TCD’s 2013 Summer Reads
TCD staffers Howard Leu and Madeline Pieschel, Edible Milwaukee publisher Jen Ede and Boswell Books employee Jason Kennedy discuss the books on their summertime agendas.
Summertime is for road trips, sandy beaches, patio seating and just about anything that can be done under the warm sun. And for some nebulous reason, summer is also for reading. Maybe it’s because of the success of those summer reading challenges in grade school or that our brains are more active when it’s not freezing in Wisconsin. There’s no denying; summer reading is as American as apple pie, grilling out or the 4th of July.
And if you’ve got summer recommendations of your own, don’t hesitate to leave them in our comments section below!
Jason Kennedy, Book Buyer/Seller at Boswell Books;
Jen Ede, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Edible Milwaukee;
Madeline Pieschel, TCD Writer and Photography Intern;
Howard Leu, TCD Writer and Business Manager.
Philipp Meyer has given us a brilliant multi-generational saga of a family making a go of it in the Republic of Texas. Eli McCullough is taken by Comanches when he is younger, his mother and family for the most part were killed in the raid. Living among the Comanches, Eli has learned how to survive by setting goals and being ruthless — both skills that will help him build wealth and power later in life. His son, Peter, falls a bit further out from the tree, making Eli that much harder on him. The final part of the narrative belongs to Eli’s great granddaughter Jeannie who has struggled to make it in a man’s world.
The narratives all cross each over each other, revealing glimpses into family secrets and hardships. The attention to historical detail of all three periods is breathtaking, as is the fleetingness of safety.
My favorite book for this summer, even though it is a bit bleak, is A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. The story centers on many characters inhabiting and circling Chechnya before and during both wars.
You have a village doctor who really wanted to be an artist, but felt obligated to become a doctor for his village’s sake. There is a city doctor, who came back from London to find her missing sister, but now runs an entire hospital with only a handful of helpers as anybody who could afford to flee the city has done so. And you have an eight-year-old girl, whose father was taken by Russians in the middle of the night, and is also sought after by them. The village doctor figures that he can attempt to restore hope to his world if he is able to help the girl escape the village to the city, and to the other doctor who he has only heard about through old patients.
Anthony Marra offers us a mesmerizing book that shows that there can be hope in the midst of madness.
The Dog Stars is an apocalyptic novel that is not about how or why the world ended. It has ended, enough said. It is a book about how a man and his dog go about their survival. It is about Hig living one day to the next just trying to make it through the day, staying away from other people who could try to kill him for his food or whatever it is he might have. Hig feels that there is something missing in his life, something has been cut out of him.
After a recent tragedy, he picks up on a radio signal that comes from his Cessna, and feels hope that maybe he could find something good in the world. Human contact. He decides that he needs to risk everything — his life included – to find out if there is a better life out there.
To paraphrase a fellow bookseller, Hannah, this is the most beautiful, poetic apocalyptic novel ever.
Peter Heller visited Milwaukee’s Boswell Book Company on June 20 to read from “The Dog Stars.” Find out more about upcoming events at Boswell on their events page.
One of my favorite summer reads is a Hemingway of sorts, but a book in which he comes to life as a character rather than as an author. Dan Simmons captures Hemingway perfectly in this Caribbean, World War II epic spy novel. The FBI has become suspicious of Hemingway, his causes and his friends down in Cuba. They send in Joe Lucas as an undercover agent to befriend the author.
The amazing thing about this book is how much of the story is based on actual facts; Hemingway did attempt to capture a German U-boat with a U.S. sanctioned armoring of his own boat, the Pilar, and all his actions with the Crook Factory spy operation are accurate. Dan Simmons melds fiction with a lot of substantial fact to give us one thrilling and compelling read.
Jason Kennedy has lived and worked in Milwaukee for the last ten years. He first worked for Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops and now is working as the adult book buyer at Boswell Book Company.
I think I always read more this time of year because of the summer reading programs I used to participate in when I was a kid. My two new book recommendations to you were actually also recommended to me. The one I just finished reading is called And the Mountains Echoed and the second, which I’ll start soon, is called The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov.
You may know Khaled Hosseini as the author of The Kite Runner. And the Mountains Echoed begins in Afghanistan, weaving stories of a closely-bound brother and sister, their father, and the people live their lives in contact with them. The story spans time and place, as well as generational and class divides.
As we hear about unrest in the Middle East, these books help us to look past surface (and deep-seated) conflicts into the lives of ordinary people. They remind us of beauty and of rich cultural heritage, history and traditions. Most of all, they remind us of our own shared humanness.
The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov focuses on Nabokov’s place within the context of historical events and how those served to shape his consciousness, rather than focusing, as many do, on his family and upbringing. To read Nabokov in Russian and then in English is like a beautiful glimpse into the bilingual mind. He actually spoke several languages – so incredibly fluently that his works of translation are still among the most highly-regarded to this day.
These were in addition to his own prolific works, some of which are so incredibly complex, both in linguistic form and in content, that I am still rereading them and getting something new.
The last book recommendation I’ll leave with you is courtesy of my Russian studies at UW-Madison and later, at Belarusian State University.
The Master and Margarita reminds me of summer because the plot begins one sweltering May evening in 1930s Moscow, when the Devil comes to town…
Jen Ede is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Edible Milwaukee, a free quarterly magazine focused on local and sustainable food in Southeastern Wisconsin. She is a lover of all things cured, a pickle fiend, and has always been interested in learning about other cultures – most often through the lens of food. She devours books like she devours food, with a voracious hunger to try something new.
Just One Day is a charming, summery story about self-discovery and young romance. The main character, Allyson, is a straight edge recent high school graduate who takes a summer journey to Europe, with no guidance or direction for the first time in her life. While traveling in Europe she finds a new romance named Willem, who takes her to Paris for an unforgettable day. And in that twenty-four hour time, she discovers different sides of herself that she had never before explored or even knew existed. She forgets about who she was molded into by others, and finally lets loose and truly becomes the person she knows is inside. Although the twenty-four hour whirlwind of an adventure with Willem ends abruptly, she takes what she discovered that day and continuously evolves throughout the rest of the story. By the end of the novel she hasn’t just found herself, she has in a way created herself.
It’s a great summer read because in the summer months I especially try to live day by day and taking on as many new experiences and insights as I can. It’s a time to refine myself and to get in touch with the things I really love and live for, while forgetting about the molds I’m oftentimes obliged to fill. Summer is a time to discover new likings, while simultaneously discovering more of who I really am, and this book is a good reminder to do so.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a about a shy and unpopular, yet unconventionally intelligent, high school freshman named Charlie. He frequently uses his overly analytical thoughts to not participate in life, but overtime learns to experience life rather than just observing from the outside. The novel illustrates and exposes Charlie’s difficulties, joys, sorrows, hopes, fears and deepest thoughts through intimate, candid letters that he writes to an anonymous figure.
This novel is a great story to read in the summer time because it’s a short and easy read that’s packed with a degree of emotion and realness, and seems to inspire me every time I read it. It’s one of those books that you can read in one sitting at a day on the beach or an evening on the porch, and will leave you thinking about the good things in life that really matter. It reminds me to live in the present moment, to stray away from over analyzing, and to not get too caught up in the mess that life can be. The story leaves me in a fortified, refreshed state of mind, one in which coincides superbly with summertime living.
Madeline Pieschel is a photography and editorial intern at TCD and an advertising major and studio art minor at Marquette University. As a talented photographer and painter, she hopes to become more established in the Milwaukee art scene. With great enthusiasm, she anticipates her fall semester in Florence, Italy, where she’ll be studying painting, sculpture and art history. Check out her photography portfolio here.
I tend to read books with topics that I am passionate about, and a lot more nonfiction than fiction. My summer reading list reveals my love for history, traveling, cuisine and adventure. The following books include adventures of faraway lands (and seas) and, in my opinion, all very appropriate for summer.
TransAtlantic takes three real historical transatlantic crossings as outlines for the stories of three women, of three generations, in the same family, who cross paths with those travelers.
The first crossing was in 1919 by two British aviators who, after a scarring experience fighting in WWI, set off to flight across the Atlantic without stopping. The journey also restored their love of flight.
The second was Frederick Douglass on a lecture tour in Dublin in 1845. He sought the support of the Irish for the American abolitionist cause. He gets it but also saw firsthand the devastation from widespread famine and poverty throughout the country.
The third was Senator George Mitchell’s visit to Belfast in 1998, intending to ease the tension in Northern Ireland but resulting in despair. I’ve always admired Mitchell as a politician and diplomat. His own background is fascinating and was reflected upon the choices in his life.
McCann writes in imagery; he tells the stories of people from their emotions. The novel is inspiring, despite the historic scenes that seem to be of despair and anguish. The historic account of the above mentioned men are interesting, but the inspiration and essence of this book comes from the stories of the three women.
In Cinnamon and Gunpowder, set in the year 1819, Owen Wedgwood, a nobleman’s renowned chef is taken hostage by the same pirate captain who executed his employer. The pirate captain, “Mad Hannah” Mabbot, would spare his life if he agreed to prepare a magnificent dinner for her every Sunday. Cooking great meals wouldn’t be a problem for chef Wedgwood, except the items in the pantry of the pirate ship, Flying Rose, are eclectic and baffling even to the greatest iron chef. And who knows what animal the mystery meat that the ship crew calls “Mary Sweet” comes from. Then there’s constant attacks from other ships and privateers.
This book encompasses adventure, a protagonist who learns to survive to a new and unruly environment, colorful and oddball characters, food, cooking, the most bizarre of recipes and pirates. I recommend reading this book on the beach, or better, on the water, and periodically look up from the book and into the horizon to make sure there’s no unidentified ships approaching.
“Cosmicomics” is a collection of 12 short stories, each told by the main character Qfwfq (most of the names in these stories resemble scientific formulas). Each story comes from a scientific theory.
In one story, Qfwfq tells of how the dinosaurs became extinct; another he, a first generation vertebrate, tells the story of his stubborn great-uncle, who never made the leap from aquatic living to living on land (oh yes, they were all ashamed of that great-uncle who was a fish).
The first story in the book, entitled “The Distance to the Moon,” and perhaps one of Calvino’s most recognized stories throughout his celebrated career, uses the astronomical understanding that the moon was in the past closer to Earth. Qfwfq and his oddball family would paddle out onto the lake or ocean in a boat, use a tall ladder to climb up to the surface of the moon to harvest moon-milk.
The first time I read this “Cosmicomics” was about a decade ago. Since, I recall the moon story every time I see the full moon over our Lake Michigan shore. I was fascinated by the book and became a fan of Calvino. He perfectly captures elements from those century-old fables that were tried-and-true but also embeds his own signature into his tales. He leads you into the story, just like most good storytellers, and evokes your imagination throughout the journey.
Howard Leu is the business manager at TCD. He has a degree in architecture from UWM and years of work experience in architectural design and historic preservation. Howard was born with wanderlust and loves traveling. He continues to explore the rich culture within his adopted city of Milwaukee, and champions its revival as a world-class destination. You can usually find him making friends at a neighborhood dive. Check out his photography portfolio here, and follow him on Twitter.