Top Five Summer Reads: Yours and Ours

Monday, May 30, 2011 - 01:00 PM

Headed to the beach? Going on vacation? As summer kicks into gear, so does our summer reading conversation.Over the next three months we're recommending beach reading for our listeners and then talking to the authors behind the books. In June we're having producers pick the books, followed by Celeste Headlee's picks during July and John Hockenberry's choices in August.

But what about you? Check out these Top Five reading lists from our guests, and add your own! You can also join the conversation with us on Twitter. Include "#TakeawayReads" as you tweet your lists and we'll publish your picks here.  

Host John Hockenberry offers up three on his list (we'll be exploring his full list later this summer):

1."Man Gone Down" by Michael Thomas.

2."The Pale King" by David Foster Wallace.

3."Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"by James Joyce (re-reading).


Host Celeste Headlee gives us her Top Five list with descriptions:

1."The Tiger's Wife" by Tea Obreht. The story of a deaf-mute woman who befriends an escaped tiger is just one of the threads that is woven into this intricate tale of family, secrecy and myth in former Yugoslavia.  An amazing debut novel.
2."Blood Harvest"by S.J. Bolton. A book about a claustrophobic village that borders a dismal English moor in which a family of newcomers builds their home on top of a graveyard — sounds predictable, right?  But this thriller doesn't need gore or shock value to keep you on the edge of your seat.
3."Nothing Daunted" by Dorothy Wickenden. More than just a story about two strong, smart spirited women, more than an eloquent portrait of a forgotten time in America when the west was still very wild - this book is breaks my "summer is for fiction" rule, but when non-fiction is this fun, it's worth throwing in your beach bag.
4."State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett. Patchett calls this a kind of "Heart of Darkness story," complete with imperial Amazonian women, poison arrows and native cannibals.  This is really about the complicated and dramatic journal of a new drug from theory to drugstore, but the sights and sounds along the way make it totally compelling.
5."The Paris Wife: A Novel" by Paula Mclain. I have to admit that I'm not a fan of Hemingway's writing, but I totally enjoy reading about the 20-year-old passionate groom.  The story is told in the voice of Hemingway's first wife, who is not all that admirable as a role model, but recreates 1920's Paris with affection and careful research.


Louise Story, Takeaway contributor and New York Times Wall Street and finance reporter, provides her summer reading picks: 

1."The Gods of Greenwich" by Norb Vonnegut. 

2."The Bonfire of the Vanities"by Tom Wolfe (rereading).

3."The Privileges: A Novel" by Jonathan Dee.

4."How I Caused the Credit Crunch" by Tetsuya Ishikawa. 

5."The Financiers" by Theodore Dreiser.

Jason Boog, publishing editor at Mediabistro and editor of publishing blogs and

1. "Go the F**k to Sleep" by Ricardo Cortéz. A profane children's book aimed at adults. It's already a bestseller at Amazon and it's not even out yet! 

2. "State of Wonder"by Ann Patchett. A suspenseful Heart of Darkness-style story for the 21st Century, exploring the dark side of a pharmaceutical company working on a drug deep in the jungles of the Amazon.

3. "Kurt Vonnegut: Novels & Stories, 1963-1973." A Library of America collection from a great writer writing the best work of his life. 

4. "Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base" by Annie Jacobsen. The utterly crazy story behind the most conspiracy-laden place in America.

5. "The Snowman" By Jo Nesbø. Everybody calls him the next Stieg Larsson. But he's always been better!  


Patrik Henry Bass, Takeaway contributor and senior editor at Essence magazine.

1. "The Submission: A Novel" by Amy Waldman.

2. "The Kid" by Sapphire. 

3. "Long Drive Home" by Will Allison. 

4. "The Girl with the Sturgeon Tattoo: A Parody" by Lars Arffssen. 

5. "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde.


Daniel H. Wilson, author of "Robopocalypse: A Novel," a science fiction story about the coming war between man and machines.   

1. "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline.

2. "Embassytown" by China Mieville. 

3. "The Devil All The Time" By Donald Ray Pollock.

4. "Fuzzy Nation" by John Scalzi.

5. "Feed" By M.T. Anderson. 

Helon Habila, author of "Oil on Water: A Novel."

1. "One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir" by Binyavanga Wainaina

2. "Waiting for the Barbarians" by J.M. Coetzee

3. "The Tiger's Wife" by Tea Obreht

4. "In a Strange Room" by Damon Galgut

5. "Dogs at the Perimeter"  by Madeleline Thein


Jo Ann Beard, author of "In Zanesville: A Novel."

  1.  "Wild Punch" by Creston Lea. Short stories by a guitar-maker from Vermont. I love the way this guy writes about animals, especially the human ones. 
  2. "The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore" by Benjamin Hale. Memoirs of a chimpanzee:  The author melded himself so successfully into the primate’s point of view that I had already read the first ten pages before I could get out of the bookstore.
  3. "Townie" by Andre Dubus III. The evolution of an American novelist:  A memoir from the author of The House of Sand and Fog, about growing up mean on the streets of a Massachusetts mill town.
  4.  "The Driftless Area" by Tom Drury. I began my summer with Drury’s "The End of Vandalism" and will end it with this novel, by a master of laconic, Iowa wit and sharp, elliptical dialogue.
  5. "Essays from the Nick of Time" by Mark Slouka. Slouka is a dazzling essayist. This collection, sitting on the corner of my desk, gives me a sense of impending joy.


Tea Obreht, author of “The Tiger’s Wife.” 

1. “A Moveable Feast” and “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. When summer rolls around, I have a tendency to gravitate back to the books I read during summers past, books that have strong associations for me. Somehow, that inevitably includes either A Moveable Feast or The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway---depending, of course, on whether I end up on a beach or urban holiday.

2. “Queen of Kings” by Maria Dahvana Headley. The only disadvantage of reading Maria Dahvana Headley's Queen of Kings before its scheduled publication earlier this year was being stripped of enjoying it as a summer literary blockbuster. Blending magic, history and a delightful pantheon of monstrosities, Queen of Kings turns the Cleopatra story on its head, delivering a new legend that's not for the faint-of-heart.  

3.”To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. I'm not sure when I stopped experiencing Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird as a mere school read and recognized that it was a true masterpiece I wanted to learn from and read again and again. Perhaps it was the sweltering claustrophobia of small-town Maycomb, or the nostalgia of childhood phantoms and fears, or my ability to finally tap into Scout's admiration of her father Atticus that combined to make it an absolute summer must for me.


S.J. Bolton, author of “Blood Harvest."

  1. "Tolstoy and the Purple Chair" by Nina Sankovitch. The author read, and reviewed, a book a day for a whole year as a way of coming to terms with personal grief; this book is her account of that extraordinary journey.
  2. "Dexter is Delicious" by Jeff Lyndsay. The Superhero Serial-killer has to be one of the most original ideas in crime writing; these books are beautifully constructed, packed with pace and darkly hilarious.
  3. "The Distant Hours" by Kate Morton. In the true tradition of the classic gothic novel, The Distant Hours is said to be spellbinding, haunting and totally engrossing.
  4. "Started Early, Took My Dog" by Kate Atkinson. Crime writing that is sharp and original, entertaining rather than terrifying, and sprinkled with Dickensian wit and wisdom; I love Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels. 
  5. "The Enchanted April" by Elizabeth Von Armin. Four women vacation together in an Italian castle; universally loved since its publication in 1922 this has to be the perfect romantic summer read.

Check back with us as we add more Top Five lists, and put yours in the comments section! 


Patrik Henry Bass and Jason Boog


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Comments [7]

Irma from Delray Beach, FL

The Bridge at San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder's masterpiece. A thin book that you will want to read slowly, savoring his use of language, meeting characters like none you have ever met before and a great deal to think about at the end. Read it once and you will want to read it again and again.

Jun. 13 2011 10:00 AM
Dale H. from Brooklyn, NY

I'm reading right now what I consider to be a quintessential summertime book: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.

Per Wikipedia:

Dandelion Wine is a 1957 semi-autobiographical novel by Ray Bradbury, taking place in the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois — a pseudonym for Bradbury's childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. The novel developed from the short story "Dandelion Wine" which appeared in the June 1953 issue of Gourmet magazine.

The title refers to a wine made with dandelion petals and other ingredients, commonly citrus fruit. In the story, dandelion wine, as made by the protagonist's grandfather, serves as a metaphor for packing all of the joys of summer into a single bottle.

The main character of the story is Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old boy loosely patterned after Bradbury. Most of the book is focused upon the routines of small-town America, and the simple joys of yesteryear.

Jun. 09 2011 07:13 PM
Amy from New York

"56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports" by Kostya Kennedy

This is a super story about the still unbroken, icon-making achievement of Joe DiMaggio in the summer of 1941, when he hit safely in 56 games. It's a dynamite reporting and storytelling job by a senior editor/writer at Sports Illustrated. I loved the expert testimony---including his brother Dom's--and previously unknown revelations about Joe and his coterie of supporters and family, as well as Kennedy's suspenseful game descriptions and talented prose. Grab it.

Jun. 07 2011 12:38 PM
drora from North NJ

Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit (or Hard Times or Martin Chazzlewit or Our Mutual Friend - all the less popular Dickens novels. They are hard to put down once one starts reading them - or listening to them on library downloads, as I will be this summer.

(And apropos, how about a discussion about eaudiobooks? One can lie on the beach or walk their dog or hike up a mountain and listen to a favorite novel on their MP3 player.)

Jun. 07 2011 08:07 AM
Rami from NYC

Gray Wolves and White Doves by John Balian

In a remote Turkish village, young Hanna's days are filled with merry adventures fueled by his father's tales of wonder and heroism. Meanwhile, his nights are spent in frightful vigil with his mother, as squads of brigands stalk the village defended by only his father and fellow villagers. Despite this precarious existence, Hanna can imagine no other home... until an unimaginable tragedy strikes and life as he knows it abruptly ends. As his family splinters apart, Hanna is thrust into an odyssey of lurking dangers, dashed hopes and thwarted ambitions. He finds refuge in a seminary in Jerusalem, where, now known as Jonah, he can cherish his heritage and new identity. Yet this sanctuary is also snatched away when Jonah finds himself caught in the crossfire of the Holy City's unholy wars. Banished back to Istanbul, Jonah narrowly escapes a campaign of purges by the feared Turkish secret service. Resorting to a fugitive subsistence in foreign lands, a despondent Jonah is recruited by his former rival to join a clandestine group. With the specter of a hellish existence in a Turkish prison as a constant threat, Jonah must choose between abandoning his principles to carry out a barbaric mission to exact revenge, or find a new path to pursue an improbable dream in the New World. Steeped in ancient rituals, Middle Eastern traditions and modern intrigue, Gray Wolves and White Doves is a unique, captivating story of a child's search for self amid rekindled feuds and the turmoil of a changing world.

Jun. 06 2011 09:44 AM
JD from Pittsburgh

The title is the Picture of Dorian Gray not the Portrait of Dorian Gray - it really irks me when people get the title wrong - especially when someone is supposed to be an expert on books/literature!!!

Jun. 03 2011 08:30 AM
Daniel Keough from Ithaca, NY

Summer read:

I'm enjoying Jonathan Safran Foer's: "Eating Animals" it has been very insightful and important for me to find out where our food comes from.

Jun. 02 2011 06:52 AM

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