May 27, 2016
Readers, grab your bookmarks.
Maybe it's the sound of ocean waves, or all that vacation time many of us save up for this time of year, but summer kicks off beach-read season as much as it does bikini season. If your eyes aren't checking out the person on the towel next to you, they're ogling the jacket of the book in their hands.
In the spirit of creating the ultimate Philly-curated summer reading list, we ask some of Philadelphia's most thoughtful comedians, novelists, playwrights, coaches, historians, brewers, businesswomen, fashionistas, politicians and more which books will be occupying their brains on the beach this summer — starting with five picks from the city's biggest cheerleader for reading, Free Library of Philadelphia President Siobhan Reardon.
Why I Picked It: This book was recommended by my friend Beth Weinstein a long time ago — she said it was one of her most favorite books. "Imagining Argentina" is about the Dirty War in 1970s Buenos Aries Argentina where the military government abducted just about everyone opposed to their rule. The book was made into a film in 2003 by Christopher Hampton. As a college student in the late ’70s, this was a subject I studied and wrote about.
Book: "Havana Nocturne," by T.J. English
Why I Picked It: Continuing with my literary tour of Latin/South America (not that these were welcome topics in either country!), I decided it was time to read another one of those books on my shelf. I have often read and heard about Cuba in the 1950s and, since I happen to like T.J. English’s writing, I thought this would be a good reconnection with that period — particularly that period when Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky collide with the likes of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
Why I Picked It: So, believe it or not, I’ve never read an Agatha Christie novel! Yes, yes and 'Oh the horror,' etc.! In the board room just outside my office there is a collection of books gifted to the [Free Library] by Catherine Drinker Bowen — among them was this Agatha Christie. I said to myself, 'I should read that.' So, here goes!
Book: "Bruno, Chief of Police," by Martin Walker
Why I Picked It: This book was recommended to me by Willo Cary of WHYY fame. It’s exactly the kind of book meant for summer reading — lighthearted, fun, quirky. Bruno is the first installment in a series that follows the exploits of Benoit Courreges, a policeman in a small French village where the rituals of the café still rule. Bruno — as he is affectionately nicknamed — may be the town’s only municipal policeman, but in the hearts and minds of its denizens, he is the chief of police.
Why I Picked It: This book comes highly recommended by Andy Kahan and Sandy Horrocks on the [Free Library] External Affairs staff as well as my husband Jim Reardon. What we all love about the book is the premise — the story of a young boy, “Little Onion,” born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade, and who must pass as a girl to survive. James McBride is a brilliant writer, and it is his ability to develop his characters and the specificity of detail throughout the book that make it an engaging read.
Book: "Street Fight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution," by Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow
Why I Picked It: This book offers an important perspective on a pressing issue within cities today: fostering shared space in an urban landscape.
Why Picked I Picked It: Somebody recommended it to me, and it’s really a book of great teamwork by the 1936 University of Washington crew team. They went to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and as much as it’s about a team sport — truly a team sport — as crew is, where all the oars have to be in the water at the same time, and truly working as a team, it is also an exposé of what the times were like in the early- to mid-’30s. How tough times were with the depression, but also Hitler’s dominance in Germany and trying to take over the world, as it were. It’s really a book about sport, but also about the times.
Book: "One Crazy Summer," by Rita Williams Garcia
Why I Picked It: Rita Williams Garcia writes in a way that sounds like a kid; she writes with a kid voice. Her writing is both fun and accessible.
Why I Picked It: Sam and Ben co-host a great baseball podcast called “Effectively Wild,” which I started listening to while I was pining for baseball during the long winter. They are both baseball writers and commenters who focus on Sabermetric analysis — the nerdy approach we more casual fans first heard about in "Money Ball." They were given the opportunity to take over the operations department of the Sonoma Stompers, an independent league baseball team in Sonoma, California. This book is the story of how they applied some of their unconventional Sabermetric based theories to a very conventional team. Sam and Ben are very entertaining, funny and thoughtful, so I’m really looking forward to diving into it!
Why I Picked It: I am a huge fan of Jason's young adult novels. The emotional complexity of his characters and how they cope with contemporary issues is always thought-provoking and engaging. I am excited to see what he has in store for slightly younger readers in his middle-grade debut, "As Brave as You." Also, the main characters have to survive the summer without the internet and I think there might be a life lesson for all of us in that!
Why I Picked It: Barton's the author of "The Testament of Yves Gundron," a 2000 novel of great charm and originality, about a mysterious island off the coast of Scotland cut off from human society. Her new novel again plays with imaginary history, but with what promises to be a much darker effect. It speculates that the Khazar nation, heirs to a fabled Jewish empire that sprawled across Central Asia in the Middle Ages, survived into the 20th century — only to face annihilation by the Nazis. I expect an utterly compelling saga, a story about family and a meditation on history and identity.
Why I Picked It: I was lucky enough to obtain an advanced copy of this book at Book Expo America. It comes out in [August]. There's a lot of wrestler books out there. They range from barely coherent to excellent and fully detailed, as if the wrestler was planning on writing the book their whole life. Pat's story is really beautiful. It's a unique first-person look at being a gay person in the 1960s and also a beautiful love story. Not to mention: Wrasslin'!
Why I Picked It: Donna Karan was a true trailblazer when she launched her brand of seven easy mix-and-match pieces in the mid-'80s, creating the modern working women's wardrobe. Not only was she talented, but she also had a great team behind her. Interested in reading about her personal journey as a mother, entrepreneur and fashion icon along with her ability to build a fashion empire and then reinvent herself as a philanthropist with her Urban Zen initiative.
Why I Picked It: We had [Amy] as a speaker and I didn’t get a chance to finish her book. I really enjoy reading books by social scientists; she is the No. 2 TED Talk speaker in the world with "Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges." It's about her research on the science underlying the fascinating mind-body effects.
Why I Picked It: I saw it recently on a bookstore shelf and have long wanted to dig deeper into the topic of psychogeography. As someone who loves to wander and explore places of all types, this topic seemed like a good one for me to get to know, and this book looks like a great primer.
Why I Picked It: I first came across Waugh in college and loved his earlier satiric works. ("A Handful of Dust" being my favorite.) Now I'm moving on to his most famous work, which is more loving and somber. And the Oxford chapters are so sumptuous and decadent! The book is from a time lost in England before the austerity of the Second World War.
Why I Picked It: Betsy Ross has been an American icon for more than a century, lauded as the Founding Mother who responded to a request by George Washington to stitch the first stars and stripes. But, over the years, many historians have scoffed at this story begun by Betsy’s descendants, and they have declared that her role, and the Betsy Ross House, are better described as embroidered legend rather than historical truth. Historian Marla Miller sets the record straight by exploring who the real Betsy Ross was. With her fascinating and deeply researched biography, we meet a woman who ran a business as an upholsterer, who did make flags (whether the first or not may never be known), who survived three husbands, raised children, rebelled against her family and England, and serves as that all-too-rare example of a revolutionary woman who lived during tumultuous times. The book is a must-read for lovers of women’s history. So too is a visit to the Betsy Ross House, which offers a compelling way to discover more about this remarkable woman.
Why I Picked It: My friend and colleague, the Philadelphia poet Thomas Devaney, loaned me a copy of "Djbot Baghostus's Run," which is the second volume in the trilogy collected in "From a Broken Bottle," so I've actually started in the middle of a trilogy. Djbot is an epistolary novel about a musician writing to someone named Angel of Dust about the struggles of his band to find a drummer after the women in the band communicate in a very complicated musical number that the drummer must also be a woman. I have absolutely never read anything like this. I just read a very funny joke in a novel called "The Sellout" by Paul Beatty (that's one that should go on everybody's list) and the joke was about a teacher who compared everything to jazz. But these books are like jazz. Like free jazz. Like really, really out-there free jazz — and really precise and particular. I'm on the hunt for fiction with unconventional structures that isn't pretentious or inconsequential. Fiction by people primarily known as poets (Mackey won the National Book Award for his poetry) often fits this bill. Anyway, when I finish with these, I'll get down to his poetry.
Book: "From Sun to Sun: A Hospice Nurse Reflects on the Art of Dying," by Nina Angela McKissock
Why I Picked It: See my review.
Why I Picked It: The chair of the FringeArts board of directors Richard Vague is a voracious reader. He writes a daily newsletter called Delancey Place, in which he outlines a book and pulls a salient quote. "Brown is the New White" is at the top of my list because as a curator, it's vitally important that I understand the changing demographics of our city, to ensure that our programming is for all — not the few.
Why I Picked It: Obviously this is a timely book based on the presidential campaign, and I've been going back and forth between the idealism/socialism of Bernie and Hillary's ... practicality, for lack of a better word. (Trump, of course, is the Devil incarnate). The book really takes apart the Democrats, and blows up the whole "Where we are today was inevitable based on globalism, technology, etc.," argument, pointing out that many of the dire circumstances we face as a country were the result of intentional choices by Clinton and, later, Obama himself. It's an eye-opening reading for liberals, and helps you understand why so many "middle class" people have turned away from the party and moved right into Trump's slimy tentacles.