More Book Suggestions for Summer (or Anytime)

Whether you are on the beach or are trying to make your trip (by car, plane, or subway) a little faster, here are book ideas to help you wile away the summer hours.

Fiction
Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci – Let’s face it: most of us are not like the glamorous and oh-so-chic characters from books like the Gossip Girl series. In fact, some of us are perhaps a little geeky (I know that I am). Geektastic is a collection of short stories that celebrates the fangirl or fanboy in all of us. While the anthology, like most anthologies, is uneven, there are far more hits than misses. Whether you are a Trekkie, a Star Wars junkie, a theatre geek, or a literature nerd, you will find a story here.

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow – Doctorow’s ability to combine fiction and fact, along with a healthy dose of allegory, is readily apparent in Ragtime. Through intertwining narratives, Doctorow describes the lives of three very different families at the turn of the 20th century: an upper class family that tries to cope with America’s changing society, a black entertainer and the lady he loves (and loses), and an immigrant family who hopes to create a new life in America.

Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman – This story (set in Massachusetts) centers on April Epner, the adopted daughter of two Holocaust survivors, whose structured existence is disrupted when her birth mother, the brash and flamboyant Bernice Graces, unexpectedly makes contact with her. Lipman deftly handles the story and prevents it from going into “TV movie of the week” territory through a careful balance of humor (Bernice tries to convince April that her biological father is John. F. Kennedy) with the more serious issues.

Paint Me a Picture: Graphic Novels
To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One True Story by Casey Scieszka (author) and Steven Weinberg (illustrator) – A combination of travel memoir and graphic novel, this book follows Scieszka and Weinberg as they travel around world together.

In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman – In this graphic novel, Pulitzer Prize winner Spiegelman tries to make sense of the events of September 11 and the following aftermath. Readers of Spiegelman appreciate his usual insightful and sometimes painful form of expression, and sharp-eyed fans will also see some references to Speigelman’s Maus.

Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Graphic Adaptation by Seymour Chwast – With a focus more on the visuals rather than the text, graphic novel provides a nice companion to the traditional text of The Divine Comedy.

Reads to Tickle Your Funny Bone
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race by the Writers of The Daily Show – If you are a Jon Stewart aficionado (or if you just like your books with a healthy dose of satire and lots of pictures), then Earth (The Book) is for you. In this follow-up to America (The Book), Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show train their eyes, and their trademark wit, to the strange customs and behaviors of the inhabitants of Earth. Whether deconstructing the elements of an angry adolescent or showing, with the help of the hilarious Samantha Bee (a Daily Show contributor), different expressions and emotions, this book provides some serious snark and humor even as it points out our foibles.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot and Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell – Most people are probably more familiar with Sarah Vowell as the shy daughter, Violet, in The Incredibles. However, Vowell is also an incisive, intelligent, and engaging writer who breathes new life in her subjects. Whether she is writing about the Trail of Tears (Take the Cannoli) or her fear of Tom Cruise (The Partly Cloudy Patriot), her wit and genuine interest in her topics are obvious. While she has written a number of books, my favorites are these essay collections, which let her zoom from lofty topics to more mundane ones without missing a beat.

My Year of Flops: One Man’s Journey Deep Into the Heart of Cinematic Failure by Nathan Rabin – While reading about great films is always interesting, there is something to be said about celebrating movies that bombed at the box office. From highly-publicized action flicks like Waterworld to romantic comedies like Joe Versus the Volcano, Rabin watches and records his thoughts to these flops, often with surprising results. What is particularly interesting about this book is that it reevaluates the movies and makes the effort to differentiate the everyday failures from the full-fledged fiascos. It also gives credit where credit is due by denoting movies that were a “secret success” and deserve a second look.

Books on Writing (and the Real World):
Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer and The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark – When it comes to Roy Peter Clark’s writings on writing, he manages to be entertaining and engaging while also helping the reader learn to be a better writer (no small feat!). Clark, an instructor at the Poynter Institute, provides practical, hands-on advice for writers to master grammar and improve their writing. He also takes a surprisingly relaxed tone with his readers, urging them forward without scolding or talking down to them (even if he does an absurd amount of glee in reproaching grammarians like Lynn Truss).

SEND: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe – Email might seem like a basic and almost primitive way of communicating online. Consequently, it surprises me how many people have a difficult time mastering email etiquette. Luckily, Shipley and Schwalbe have provided an informative and well-written guide to mastering the email. From the basics, such as the importance of the subject line, to more advanced ideas, such as exploring the different ways that men and women use email, this book provides a comprehensive and entertaining handbook to emailing like a pro (or, at the very least, emailing in a way that increases the chances of getting a response). If I could, I would make this book required reading for all of my students.

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