My Summer Reading

Every summer I choose one big, fat book, the thicker the better, and carry it wherever I go, to steal moments of reading pleasure in between the obligations of everyday life. At the ballpark waiting for practice to end, at the food court at the mall where my children shop, at a diner on the way back from dropping my daughter off at camp, I will open “Siete Novelas” by Alvaro Mutis, a collection of the great Colombian writer’s seven novels about Maqroll el Gaviero. My edition, published in paperback by Alfaguara, is 718 pages. By the end of the summer, it will be scratched, bent, stained with coffee, dirt and sweat. But I will have lived in Spanish for a few hours a day, as my life, in English, swirls around me.

Esmeralda Santiago is the author of “El Suen~o de America” (“America’s Dream”) and “When I Was Puerto Rican.”


This summer I will be rereading George Bernard Shaw for his champagne play on words and ideas.


Sidney Sheldon is the author of the international bestseller “‘The Other Side of Midnight” and, most recently, “The Best Laid Plans.”


For the good of my character, I’m going to reread Dostoevsky, something I’ve been planning to do for a long time, because surely I read him too young the first time, the way we read the classics too young. For a certain treat, I’m going to reread the novels of the French academician Jean Dutourd--in translation, lazily--especially “The Horrors of Love,” an enormous tour de force. Long enough to keep me going for quite awhile (664 pages), it takes place in 24 hours and consists entirely of a dialogue between two men taking a walk in Paris. It concerns the affair of a friend of theirs, a member of the Chamber of Deputies, so it’s a love story; there’s tragedy, murder, fascinating digressions--this is a great book, funny, wise--I know this sounds like a blurb. Then I’m going to read for the first time Dutourd’s “The Best Butter,” which someone important (I forget who) has called the greatest novel to come out of France about World War II. These and another of his works, “Pluche,” have been translated into English, and all are worth ransacking secondhand bookstores for.

Diane Johnson, novelist and critic, is author of “Health and Happiness” and, most recently, “Le Divorce.”



My new novel will have to do with environmentalism, ecology and the death of everything we know, so I’ve been reading thrillingly depressing books like Bill McKibben’s “The End of Nature” (third time); Carl Safina’s “Song for the Blue Ocean”; Alston Chase’s “Playing God in Yellowstone”; as well as E.O. Wilson’s charming “Naturalist” and the book that started it all, Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” For pure rollicking fun, I’ve got Redmond O’Hanlon’s demented travel narrative, “In Trouble Again”; David Quammen’s “Natural Acts” (nature essays); David Halberstam’s “The Fifties” (whatever happened to us way back then when I was learning to tie my shoes?); and James Baldwin’s “Collected Essays,” just out from the Library of America. In fiction, I’m doing a tag-team bout with Denis Johnson’s “Already Dead” and Don DeLillo’s “Underworld.” It’s a pile, I admit it, but of course my summer began in early May, when the semester ended at USC, so I’ve got a jump on everybody else.

The book I’m most looking forward to rereading this summer is Richard Leakey’s “The Sixth Extinction.” Why? Because I want to go down to the beach, spread out my towel and be depressed. No thrillers for me, no sci-fi, no romance, no travel. Nope. I want the hard-core, I want to be crushed with godlessness and the randomness of nature and natural selection. I want to be reminded that we are now in the midst of the greatest extinction of animal and plant species since the end-Cretaceous catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million year ago--that by some estimates, as many as 4,000 species a day are vanishing before our eyes, gone up in the sour smoke of habitat loss and over-plundering. It’s good to know just how effective my recycling of aluminum cans has been. But I’m not interested in sounding the death knell here for our 6 billion brothers and sisters, or of reminding everyone that we are not the crown of creation but just a random accretion of protoplasm, or that God is dead and Darwin too--I just want to go down to the beach, spread out my towel and be depressed. Sunshine? Who needs it. Waves? Bah!

T. Coraghessan Boyle is the author of numerous novels including, most recently, “Riven Rock.”



This summer: William Burroughs’ “Junky,” which I have been wanting to read for a long time, but in which endeavor I have been long delayed. I admire Burroughs’ hard-boiled early style, and I’m therefore particularly interested in this book. I’m also hoping to make my way through the Hawthorne canon, which I’ve been working on for more than a year, with particular attention to “The Blithedale Romance” and the American notebooks. Hawthorne’s symbolism is rich, but I’m more preoccupied with his style, which is both comic and ornate. The best new book of the summer, which I confess I’ve already read, is “Gain” by Richard Powers.

Rick Moody is the author of several novels, including “The Ice Storm” and “Purple America.”



I’m staying home this summer, and so my reading list is pretty American, except for “Ulysses,” which I started rereading for no reason last week. I’ve never really read it absolutely alone. This time I’m older than Stephen D. and it makes a difference. I like him better. I’ve outgrown my capacity to be intimidated (at least by him), and I’m left with a vague nostalgia for that particular brand of youthful arrogance I never had.

I’m going to read Robert Stone’s new novel and Richard Price’s. I read Eavan Boland’s and Adam Zagajewski’s new collection before bed.

On the low end side, because I can’t manage to buy a house in Los Angeles, I’m reading “Martha Stewart Living” as consolation--a common brand of female pornography. And in lieu of any major travel, in the car I’m listening to books on tape in French.

Mona Simpson is the author of “Anywhere But Here,” “The Lost Father” and “A Regular Guy.”



After a spring binging on too many novels, I’m looking forward to a summer of nonfiction, history in particular. First on the pile is Jacob Burckhardt’s “The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy,” which certainly isn’t the most modern history of the Renaissance one can find (it came out in 1860) and has many inaccuracies but remains--I gather--the most elegant and inspiring. I’m also planning to read Marshall Berman’s “All That Is Solid Melts Into the Air” and Modris Eksteins’ “The Rites of Spring,” both of which try to define the rise of that elusive concept, modernity. If there’s any time left over, I’ll read Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"--but I suspect autumn, or even the millennium, will be with us by then.

Alain de Botton is the author of “How Proust Can Change Your Life.”



This summer I’m rereading the stories in “The William Saroyan Reader” (Barricade Books) and am forever haunted by the last sentence of his great early story, “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze,” when the young Saroyan anticipated the fate of writers and everybody: “The Earth circled away, and knowing that he did so, he turned his lost face to the empty sky and became dreamless, unalive, perfect.”

And then for fun, for gossip, and for the horror, the horror! I’m reading “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” Peter Biskind’s account of the fate of the young film directors of the ‘70s.

Herbert Gold is the author, most recently, of “She Took My Arms as If She Loved Me.”



I am looking forward to rereading two books, mainly because I want to properly savor them both again. The first is “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt. I sort of swallowed this book in one big gulp. I was amazed that a story of a poverty-stricken Irish family and their daily lives could so enthrall, and it had extraordinary suspense. Now I want to reread it more slowly.

The second book I want to reread is “The Memoirs of Cleopatra” by Margaret George. George is one of my favorite writers, and I love her historical novels. She writes real page-turners. The detail is, as always, extraordinary, and I want to be transported back one more time to Ancient Egypt in all its glory.

Barbara Taylor Bradford is the author of 14 novels. “Power of a Woman” is her most recent.



My idea of high-on-the-hog summer living is to wind up at any outdoor bistro in mid-Paris to settle in with a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night.” You don’t need Paris, of course, to have it proven all over again that Fitzgerald’s sense of place and character raise him above most of the writers of his Age. I have read the novel eight or nine times now, suffering envy even as I bask in his genius. If you can’t take the book to Paris, Monterey or La Jolla will do nicely. But Paris couldn’t hoit.

Ray Bradbury is the author of numerous books and short stories, including “Fahrenheit 451" and “The Illustrated Man.” He was awarded the Los Angeles Times 1997 Robert Kirsch Award for a writer residing in the American West.


Since reading is my occupation as well as my pleasure, I don’t take note of the seasons. But I do have a summer house in Maine and there, with no current books around, I happily reread each year what is at hand: “The Leopard” by Lampedusa, a bit water soaked from having once been stored in the basement, and Gogol’s “Dead Souls” in good Modern Library condition.


Elizabeth Hardwick is the author of several books, including “Sight Readings: American Fictions,” to be published in July by Random House.


I’m looking forward to reading Robert Pinsky’s fascinating bilingual translation of Dante’s “Inferno.” I’ll be spending the summer in New York, and I hope Dante will tell me a few things about how to deal with a heat even more unbearable than the City in August, as well as the lustful, the spenders and hoarders, the seducers and panderers, and the wrathful and sullen.

Susan Cheever is the author of “A Woman’s Life: The Story of an Ordinary American & Her Extraordinary Generation.”