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Summer reading guide: The 136 books you'll want to read
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Mark Haskell Smith bares all to live nudist life for 'Naked at Lunch'

Mark Haskell Smith wears clothes to meet a reporter at a Los Feliz café.

Smith, the author of "Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist's Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World" (Grove: 320 pp., $25), doesn't seem particularly amused by this observation. He says he's fielded his share of lame witticisms since he began his firsthand investigations into nudism. Throughout his time in a nude community in France, on a nude Alpine walking tour and on a nude cruise, he remained — as his subtitle proclaims — a reluctant nudist.

"Part of the fun of the book is seeing how awkward I am in my own skin when there's nothing to hide behind," he says.

Bearded and fair-skinned, Smith orders a latte and positions himself under an umbrella so that no sunlight falls on his bald head. He is so prone to sunburn that he consulted his dermatologist before embarking on his adventures and applied many layers of sunscreen along the way.

Raised in Kansas, he came to L.A. and broke into screenwriting in the 1990s. He...

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Lori Roy's skills impress in 'Let Me Die in His Footsteps'

Lori Roy's first two novels were nominated for Edgar Allan Poe Awards, with "Bent Road" taking the prize — the mystery equivalent of an Oscar — for best first novel. Her third novel, "Let Me Die in His Footsteps," is a hybrid of mystery, coming-of-age and Southern gothic literature, inspired by the last lawful public hanging in the United States. It continues her track record of dark, creepy excellence.

Annie Holleran has the know-how, a gift and curse that passes from mother to daughter. The know-how is an unstructured, nonspecific sort of clairvoyance, a sharpened awareness that's more country mystic than fantasy. She "feels things that aren't hers to feel" and "has a way of knowing how things will end before their end has come." She has inherited this gift not from her Mama Sarah but from Sarah's sister Juna Crowley, whom she and the rest of her town know to be her birth mother.

In 1952, she turns 151/2, the age of ascension in her rural Kentucky town, with a sense of premonition —...

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Neal Stephenson's 'Seveneves' is moonstruck by nerdiness

Neal Stephenson is amazing at beginnings and not so hot at endings, and his new novel, "Seveneves," has a marvelous opening sentence: "The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason." The reigning monarch of geek novelists since his 1992 cyberpunk sci-fi landmark, "Snow Crash," Stephenson specializes in coming up with arresting premises, then teasing out how science and technology would affect their outcome — which can be hard for him to reconcile with the needs of fiction.

After the moon breaks into seven pieces on the first page of "Seveneves" (at an unspecified time in the near future), scientists figure out that, in about two years, it will turn into a hail of meteors that will extinguish life on Earth. The first two-thirds of the book is a disaster thriller that's initially pushed upward like a rocket by that premise, then slowly settles into its own peculiar orbit.

The International Space Station becomes the centerpiece of a desperate attempt to keep the human race alive...

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J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and 'The Fellowship' of fantasy writers

In a pub in Oxford there lived some writers. Not nasty, dirty decadent writers, whose books were filled with intimations of sex and an oozy smell, nor yet dry, bare Modernists with a horror of heroics or fantastical things: These Oxford writers were Inklings, and that means heterosexual white male Christians who created some of the most enduring works of 20th century fantasy.

The pub was the Eagle and Child. In the decades since the Inklings first met inside its wood-paneled rooms, their faerie landscapes have become a pop cultural theme park on a global scale, encompassing Westeros, "World of Warcraft," Dungeons & Dragons, "Star Wars," Renaissance fairs and goth emporia. The most famous Inklings were J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but over the years the group included, among others, the anthroposophist poet-philosopher Owen Barfield, fantasist Charles Williams, Lewis' older brother Warren, known as Warnie, and, eventually, Tolkien's youngest son, Christopher.

The story of these literary...

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Daniel Clowes reflects on his 'Eightball' comics' evolution

When the first issue of Daniel Clowes' comic book "Eightball" was published in October 1989, Fantagraphics Books printed 3,000 copies, and Clowes was sure it would take about five years to sell them all. He was part of a small wave of upstart young cartoonists pumping out strange little humor pieces for a handful of adults-only anthologies. At the time, the larger popular culture was barely paying serious attention to any comics, let alone to work like his, pitched partway between high art, punk rock and MAD magazine.

Then the 1990s happened. By 1997, when the 18th issue of "Eightball" came out, Clowes estimates his circulation was around 25,000.

The rise of "Eightball" overlapped with the success of other alternative comics like Peter Bagge's "Hate" and Chris Ware's "Acme Novelty Library" as well as the dawn of Nirvana, Quentin Tarantino movies and "The Simpsons." Today, Clowes is one of the most respected of the "literary comics" creators, known for his graphic novels such as "Ghost...

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Summer reading guide: The 136 books you'll want to read

Another summer, another chance to draw up the perfect reading list to see you through those languid, sun-drenched days. Whether you’re stretched out by the pool or nestled in a coffee shop, clutching a hardcover, paperback or e-book, we’ve got more than enough titles to keep you reading through Labor Day.

Our summer books preview highlights 136 books to enjoy over the next few months, and beyond — thrillers, memoirs, YA, history, fiction, science fiction, pop culture, kids titles, audio books and more.

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