Your 2009 Summer Reading Guide

By - Jun 21st, 2009 09:36 pm
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Even if you’re not a teacher, a student or planning on taking any leisurely beach vacations or eight-hour plane trips this summer, it still feels like the right time of year to reacquaint yourself with the literate world, doesn’t it?

We think so. Curling up on a cool, rainy summer night? Enjoying a few extra hours of daylight with a book and a beer on the front porch? Spending a long, quiet weekendcampingwiththefamily? Staking out a sleepy square of sand at Atwater Beach? All of these occasions (and countless more we can’t thing of) call for a terrific book.  Not only that, but many of your local bookstores and cultural institutions are offering great author readings, book salons and other events that celebrate the edification that only a good book  can provide.

So we put on our best nerdy glasses, went on the hunt and scouted out local experts in order to provide you with VITAL’s first-ever summer reading guide, full of locally-sourced recommendations that run the gamut from pulse-quickening mysteries and thrillers to historical romance to classics you’ve been meaning to catch up on. Buy them locally, request them from the library or borrow them from a friend — whatever you do, READ ON!

Like a book? Want to recommend your own? Leave a comment or send us an email!

Upcoming author engagements


The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture
Nathan Rabin
Talk and signing: Friday, July 17, 7:00 pm

The head writer of The Onion A.V. Club, Nathan Rabin’s new memoir uses albums, movies, TV shows and books as springboards for discussing his too-strange-for-fiction life. He writes movingly about how pop culture helped save him from suicidal despair, institutionalization, and parental abandonment-throughout a childhood that sent him ricocheting from a mental hospital to a foster home to a group home for emotionally disturbed adolescents. The Big Rewind is also a touching narrative of a motherless child’s search for family and acceptance and a darkly comic valentine to Rabin’s lovable, hard-luck dad.


Good Things I Wish You
A. Manette Ansay
Reading and signing: Saturday, July 18, 2:00 pm

Battling feelings of loss and apathy in the wake of a painful divorce, novelist Jeanette struggles to complete a book about the relationship between Clara Schumann, a celebrated pianist and the wife of the composer Robert Schumann, and her husband’s protégé, the handsome young composer Johannes Brahms. Although this legendary love triangle has been studied exhaustively, Jeanette — herself a gifted pianist — wonders about the enduring nature of Clara and Johannes’s lifelong attachment. Through a chance encounter, Jeanette meets Hart, a mysterious, worldly entrepreneur who is a native of Clara’s birthplace, Leipzig, Germany. A. Manette Ansay’s original blend of fiction and history captures the timeless nature of love and friendship between women and men.

Member recommendations

A Broader Vocabulary Cooperative is the recently-formed group that organized in order for the Milwaukee feminist community to carry on the legacy of Milwaukee’s former feminist bookstore, Broad Vocabulary, which closed in November. The co-op has purchased the store’s remaining inventory and is in the process of further fundraising toward opening a new physical space soon. Attracting an official membership of over 100 local feminist enthusiasts and the support and participation of many more so far, ABVC’s formation and growth in recent months has proven a testament to the enthusiasm and desire for preserving a dedicated hub for feminist learning, dialogue, and action in Milwaukee. Receive updates, join as a member, and get involved in the Broader Vocabulary movement by joining the Facebook group or emailing the cooperative at New website and book ordering coming soon!

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby: Women, Politics, and Popular Culture
Edited by Lilly Goren

A Broader Vocabulary hosts a celebration of You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, with local editor Lilly Goren, associate professor of politics and global studies at Carroll University in Waukesha, on Monday, July 20 at 7 pm at the Tool Shed. Check out what this local author has to share about the current role of popular culture on the lives and choices of women and the role of women in pop culture imagery, through this collection of essays through an up-to-date feminist lens.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson

Originally published in Sweden, this recent novel is a refreshing thriller laced with international intrigue, a timely backdrop of financial fraud, and an unconventional female protagonist. Read it in time to catch The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second in the trilogy, due out in July!

Mary Nohl: Inside & Outside
Barbara Manger & Janine Smith

Get to know an intriguing character in recent local history by delving into the enigmatic and category-defying life and mind of the late Milwaukee painter, sculptor and potter Mary Nohl in this just-published, beautifully written and illustrated biography.

Summer book salons

In conjunction with the summer exhibition American Originals: The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs & The Eight and American Modernisms (read our review here), our friends at the Milwaukee Art Museum suggest several texts that illumine the times, the motivations and the personalities behind the work on display.

The books are all available at the Museum store, which is free to visit. You can also join other book enthusiasts for lively discussions at MAM! Each session is free with admission and held in the Bradley Room. RSVP to or call 414-224-3826.

The House of Mirth
Edith Wharton
Book salon: Saturday, July 11, 10:30AM

Since its publication in 1905, The House of Mirth has overwhelmed readers by the sharpness of Wharton’s observations and the power of her style. Born into Old New York Society, the author watched as an entirely new set of people living by new codes of conduct entered the metropolitan scene. This arresting tale of Lily Bart’s fateful tumble down the social ladder provides a glimpse into the city central to the lives and work of the artists known as The Eight.


Illustration from 1905 Knickerbocker Press edition of The Leavenworth Case by G.W. Peters

The Leavenworth Case
Anna Katharine Green
Saturday, August 8th, 10:30AM

Anna Katharine Green was described in 1915 as “a woman who is known nearly around the world as the author of a particularly terrifying and puzzling brand of detective stories”. Published in 1878, The Leavenworth Case was based on firsthand court research and recognized as a breakthrough in early American mystery writing. Green’s highly successful career provided financial support for the artistic pursuits of her husband, Charles Rohlfs.

Staff recommendations

Lanora Hurley

The Angel’s Game
Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The author of The Shadow of the Wind is back with a beautifully packaged novel about a young writer in 1920s Barcelona who is given an offer he can’t refuse by a publisher. It’s a page-turner filled with romance, mystery, and adventure.

Dave Mallman

The Signal
Ron Carlson

Ron Carlson has outdone himself! In the latest by the author of Five Skies, a separated couple gets together for one last weekend in the mountains – a final goodbye. But when they stumble on a poacher’s camp, they find themselves running for their lives. The Signal is intense and thrilling, and Carlson’s writing is perfect. Don’t miss it!

Anne Wilde


The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Katherine Howe

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is the best debut novel I’ve read since The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I was captivated as the author moved between a story of the Salem witch trials and a modern-day woman’s story. With a real contemporary “page-turner” appeal on one hand, and a well-researched historical fiction element on the other (there were real Salem witches in the author’s family tree), this book haunted me long after the last page was turned.

For kids:

Barbara Katz

The King’s Taster
Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson
For readers ages 4-8

Max, the beagle, is the food tester for the new king. When the king refuses the luscious food, Max and the cook travel the world to find new recipes. Striking illustrations use collages of cut up recipes, watercolor, chalk and other media to add humor and zip to the story. The key to the mystery is in view of the reader from the beginning of the book! The King’s Taster is a delightful combination of first-class storytelling and creative illustrations.

Joyce Tiber

Camel Rider
Prue Mason
For readers ages 9-13

Join in the amazing adventure of two boys lost in a barren desert land. They come from different cultures and speak different languages, but somehow they must work together to survive. This is a real page-turner!


11 Birthdays
Wendy Mass
For readers ages 9-12

For ten years, Amanda and Leo have celebrated their birthdays together. But this year, everything has changed. Amanda is sure her birthday is going to be the worst ever! What actually happens is more magically mind-boggling than ever she could have imagined. Filled with warmth and humor, this story of friendship and being yourself is utterly delightful.


Lisa Zupke


In the Kitchen
Monica Ali

Ali has always written terrific characters and Gabriel Lightfoot, a chef with a promising career, is no exception. The story is part mystery, part family saga and 100% compelling. Told with humor, empathy and engaging characters, I felt a part of this story and didn’t want it to end.

Black Water Rising

Attica Locke

This is the first novel by Locke who is a film and television screenwriter. The story takes place in Houston in the early 1980’s. Jay Porter is an attorney with a checkered past who can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble, whether it be a murder mystery or his involvement with the labor union. Add to this a very pregnant wife and the past he can’t escape and you won’t be able to put this down.


Michael Robotham

This is terrific thriller was also on Stephen King’s summer reading list. Perhaps I have a fondness for flawed characters, but Joe O’Laughlin is one of my new favorites. Forced to step back from his career as a clinical psychologist due to his Parkinson’s Disease, O’Laughlin becomes embroiled in a case of apparent suicide that really isn’t at all as it seems. His entire life becomes enmeshed in this case and that’s only the beginning.



Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak

Bill Povletich

Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak chronicles the Braves thirteen years in Wisconsin, winning two National League pennants, bringing Milwaukee its only World Series Championship in 1957 and departing for Atlanta under a cloud of scandal less than a decade later.

Author William Povletich will be on hand at Creekside Books during the Cedarburg Strawberry Festival to take questions and sign copies of his book on Sunday, June 28, from 12 to 2 pm.

Upcoming workshop


All That is Left
Judith Harway
Workshop: Life Writing in Poetry, July 25, 1 – 4 pm

Lest we forget the power of poetry, Woodland Pattern — the seminal Riverwest bookstore and educational center hugely well-reputed for its promotion of local poets and poetry presses — offers a July workshop on transforming life stories into words and verse. Judith Harway is a member of the faculty at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

For more staff picks from Woodland Pattern, visit their staff picks page on their resourceful website.


Aaron Schleicher

Author Services

Book Review How To Live

How To Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People

Henry Alford

Alford sets off to interview people over 70—some famous (Phyllis Diller, Harold Bloom, Edward Albee); some accomplished (the world’s most-quoted author, a woman who walked across the country at age 89 in support of campaign finance reform); some unusual (a pastor who thinks napping is a form of prayer, a retired aerospace engineer who eats food out of the garbage). Using some pretty interesting medical studies, he shows the wisdom that we can aquire from our elders.

The book considers some unusual sources — deathbed confessions, late-in-life journals — to deliver an optimistic look at our final days. It delivers that most unexpected punch … it makes you actually “want” to get older.

Long Way Down
Nick Hornby

If Camus wrote  a grown up version of The Breakfast Club, that result might have had more than a little in commmon with A Long Way Down. It’s a thrill to watch a writer as talented as Hornby take on the grimmest of subjects without flinching, and somehow make it funny and surprising at the same time.

Dylan Schleicher
Managing Editor


Life.Inc: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back
Douglas Rushkoff

Writer, filmmaker and scholar Douglas Rushkoff looks not only at how corporations came into being during the Renaissance, but how the corporate model has since come to dominate every aspect of our very lives, down to our very person. His book is a critique of a model that, because we’re so deeply immersed in it, we don’t often see. Somehow, Rushkoff is able to step outside, observe and explain it all in a simple, clear and sober manner and let us know that we can start to do something about it.

I just published him on ChangeThis earlier this month —  it’s a quick read, well under 2,000 words, and well worth it.

WMSE, 91.7 FM
Ryan Schleicher, Promotions Director



Tom Franklin

In a novel in which traditional Southern Gothic literature turns bat shit crazy, Tom Franklin may have written the only book in the history of books that finds the reader often cheering for a visually disfigured murderous rapist. If that doesn’t scream ‘summer’ …

If you can suspend reality in a fashion not dissimilar to what is required when digging into Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Haruki Murakami, while simultaneously being willing to struggle with complicated and appalling layers of ethics, then Smonk is the perfect book for your summer.

(Editor’s note: via email, three of the four Schleicher brothers concurred that this recommendation was  sound and that they’d all loved this book. Aaron also wrote a song about the book as part of his weekly song project The Off Key.)


Amy Elliott
Senior Editor


Evening in the Palace of Reason
James R. Gaines

This surprisingly rollicking book is the beautifully told tale of the meeting of Frederick the Great and Johannes Sebastian Bach in 1747, tracing each of their colorful biographies and eccentric personalities through the vividly evoked senses and sensibilities of 18th-century Germany. Gaines’ prose is engaging and elegant (and often very funny), and the story is both a human history and a parable about beauty and truth, religion and reason, and popular tastes for music, art and culture that prove over time to be ridiculous.

The Stories of John Cheever
John Cheever

It feels like time to read this. Plus short stories are great for summer, when the beckon of the weather or a nap on the beach sometimes interrupts the normal stamina of my attention.

Brian Jacobson – Performing Arts Editor

(Editor’s Note: When I sent out the email to the staff asking for reading recommendations, Brian — from his desk five feet away from me — opened his satchel and pulled out everything in there. Here’s what he’s been carrying around. Must be a heavy bag.)

Con$umed: How markets corrupt children, infantilize adults, and swallow citizens whole
Benjamin R. Barber

Click: What millions of people are doing online and why it matters
Bill Tancer

The Boat
Nam Le

The Portable Dorothy Parker

Henry Miller


Soldier’s Handbook
My grandfather’s 1941 War Department-issued Soldier’s Handbook

Howie Goldklang – REEL Milwaukee


Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember
John Feinstein

The Big Moo
Seth Godin

Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole
Stephanie Graham – Contributing writer


The Help
Kathryn Stockett

I actually just joined a book club for the first time, and our first meeting is coming up. We are reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It’s about three women fighting for change during the Civil Rights Movement in the South.

Dugan Nichols – Contributing writer


Arguably the seminal work on media control and manipulation by corporate ownership, Manfacturing Consent gives numerous examples of how the press downplays atrocities that occur in US client states and dramatizes and inflates those that occurred in Soviet-controlled countries. Other examples include the media following a propaganda model and taking everything that the Pentagon said about the Vietnam War without a single grain of salt.

Categories: Arts & Culture, Books, VITAL

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