ruthless politics of the day — are still remembered even now for their major contributions.

Author Sarah Dunant has drilled down into the Italian Renaissance for over a decade — reconstructing a time of artistic innovation, political corruption and war into captivating, and highly accurate, fiction.

In Salter's Novels, The Ladies ARE Lunch

Jun 20, 2013

This spring, James Salter published All That Is, his first novel in nearly 35 years — and the critics could not have been more excited.

Early on in Charles Moore's biography of Margaret Thatcher, he describes a birthday party at which a school friend tells the future prime minister, "If you don't stop bossing us, I shall stamp on your foot."

"Love is not all," warned the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. "It is not meat nor drink / Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain." She was right, of course, but if there were ever any advice destined to fall on stubbornly deaf ears, this is it. Love is not all, but it always feels like it is, whether you're happily partnered or bereft.

Inside The Mind Of A Sociopath

Jun 19, 2013

What exactly is a sociopath? Many people might think of killers, criminals, the cruel and heartless, Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining.

That's the common wisdom. But it's being challenged by a new memoir, Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight. It's written under the pen name of M.E. Thomas. The author says most sociopaths are not incarcerated — and the silent majority of them live freely and anonymously. They're your neighbors, colleagues, maybe even family members and lovers.

British writer Maggie O'Farrell, born in Northern Ireland, is less well-known in the U.S. than she should be. Her mesmerizing, tautly plotted novels often revolve around long-standing, ugly family secrets and feature nonconformist women who rebel against their strict Irish Catholic upbringing. Her most recent books, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (2006) and The Hand That First Held Mine (2010), offer the sort of spellbinding reads that can make you miss your flight announcement.

My summer reading preferences are so particular they have, at times, stopped me from reading at all. I need a romance for a train trip — for obvious reasons. When it's hot, I prefer something with no climate congruence at all; I've never enjoyed Anna Karenina so much as I did on the beach (that romance is a train exception — er ... for obvious reasons). When I'm on a plane trip, I like a passel of good young-adult novels, filled with cliffhangers, reversals and quick emotion. It's a mood makeover in flight.

Julia Keller's latest novel is A Killing in the Hills.

When the actor James O'Neill played the title character in a stage version of The Count of Monte Cristo, it was a piece of "good bad luck," his son Eugene O'Neill later said. James O'Neill could never escape the shadow of the role that made him famous.

Pterrifying Pterodactyl Meets Sexy Detective

Jan 2, 2013

Rosecrans Baldwin's latest book is Paris, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down.

Most of what you read about contemporary Paris is pretty cliched stuff — baguettes, cigarettes and the cast of Gossip Girl drinking white wine on the Seine.

In the aftermath of the Compromise of 1850, a controversial bill that included the Fugitive Slave Act, the journey to freedom became increasingly difficult for enslaved people. In Tracy Chevalier's newest novel, Ohio and its intricate network of Underground Railroad activity provides a rich background for this period.

A Child Of The Slums Becomes A 'Queen' Of Chess

Dec 31, 2012

Phiona Mutesi is a teenager living in Katwe, the biggest and possibly toughest slum in Uganda's capital city. She's also a rising star in competitive chess.

Her story is told in the book The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster.

But when she first started the game, Mutesi wasn't hungry for glory; she was just hungry. A local chapter of a Christian charity hosted a chess program, and it lured Mutesi, her brother and other children with the promise of a meal.

Fiction and nonfiction releases from P.D. James; Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel; Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan; and Mimi Alford.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The familiar image of the salesman in American culture hasn't always been a flattering one. Just think of Alec Baldwin as the verbally abusive "motivator" of two real estate salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Daniel H. Pink, author of the new book To Sell is Human, says that this relentless, predator-style approach to selling has become outdated. He believes that the art of sales has changed more in the past 10 years than it did in the previous century.

Normally, we avoid dropping our readers into the middle of an established series, but we're making an exception for A Memory of Light, the final volume in one of the most epic, sprawling works of fantasy ever written — Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time." In progress since 1990, it now stretches to 14 volumes. Jordan himself, tragically, did not live to finish the series; his widow, Harriet, chose fantasy author Brandon Sanderson to complete the last few books after Jordan's death in 2007.

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