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Bookstalking 201: Summer Reading for Adults

Last week, in Part I of this summer reading guide (written for pre-teens and teens), I confessed that I am a bookstalker. This is a person who follows people around bookstores and tells them what to read. Since writing this, several other bookstalkers have come out of the woodwork to tell me that I am not alone and that they, too, bookstalk strangers.

Why would someone do this? I can’t speak for the others; after all, they just might be crazy. However, I bookstalk because I am a little bit bossy and also pretty passionate about reading. I like to think that I can make the world a slightly better place, one book recommendation at a time.

I tend to use my superhuman book sense on kids, since they are less likely to harm me for butting into their reading life than adults are. Also, they are cuter than grown-ups and get excited about reading in a jump-up-and-down kind of way. However, with summer just around the corner, I sense some grown-ups are jumping up and down too. I figured you might as well do it with a good book in hand.

Ladies, I just read Kelly Corrigan’s memoir “The Middle Place” and I cried like a baby. Now that may not sound like a glowing recommendation, but it is. Oh, what a nice little read. Moving, real, and deeply personal, this one has it all. Do yourself a favor and read the essay about the power of female friendship included at the back of the book in the privacy of your own home. Unless you want to blubber in public, that is. My sister-in-law heard Corrigan read the essay in her own voice through an online version that I can’t wait to listen to myself.

Now, here’s the rest. “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is set on a small English island occupied by the Germans during World War II. In this poignant and witty tale, readers get to meet a wide variety of quirky and charming characters who pass the time of their occupation by forming a book group. This is not a traditional holocaust tale, but rather an interesting look at what life must have been like on the periphery of war.

For more historical fiction, try Geraldine Brook’s “Year of Wonders,” and Lisa See’s new novel, “Shanghai Girls” (to be released May 26th). For lighter, contemporary reading, grab Elin Hildebrand’s “A Summer Affair” (comes out in paperback June 1) and Jane Green’s “The Beach House,” both set in Nantucket. Can’t get there this summer, thanks to the economy? Sit at the town pool with a big straw hat and pretend you are out in ‘Sconset with these characters. And if you’d like to read about (and hopefully also be in) the Hamptons this summer, try Jane Green’s newest, “Dune Road,” to be released on June 16th. Read anything by Jodi Picoult and then give her books to your high school or college-aged daughter.

If you want to read along with me, I’m reading “The Help” by Katherine Stockett because, if for no other reason, a book that gets 5 stars based on 275 reviewers on Amazon deserves my attention. I’m also going to try and get my adult book club out of our leper-and-plague-infested-reading-rut (otherwise known as our “Great Books About Awful Things” phase) by suggesting that we read “Secrets to Happiness” by Sarah Dunn. This novel, about a New York City writer and divorcee, got a nice review in The New York Times Book Review last weekend. Also, according to Amazon, it contains “witty prose” and, although, bordering the chick-lit genre, “it’s smarter than the usual single-in-the-city fare, and funnier, too.”

If you want to read along with my husband Brett this summer, try the new Elmore Leonard book, “Road Dogs,” which came out earlier this month. “And, because we live in the suburbs, I’m interested in reading John Cheever’s new biography,” Brett adds. “You know it’s 800 pages long.” I interject.

“Revise that: I’m interested in reading some of “Cheever: A Life.””

Also on his list is “The Watchmen”, the graphic novel that inspired the movie and Micahel Chabon’s “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” which Brett calls “the sleeper hit of the summer.” It has also been turned into a movie, “though the book is much better than the movie is going to be, trust me,” Brett adds with uncharacteristic swagger. It’s about a recent college grad who does something to cross his gangster father. Hey – you can give it to your recent college grad!

Our friend Dave is reading “The Best Nonrequired Reading 2008,” put together by Dave Eggers, which he calls “a compilation of random nothing, actually,” and has just finished Adiga’s “The White Tiger,” a sarcastic critique of the inequity in Indian society, about a taxi driver and the corruption surrounding him. “All fiction. I used to read a lot of nonfiction but have lost the vibe recently,” he added. I can’t imagine why – reality these days being such fun! Escape, much?

There is also “City of Thieves,” about a man’s survival in Russia during World War II, based on stories told to the author by his grandfather, and “The Book Thief,” also set during World War II, which is already considered a modern classic. Anyone and everyone over the age of 14 should read it. No pressure. You just have to.

I’d like to take a moment to thank all the people who give me advice when I’m looking for my next great read, from my book groups to local librarians and booksellers to my mom and my friends. To be a good bookstalker, you have to know when to give advice and when to take it. You have to keep lists. You have to be open to the possibility of trying different genres and new authors. You have to have what I call a “balanced reading diet.” Sometimes you have a full meal and sometimes you just have a snack. Sometimes, you skip the protein altogether and just go straight to dessert. And that’s what summer reading is all about, if you ask me: sugary beach reads. Yum. So please, read something delicious, something you just want to devour. I think we all deserve a little indulgence this summer, don’t you?

If you want a more personalized list of titles, either for you or your children, just ask. After all, I’m always happy to bookstalk you.

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