Chick lit, mysteries, literary narratives, voluminous biographies, classics -- different readers have as many versions of what constitutes the ideal summer read as there are genres of books. Lonesome Dove would do it for many, The Brothers Karamazov or A Civil Action for others, Good in Bed for some.
What all readers would agree on, though, is what the perfect beach book must accomplish. It has to engross them, transport them, excite them. It has to make the whole vista of the beach disappear altogether and replace it with the vibrancy and vision of the writer. And it should fill a reader with regret when arriving at the last page, the forlorn realization that momentarily, he or she will be thrust from this dazzling, captivating world and cast back into the humdrum of his or her own.
Maybe this summer's offerings will provide just such experiences. Your summer may not call for a trip to the beach, that doesn't mean it must be without a beach book, one that in itself is a vacation to somewhere else, somewhere enriching or dangerous or enlightening. What follows is a list of some of the notable destinations coming up this summer. Are any of them beach books? That will be for you to decide.
by Sara Paretsky (Putnam Adult, 416 pages)
P.I. V.I. Warshawski returns in her 12th outing, this time, not in the paradise of California but the menacing environs of Southside Chicago, where she returns to fill in for her old high school basketball coach. Trouble either follows or precedes her as the devout son of a possible wealthy team benefactor goes missing and the mother of one of her players hires Warshawski to investigate sabotage at a flag manufacturer that then blows up before her eyes.
by Elizabeth Kostova. (Little Brown, 656 pages)
Here's the book that insiders predict will be the summer's surprise hit -- that is, if a book can be a surprise when a publisher has forked over $2 million to publish it and it rocketed to the top of best-seller lists even before its official release. Ten years in the writing by a first-time, 40-year-old novelist, it is a 600-page-plus literary vampire tale, as a young woman takes up her father's dangerous, cross- continental search to discover if the legendary Dracula is still out there satisfying his thirst.
A Long Way Down
by Nick Hornby. (Riverhead, 352 pages)
The author of the deeply satisfying, pop culture-savvy High Fidelity, Hornby returns with his fourth novel, which begins on New Year's Eve with four strangers running into each other on a London rooftop, all of them having separately planned to jump. How they got to that point and what they plan to do about it now that they have each decided to continue living (for the time being) is the seriocomic subject of this facile writer.
by Lee Child. (Delacorte, 384 pages)
Child resurrects his resolutely loner hero, Jack Reacher, the taciturn, one-time military police investigator, in another thriller. A gulf war vet with a bloody history well known to Reacher is accused of killing six people in an unnamed Indiana town. Reacher has no reason to believe the ex-soldier's protests of innocence, but goes to work on his behalf, uncovering layers of intrigue and culminating in an explosive finish.
by Michael Cunningham. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 320 pages)
As the doomed Virginia Woolf haunted Cunningham's tour de force The Hours, Walt Whitman is a pervasive presence in Cunningham's follow-up. The novel (also with three separate stories) about social decline in the face of technological advance is set in three different time periods (including the future).
The Survivor: President Clinton
and His Times
by John F. Harris. (Random House, 544 pages)
A year after Bill Clinton published his own autobiography comes the first major, nonpartisan consideration of his presidency. Written by a Washington Post reporter who covered the White House during the Clinton years, it is a dispassionate look at a politician of unsurpassed talents and irreparable flaws.
The Truth about Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President
by Edward Klein. (Penguin, 272 pages)
Already a favorite of the political right, this book by this once-respectable journalist skewers the former first lady, calling her a liar, a phony and quite possibly a lesbian to boot. If she decides to run for president, the gloves might really come off.
The Wonder Spot
by Melissa Bank. (Viking, 336 pages)
Here is the follow-up to Bank's best-selling 1999 debut, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing. Her second novel returns to familiar ground, following an endearing young woman haplessly but gamely stumbling along the slippery terrain of romance, family and career.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
by J.K. Rowling. (Scholastic, Inc., 672 pages)
There's Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and now there's Harry Potter Eve, too. This time around, that holiday-like event will be July 15. Kids around the globe will count down until midnight when their hero returns from a two-year intermission for the sixth installment of Rowling's earth-shaking publishing phenomenon. Professional snoops are already trying to purloin pre-publication copies of the book and rumors about the plot are percolating on the 'Net. Figure on a scary story, if for no other reason than Harry and his wizard friends are now deep into their teenage years.
Killing Yourself to Live:
85% of a True Story
by Chuck Klosterman. (Scribner, 256 pages)
A macabre and decidedly personal travelogue by journalist Klosterman, who visits scenes of famous rock 'n' roll deaths, from the Chelsea Hotel, where Sid Vicious died, to the Iowa cornfield where Buddy Holly's plane went down, to the Seattle house where Kurt Cobain shot himself.
No Country for Old Men
by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf, 320 pages)
The luminous McCarthy returns with a modern western in which welder Llewelyn Moss, while hunting antelope, stumbles across the bodies of several men, plus a stash of heroin and cash. He lights out with the money, drawing the attention of lawmen, drug dealers and one psychopathic killer. Lyrical, violent and ruminative, all at once.
The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad
by Stacy Horn. (Viking, 304 pages)
With unusual access and vivid writing, journalist Horn follows New York's cold case squad as it tries to solve four very different murders.
The Secret Man: The Story
of Watergate's Deep Throat
by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster,
Vanity Fair scooped Woodward on his own story, identifying the former No. 2 man at the FBI, W. Mark Felt, as "Deep Throat," the most renowned anonymous source in 20th-century journalism. Still, Woodward's own account of how he and Felt met and conducted themselves during Watergate promises an insider's view that no one else will be able to match; a mesmerizing, self-revealing preview ran in Woodward's Washington Post.
by Bebe Moore Campbell. (Knopf, 336 pages)
A mother copes with the deterioration of her brilliant, bipolar 18-year old daughter, confronting the resistance of medicine and insurance, the willful denial of an ex-husband, and the stigmas within the black community toward mental illness.
Until I Find You
by John Irving. (Random House, 848 pages)
A novelist both engrossing and exasperating, John Irving returns with an 848-page tome that is certain to inflame critics already appalled by his excess. But Irving's fans seem willing to endure any of his indulgences. In his newest, Irving exhaustively chronicles the life story of actor Jack Burns, the son of a tattoo artist mother and departed church-organist father. As an adult, Jack tries to piece together what happened in his own life, finding that his own memories are at odds with what he discovers. Typical of Irving, Until I Find You introduces an endless line of eccentric characters, tangled digressions and scenes of comic grotesquerie.
The Atomic Romance
by Bobbie Ann Mason. (Random House,
Radioactive contamination and love in the shadow of a nuclear power plant in Mason's first novel in more than a decade.
Moondust: In Search of the Men
Who Fell to Earth
by Andrew Smith. (HarperCollins, 320 pages)
A British journalist tracks down the astronauts in NASA's Apollo moon program to explore the history, meaning and legacy of one of America's most optimistic and courageous scientific ventures.
New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery
and Conspiracy in Eighteenth Century Manhattan
by Jill Lepore. (Knopf, 320 pages)
In 1741, at least 10 fires erupted in Manhattan, and in the panic that ensued, whites blamed a slave-rising conspiracy, leading to the hanging of 17 blacks, the burning at the stake of 13 and the exile of dozens more to the brutal Caribbean. Prize-winning historian Lepore explores the unrest and biases underlying the travesty.
The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford
and the American Century
by Steven Watts. (Knopf, 640 pages)
A biography of a mythic American whose vision fueled his nation's ascent to world dominance in the 20th century, and who himself represented both great beneficence and repugnant impulses.
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
by Marjane Satrapi. (Knopf, 187 pages)
Satrapi's sequel to her heart-rending graphic novel memoir about her upbringing in Iran during the Islamic Revolution continues her story with her fleeing to Vienna, where she struggles for identify in a strange, liberal society. Eventually, she returns to Iran, only to question whether the changes she has undergone will make it impossible for her to exist in her homeland.