Sure, a book can double as a fan, but the better option is to find a novel that’s so engrossing you forget about the heat entirely. “When you’re sweating to death in D.C., you want a book that makes you imagine a different place,” says Sarah Baline, events director for Kramerbooks. We asked representatives at some of the city’s best bookshops for the summer’s most gripping reads, as well as their favorite outdoor spots where you can get lost in the plot lines.
Mark Laframboise, Chief buyer at Politics & Prose
The title of “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” (Pamela Dorman Books, July 28) spills the beans that it’s a novel involving food, but Laframboise likens it more to a sports narrative. The debut novel from J. Ryan Stradal follows the life and career of Eva Thorvald, who turns her childhood spent cooking in her father’s Midwestern kitchen into a position as one of the most highly respected chefs in the country. “It feels like a foodie sports book,” Laframboise says. “She finds her footing, her influences, then you see her knock it out of the park. As soon as you try to pigeonhole [the book], it defies expectations in a really fun way.” Another likely hit is “Best Boy” (Liveright, Aug. 24) from novelist Eli Gottlieb. Like the buzzy 2003 novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” this novel is told from the perspective of someone living with autism. In Gottlieb’s story, the protagonist, Todd, is an adult attempting an escape from his assisted living facility. Todd experiences the world from a place of joy: “I think he does a really good job capturing that,” Laframboise says.
Where he’ll be reading: He doesn’t read outside often, but he does read while on the go. “I find the rhythms of trains are very conducive to reading,” he says. “There’s this very loose confederacy of other people who are reading this ancient material. We wink at each other.“ L.M.
Anna Thorn, General manager at Upshur Street Books
Thorn predicts Julia Pierpont’s novel “Among the Ten Thousand Things” (Random House, out now) will be the book you’ll see in every beach tote this summer. The story of an unraveling well-to-do New York family is “the kind of novel a lot of people like to read: family, balancing your relationships with others and your realization of self, etc.,” she says. If you want to turn the existential crisis level up a notch, she recommends “Festival of Insignificance” (Harper, out now). Milan Kundera’s (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) novella about three friends
sharing their stories in a Paris cafe “feels like reading a whimsical philosophy book.”
Where she’ll be reading: Lately Thorn has been neglecting her go-to reading spots, Qualia Coffee and Red Derby, for a bench in a Rock Creek Park meadow. “You know when you get really, really hot and your brain sort of melts?” Thorn explains. “It makes literature even more surreal.” L.M.
Lelia Nebeker, book buyer at One More Page Books
Young adult fans ought to devour “An Ember in the Ashes” (Razorbill, out now), about a girl out to rescue her brother from the prison of an oppressive government inspired by ancient Rome. “The world [author Sabaa Tahir] creates is spooky and unique, and it’s epic in scope,” Nebeker says. “And she was able to do this in a pretty manageable 450 pages or so. She’s definitely one to watch.” True, especially because Tahir, a former editor for The Washington Post’s world desk, already has plans for two more sequels and a film option from Paramount Pictures. For something a little more grown-up, try “You Deserve a Drink: Boozy Misadventures and Tales of Debauchery” (Plume, out now) from YouTube star Mamrie Hart. “She really makes you want to be her friend, but also you’re scared to be involved in anything she’s doing because it’s all kind of terrifying,” Nebeker says.
Where she’ll be reading: The Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II, where in exchange for sitting on the floor, you get to temporarily escape the city. “It’s really cute, it’s secluded, it’s got a fountain,” Nebeker says. “It’s really gorgeous and a peaceful place in the hubbub of the city.” L.M.
Sarah Baline, events director for Kramerbooks
Though Peter Nichols’ latest novel is set primarily in Majorca, “The Rocks” (Riverhead Books, out now) is anything but a day at the beach. At the heart of the book is a damning secret that drives the leading characters — a married couple — apart. It’s up to the reader to follow the plot twists and flashbacks, which are as unceasing as waves in the Mediterranean Sea. “It’s definitely not a mystery in the sense of ‘Who’s the killer?’” Baline says, “but it will keep you guessing.” Baline also recommends “Saint Mazie” (Grand Central, out now), a novel based on the true story of Mazie Phillips, the spitfire proprietress of a jazz-era movie theater in New York. Drawing from journal entries and stories from old friends and drinking buddies, Jami Attenberg tells the life story of the Bowery’s beloved hoyden. “She’s a really wonderful person with a lot of heart,” Baline says.
Where she’ll be reading: The little garden behind Firehook Bakery in Cleveland Park. “It’s so serene, and there’s plenty of shade and a water fountain that blocks out the street noise,” Baline says. “It’s really a little oasis.” H.S.
Jon Purves, Politics & Prose store supervisor at Busboys and Poets
“Balm” (Harper Collins, out now), the much-anticipated novel from Dolen Perkins-Valdez (author of “Wench”
and co-author of “Twelve Years a Slave”) follows three individuals in Chicago after the Civil War and the fall of slavery. Each has their own gifts (one can see people’s suffering, another can communicate with the dead) and together they search for inner peace in a divided nation. “It’s a very poignant story that deals with issues of race and healing,” Purves says. Set during another tense period in history, “The Sympathizer” (Grove Press, out now) by Viet Thanh Nguyen opens in Saigon during the Vietnam War. The lead character, a captain in the South Vietnamese army, lands in Los Angeles, where he spies for the Viet Cong. “He grapples with his loyalty and identity,” Purves says. “Often novels about the Vietnam War have an American-centric point of view, but this turns the Vietnam War story on its head.”
Where he’ll be reading: Meridian Hill Park. “It’s a very peaceful place with a fountain and lots of places to sit,” Purves says. “I may even go do that this afternoon.”H.S.
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Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly credited Dolen Perkins-Valdez as the co-author of “Twelve Years a Slave.” Perkins-Valdez wrote an introduction to the book, but did not co-author it.
Other ways to enjoy your summer: