Summer book bag recommendations

May 2, 2012

Al Gini, Mary Dempsey and Stanley G. Robertson

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Ed. note: Former Chicago Public Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey and Ink Spot host Stanley G. Robertson will join Al Gini and Steve Edwards on Wednesday's Afternoon Shift to share some titles that they're looking forward to cracking this summer.

Al Gini's Picks:

It’s summertime. Time to sit on the front porch, in the backyard, at the beach, on a plane or on a train – and read a book! In honor of summer, let me offer seven books that I found interesting, pleasurable and fascinating this year:

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Green’s book is at the very top of my list, both because of the topic he deals with and the clarity of his prose. This is supposed to be a book for young readers; I think it should be required of all readers. It’s about kids wanting to be kids, kids wanting to be normal: to find love and be happy. But these are kids with cancer! Don’t be fooled, this is not a depressing book, nor is it actually a book about cancer. It’s a book about the basic human need to seek love and cope with the world. It’s about living life fully and having real hope.

Yiyun Li, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl
Wonderful stories, beautiful words – Ms. Li breaths real life, a real voice and soul, into each of her characters.  There’s a reason why this new literary star has won so many awards and Random House has signed her to a two-book contract: Ms. Li has talent and understands the impact and the import of words.  All of this is made more special by the fact that Li is a native Chinese speaker who only began to learn English in middle-school.  Like Joseph Conrad, who thought in Polish but wrote in English, Yiyun Li gives voice to her visions in an adopted tongue. But in any language, she’ a person of depth and talent. Gold Boy, Emerald Girl is this spring’s selection for Chicago Public Library’s One Book, One Chicago program – a worthwhile choice.

Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son
This novel is a combination of The Prisoner of Zenda, The Bird Man of Alkatraz and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It’s the story of a North Korean man living in a state where reality is defined by those in charge. He’s an individual living in a society that believes in Goebbels “theory of the big lie,” and Machiavelli’s commitment to the “pursuit of power at any cost.” While Johnson’s work reads like science fiction, it’s really a metaphor for real-world politics inside a totalitarian state. You’ll be captivated. (Pun intended!)

Penelope Lively, How It All Began
This is a very proper, very English account of middle class Londoners, told compellingly in real-time. This particular group is touched by a random act that happens to one of the characters. The book is about how chance -- little mistakes, turning right rather than left -- can change our lives forever, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.  The characters are alive, real and easily relatable. Oh yes -- it’s also very, very funny!

Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Nairobi Heat
After the murder of a young student in Madison, Wisc., the only black detective in town follows the case’s trail all the way to Kenya. This is a story of murder, genocide, do-gooders-- and fundraisers. The best part of the novel is the main character, Detective Ishmael, who discovers not just the killer, but Africa and himself in the course of the novel. If you like Nairobi Heat, you’re not alone; sales have been terrific, so expect the next Detective Ishmael novel soon.

Lily Tuck, I Married You For Happiness
This novel is not for the faint of heart, or for those who cry easily. A man goes into the bedroom to take a nap before dinner, closes his eyes and dies. His wife of 35-plus years finds him-- still warm, as if asleep. She sits with him through the night. She doesn’t call their eldest child, or the neighbors or the doctor. She sits with him, talks to him and reminds him, and herself, of their life together. She tells him no lies; she tells him she’s been unfaithful to him, but that she loves him, as she always has. She tells him how good their life has been, but how awful parts have been. She reveals everything about her secret private life and thoughts. And in the end, she tells him she would do it all over again.

Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, Killing Lincoln
This is a book I didn’t want to read -- I don’t really like O’Reilly. But I read it, because a friend said “[I’d] be surprised.” And I was. It’s a story we all know, told in a wonderful way. It reads like a novel, written from the point of view of all the main characters involved in the Lincoln assassination. Yes, there are a few questionable political factoids scattered throughout the text. But it’s also full facts and players I was previously unaware of. Put your opinions of O’Reilly the pundit aside; as a writer, he’s pretty good! Or at least, this book is pretty good.

Mary Dempsey's Picks:

1. The Exiles of the New World (Conor Dempsey)
2. The Art of Fielding (Chad Harbach)
3. Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (Michael Lewis)
4. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (Isabel Wilkerson)
5. Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power (Rachel Maddow)
6. American Canopy: Trees, Forests and the Making of a Nation (Emily Green)
7. The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began (Stephen Greenblatt)
8. Solace (Belinda McKeon)

Stanley G. Robertson's Picks:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)
The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim (Robert Beck)
The One: The Life and Music of James Brown (RJ Smith)
Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present (Harriet A. Washington)
Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier  (Ishmael Beah)
His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage (Willard F. Harley, Jr.)

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