Book World: Choosing Summer Reading
Recommendations from Book World's Fiction Editor

Ron Charles
Fiction Editor, Washington Post Book World
Tuesday, May 27, 2008 3:00 PM

Now that Memorial Day has come and gone, booklovers everywhere have a hard decision to make: what to put on the summer reading list? Those afternoons by the pool or on the porch are sweeter, and those airport delays less painful, when you have just the right book in hand.

Ron Charles, Book World's fiction editor and co-host of the Book World Podcast, will be online Tuesday, May 27 at 3 p.m. ET to discuss summer reading. He'll talk about recently-released blockbusters, let you know about last year's favorites now available in paperback, and offer personal recommendations for those of you on the fence about what to tuck into your overnight bag.

A transcript follows.

Join Book World Live each Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET for a discussion based on a story or review in each Sunday's Book World section.


Ron Charles: Hello, everybody. It's a pleasure to be doing this again. I don't often get a chance to chat with Book World readers. Please send in questions or comments about anything related to books, summer reading, book clubs, etc.


Freising, Germany: How do you choose the books that you review for Book World? I often find your choices quite interesting because of character depth and psychological content.

I'm undecided whether or not a summer book should have a tropical background in order to relate to the weather, or a cooler, more temperate background to distract from the discomfort of hot weather. Do any of your choices consider such rudimentary ideas?

Ron Charles: It's an overwhelming challenge, let me tell you! We get more than 100 books a day, but have room to review only about a dozen. So, as you can see, we have to pass by many, many fine books, which is agonizing. But we try to make sure we're presenting a good balance, meeting different people's tastes, and reviewing books they're likely to be hearing about.

"Summer Reading" is always a little confusing to me: Do people want lite stuff for the beach, or do they finally have the time to sink into something long and challenging?


Lewes, Delaware: Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones" was a surprising book to me, I loved it so much, and am wondering if "The Almost Moon" is as good. Have you read it? Ron Charles's review of "The Almost Moon" (Book World, Oct. 14, 2007)

Ron Charles: I was so looking forward to Alice Sebold's new novel because I loved "Lovely Bones," but her new one, "The Almost Moon," was the worst novel I've read in a long time. Not sure what went wrong! She's so talented and so is her husband (Glen David Gold), but she missed this time. It happens -- she'll do better next time.


Boulder, Colorado: Any good new historical fiction to recommend?

Ron Charles: There's such a marvelous richness of historical novels nowadays. (I'm a great fan -- I don't care what Henry James said about them!)

Have you read Peter Behrens's "The Law of Dreams" about the Irish potato famine? My favorite. Gorgeous writing.

Very different: Sophie Gee's novel about Alexander Pope, the story behind "The Rape of the Locke." Very smart, fun costume drama.

Samantha Hunt's "The Invention of Everything Else" is a whimsical novel about the great inventor Nikola Tesla in NY.


Olney, Md.: My daughter is heading to Paris this fall for a semester for her junior year in college. Any recommendations for books that could give her a grounding in French culture, etc. that will still make for good, accessible summer reading?

Ron Charles: Well, of course, she must read "The Sun Also Rises"!


State College, Pa.: Is it gauche to recommend to a friend they take a religious book to the beach? I found Arthur Paul Boers' "The Rhythm of Grace" a delightful read.

Ron Charles: Gauche? No. Problematic? Yes. Depends on how well you know this friend and how much you know about her religious tastes. There are a number of very fine literary novels nowadays that deal with spiritual issues in a deep and sensitive way. (I think this is something relatively new. When I was in college, all we had was "Jonathan Livingston Seagull"....)

Leif Enger's "Peace Like a River" includes a number of miracles, beautifully handled.

"The Testament of Gideon Mack" by James Robertson is about a minister who doesn't believe in God. And then he meets the devil. Very smart and witty.

Elizabeth Strout's "Abide With Me" about a minister who loses his wife (and his faith) completely tore me up.

Dara Horn's "In His Image" deals with Jewish mysticism as a young girl deals with the death of a friend.


McLean, Va.: Hello,

Any enthralling non-fiction to recommend?

Thank you

Ron Charles: You can't go wrong with Tony Horwitz. His new book, "A Voyage Long," is about the various groups that "discovered" America. As always from Horwitz, it's funny, educational, and thoughtful.


Washington, D.C.: I absolutely loved Lisa See's Peony in Love. Beautiful and haunting imagery, and an engrossing story, perfect for lazy days when you can finish a whole book in an afternoon.

Ron Charles: Yes, wasn't that good? She's a lovely writer. (Sometimes reviews for us. And her mother, of course, is our Friday reviewer, Carolyn See.)


she must read "The Sun Also Rises"! : Great suggestion, I'd also recommend Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" for the daughter spending a semester in Paris.

Ron Charles: Yes, "A Moveable Feast" is good for that trip, too. Also, any young people going to Europe must read Arthur Phillips's debut novel, "Prague." So clever, so witty, and then finally so damn sad you just can't believe it.

_______________________ Suggestions for the Paris-bound student - "Le Divorce" by Diane Johnson and "60 Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong" by Nadeau and Barlow (not a novel, but a good read) both give insight into what makes the French so French. Also, "Abundance" by Naslund is a novel based on Marie Antoinette's life and would really enhance a trip to Versailles. - Elizabeth

Ron Charles: Yes, those are good. Diane Johnson particularly. And Naslund's "Abundance," though a bit long-winded, is packed with the most lush detail about Marie Antoinette's life and times.


Washington, D.C.: Any word on when Dan Brown's new book will be published? It was supposed to be in 2007 then March of 2008. I haven't heard anything. Was the success of The Da Vinci Code a curse? Any books by Haruki Murakami, Paul Auster or Jonathan Carroll coming out this year? Thanks!

Ron Charles: I don't know when we'll see Brown's new novel, tentatively called "The Solomon Key." I doubt if the success of the "Da Vinci Code" is slowing him down. It's not like his career will tank if his next book isn't good.

We've already got a galley of Paul Auster's new novel, "Man in the Dark," coming to book stores Aug. 19.


Paris books: Personal preference: rather than The Sun Also Rises, I'd recommend A Movable Feast (which I read while spending a summer in Paris in high school). Other ideas: what about Le Divorce? A fluffy summer read that's still well-written. Also, Lily King's Pleasing Hour (I think that's what it's called, it's been a while - I read it my junior year of college before leaving for my semester abroad in Paris). I'm a historical fiction fan, so I read a bunch of historical novels about Paris while I was there, including Sandra Gulland's novels about Empress Josephine, Marge Piercy's City of Darkness, City of Light, and any number of historical novels in French (Juliette Benzoni is trashy but fun, as is Regine Deforges).

Ron Charles: These are very helpful.


Boston: I'm quite torn over what to be reading this summer. I just finished my first year of law school, so lately, to counteract the heavy casebooks, I've been reading some very light fiction, though I did just start Matthew Pearl's "Poe's Shadow," because I really enjoyed "The Dante Club." But part of me feels like I should be getting into some more serious non-fiction books. I've got some waiting for me, and I hope I get to them before I get back to the case books in the fall.

Ron Charles: From that list, I think you might enjoy Louis Bayard's novels. He's got his own Poe novel, too. He writes creepy historical fiction. Very clever stuff. Used to review for us, but he recently got a job as Salon's book reviewer.


Alexandria, Va.: I am looking for a really good mystery to take to the beach. Any suggestions?

Ron Charles: If you're really into mysteries, you'll enjoy Karen Joy Fowler's new novel, "Wit's End." (She wrote "The Jane Austen Book Club" a few years ago.) Her new novel is a kind of satire about mysteries, mystery writers, and particularly their fans. I'm sure I only got half the inside jokes.


Dublin, Ireland: What would you recommend for lovers of mysteries? Are there any good new writers out in paperback?

Ron Charles: And you know there's a new James Bond novel coming out this week. Fleming may be dead, but the series goes on -- shaken, not stirred! This time -- "Devil May Care" -- has been ghostwritten by Sebastian Faulks.


Aspen, Colorado: Do you have any good biographies coming out this summer?

Ron Charles:"The Monster of Florence," by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi, sounds very exciting. It's about Italy's notorious serial killers -- a nonfiction thriller, perfect for summer!

At the other end, there's an unauthorized biography of Cheech and Chong coming up in August!


Bellingham, Wash.: I have more time in the summer, so like reading longer books. Any new science fiction I should check out?

Ron Charles: Elizabeth Bear's "Dust" sounds interesting: takes place on a decaying ship, involves AI and "enhanced" humans. Also, I'd like to read Gregory Frost's "Shadowbridge," which came out in April; second part expected this July.


Richmond, Va.: Is George RR Martin ever going to continue the Fire and Ice series? Book 4 was split into two books, but Book 4 Part II has yet to arrive. It is a wonderful fantasy series if you are not familiar with it.

Ron Charles: Martin is great, but I don't know when his next book is coming up.


Alexandria, Va.: Thanks for suggestion for mystery reading, but I like my mystery books to be pure mystery -- no satire, please. With this in mind, any good recommendations?

Ron Charles: You never have to wait long for another Janet Evanovich novel! "Fearless Fourteen" is coming out in mid June.


Palo Alto, Calif.: I see there's a bunch of "Chick" lit coming out this summer.

For instance, I recently attended book tour events with Emily Giffin ("Love the One You're With") and Mary Kay Andrews ("Deep Dish"). Both I thought were quite well done and a perfect "fast read" for the beach. Are there other Chick lit books coming out this summer you can recommend? Also, with Sex and the City coming out, do you think there will be an increased demand for these books?

Ron Charles: Chick lit is a challenge for us. We haven't decided if the term is pejorative or not. I think not, but others here disagree. Glad you're already on Giffin's latest. I'm not convinced the movie will increase demand much -- it's already high and I don't see it moving much beyond its current audience.


Arlington, Va: Can you tip us off about Friday's upcoming review of Ron Hansen's new book? I'm hopeful, although "Hitler's Niece" was extremely distasteful, I thought. Love a couple of his other books.

Ron Charles: Our reviewer, Carolyn See, was completely taken with it! It's about the poet Hopkins. Sounds complex but rich.


Ron Charles: Sorry I wasn't able to get to all your questions! The hour flies by and I'm too slow! Thanks for reading Book World, and feel free to send me questions anytime at


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