I’ve combed through internet book sites and read dozens of reviews of recently released books to come up with the following list for summer reading. These are books that I would like to read based on online descriptions and, particularly, reviews from actual readers. What I’ve found in recent years, is that you get the best reviews not from book jackets or professional writers, but from real people, lots of them, who’ve taken the time to leave comments online that are sometimes pithy, sometimes eloquent but, as a whole (and given enough reviews), brutally honest. It was no surprise to me that what I ended up with was a list of books with Amazon ratings of 4 &1/2 to 5 stars. What was a surprise is the number of books this year I ended up choosing that are nonfiction. I found only two recently-released works of fiction I would like to put on this list, and I’ll begin with those. Happy reading!
I’m leading with Learning to Swear in America, by Katie Kennedy, because I love the premise and its everyday reviewers are calling it funny, delightful, touching, intelligent, charming and streams of other positive words. It’s actually a Young Adult crossover, science-based story about a Russian teenager come to America to help stop a deadly asteroid hurtling toward southern California. The boy genius and protagonist, Yuri, has to work with a group of mostly older men, thus the title, Learning to Swear in America. The book is just out, so not a ton of reviews yet, but so far, it’s chalking up raves and 5 stars.
Next is A Hundred Thousand Worlds: A Novel, by Bob Proehl. While I’m not a comic book fan, I’m intrigued by this coming of age story about a boy and his mom traveling cross-country (with a couple of friends) to various comic-cons. What better way to see superheroes than through the eyes of a child? By all accounts, it is well-written, and, ultimately, a story of endearing love between a mother and son.
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, by Mary Roach, is a wry look at attempts to tackle the unusual challenges military soldiers face, and already the book is a best seller. There are chapters on everything from hearing to heat, diarrhea to genital transplants, even one about repeated attempts to develop a shark repellent. Roach, the author of several other books, is adept at researching odd topics and delivering the information with her signature brand of dry humor.
The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee is another early best seller, a readable biography/history of those tiny yet all-important bits of information in DNA that make us unique. The book begins with Mukherjee’s own family history of mental illness and explores deep questions, including, If we manipulate genetics to eliminate issues, will we also end up changing who we are? There are so many implications—and possibilities. By telling a story with what is described as a beautiful narrative, Mukherjee moves past what might otherwise be a tedious look at DNA to create an intriguing biography of the microscopic yet miraculous gene.
Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening, by John Elder Robison is yet another science-related release (can you tell I love science?) More specifically, this is a memoir of Robison’s awakening from autism syndrome after brain treatments that allow him, for the very first time, to fully recognize and experience emotion. Robison’s response to the treatments, while not universal, provides hope for others living with autism. Reviewers say the memoir reads like a medical thriller, leaving you anxious to learn what the next treatment will bring.
And finally, Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul, the latest release from National Book Award Winner James McBride. A biography of The Godfather of Soul, the book takes you on a journey through interviews with Brown’s friends and collaborators who knew him as a man of contrasts: a musical perfectionist with an enormous creative flare, a neatnik as well as a hoarder, and a man who had many lovers yet battled loneliness. The title of the book comes from Brown’s own words. When he was asked why he never hung around after a performance, he said, in pure James Brown style, it was best to “Kill ‘Em and Leave.”
I hope you find these books of interest. Since they are new releases, they’re primarily available electronically or in hardcover, though not yet in paperback. If you’d like to recommend something you’ve enjoyed or can’t wait to read, leave a comment below, and may the rest of your summer be filled with many relaxing moments lost in a book.