Summer Reading 2012: 10 New Must-Read Books

Whether you're at the beach or in a sweaty city, a book can help you beat the heat ... or at least, pass the time in the heat. We've put together the hottest reads to look out for this summer. Let the beach reading begin. 

1) Home (by Toni Morrison; fiction) -- in stores now

What it's about: A Korean War veteran, Frank Money, disturbed by the racial, economic, and psychological oppression of his situation, lives consumed by violent memories. To help his medically abused younger sister, Money must return to his small Georgia hometown; a place he's hated for his entire life. Childhood and wartime memories shake Frank's sense of self, but help him on a path to renewal.

Why it's hot: The Nobel laureate's 10th novel explores Morrisonian themes of memory, race, and how the traumatic past shapes present life. But Home filters these themes through a male war veteran, who deals with alternate questions of masculinity and moral identity. Her latest novel packs an epic Odysseyian journey into only 160 pages.

 

2) Bring up the Bodies (by Hilary Mantel; fiction) -- in stores now

What it's about: Mantel's Man Booker-winning Wolf Hall explores the relationship between the politics of 1520's Tudor England, and the twisted psychology of Thomas Cromwell -- a manipulative son of a blacksmith with ambitions to reform English politics for his own self-interest. The sequel Bring up the Bodies explores the deadly fate of Anne Boleyn. Anne fails to bear a son, leading her husband King Henry to disregard her and pursue Jane Seymour. Cromwell, now Chief Minister to Henry VII, must navigate the sexual politics of the court for Henry.

Why it's hot: Mantel's first work of historical fiction is known for reinventing Tudor England to reveal truths about modern society. Her second book is expected to transport readers in the same way.

 

3) The Chemistry of Tears (by Peter Carey; fiction) -- to be released on May 15

What it’s about: Catherine Gehrig, conservator at the Swinburne museum in London, is tortured with grief about the death of her secret lover. To give her alone time, her boss, the only person who knows of her affair, gives her a project to restore an old toy robot. As she works on the machine, Catherine reads notebooks written by the original owner, a 19th-century Englishman who traveled to Germany to use the robot as a magical recreation of life for his son. Through stories about the cruel inventor, Catherine deals with questions of life, death, and the double-edged sword of human invention. 

Why it’s hot: Set during the Gulf oil crisis, and similar to The Invention of Hugo Cabret -- which inspired the Oscar-winning film Hugo -- The Chemistry of Tears addresses questions about the powers and limits of human creation at a time that calls for such critical examination. Carey, a two-time Booker Prize winner adored by critics, is expected to deliver a comedic, eccentric, yet believable and moving story. 

 

4) Dream of the Celt (by Mario Vargas Llosa; fiction) - to be released on June 5

What it’s about: In 1916, Irish nationalist Roger Casement was hanged by the British government for treason. His charge came from his comparison of the injustices faced by Africans in the American colonies to the way the British treated people in Northern Ireland. In this novel, Vargas Llosa resurrects the life and work of the almost forgotten man.

Why it’s hot: His first novel translated into English since Vargas Llosa won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, Dream of the Celt will give English-speaking readers a fresh example of his provocative political fiction.

 

5) The Red House (Mark Haddon; fiction) -- to be released on June 12

What it's about: A newly married doctor invites his estranged sister and her family to vacation with his family in the English countryside. Told over seven days, The Red House contains twists and revelations that complicate the family dynamic.

Why it's hot: Following his hugely popular Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Haddon's new novel is bound to delight with the same inventive narration. He jumps between each character's vantage point to allow the reader to empathize and understand the modern family with energy, wit, and sensitivity.

 

6) Between the Lines (Jodi Picoult & daughter Samantha van Leer; fiction) -- to be released on June 26

What it's about: Delilah is a bookworm who always reads one book, a fairy tale called Between the Lines, in order to spend time with the brave, adventurous protagonist Prince Oliver. One day, Oliver actually speaks to her. He is frustrated with his literary life and predetermined fate in the storybook. The two try to get Oliver to enter the real world, dealing with questions of fate and reality, and falling in love along the way.

Why it's hot: As Picoult's first-ever YA novel, it's bound to offer a more nuanced portrait of romance than often provided for teens. Co-written by her daughter Samantha, who created the idea, the novel will be buoyed by the youthfulness of a fairytale invented by a teenage girl herself. For the teenage girl in your family - or in you (I see you, TwiMoms).

 

7) NW (Zadie Smith; fiction) - to be released on September 4

What it’s about: In Northwest London, the Caldwell housing estate stands as one of the last remains of 1970’s urban planning. Five identical housing blocks -- Hobbes, Smith, Bentham, Locke, and Russell -- house children who were meant to move onto a better life. The novel follows five ex-Caldwell siblings who live in separate worlds in isolation. One afternoon, a stranger approaches one of them and sucks them back into the world of their childhood. 

Why it’s hot: In her first novel since 2005’s On Beauty, Smith explores the interplay of private and public life in modern London. As her last novel generated major buzz, and is slated for HBO series adaptation in the near future, her forthcoming tragicomedy is expected to deliver laughs and twists at the pace of a city itself.

 

 8) Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (by Steve Coll; non-fiction) -- in stores now

What it's about: Private Empire tells the story of the largest and most powerful private corporation in the United States, ExxonMobil. The company spends more than any other corporation on lobbying, and has more power in politics and security than the U.S. embassy. Coll investigates its history from the Exxon Valdez incident in 1989, to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf in 2010. He shows how the oil powerhouse effects the entire world through dramatic episodes of kidnappings, civil wars, and high politics at the Kremlin. He brings the reader inside the corporation headquarters in Irving, Texas where the "God Pod" controls an elusive corporate culture.

Why it's hot: Reviewers have praised the first critical investigation of ExxonMobil for its penetrating reporting and masterful, literary telling. His characterizations of top executives such as Lee "Iron Ass" Raymond and a larger cast of world leaders, dictators, guerillas, and scientists bring the story to life.

 

9) A Wedding in Haiti (Julia Alvarez; non-fiction) -- in stores now

What it’s about: In her memoir, Alvarez and her husband meet a Hatian boy named Piti in 2001. He is a teenager crossing the border into the Dominican Republic to find work. Moved by his courage and energy, Julia treats him like a son. When Piti invites her to his wedding in 2009, Julia is drawn into the neighboring country that she had never known. Alvarez explores the personal experiences of poverty in what used to be the richest French colony.

Why it’s hot: Known for exploring Dominican culture, Alvarez dives into Haiti and portrays the complex day-to-day experience of a country wrecked by poverty, yet rich in cultural and social history. Through her personal narrative and broader observation of the society, Alvarez has won praise for humanizing the story of the Haitian people with compassion and humor.

 

10) A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful (Gideon Lewis-Kraus; non-fiction) -- in stores now

What it's about: Lewis-Kraus is living wild and free in Berlin. But then he takes a friend's drunken invitation to join him on an ancient pilgrimage route across Spain -- El Camino de Santiago. Through the Spanish pilgrimage, a solo trek to 88 Buddhist temples on the Japanese island of Shikoku, and the annual mass migration to the tomb of a famous Hasidic mystic in the Ukraine, Lewis-Kraus explores the relationship between the past and the present, as well as struggles to understand the fight between discipline and desire.

Why it's hot: This memoir is perfect for wanderlusting millenials who long for adventure as a means of self-exploration. It's Eat, Pray, Love for a younger, more restless generation told by a hilarious, thought-provoking narrator. A great graduation gift for 2012.

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