April 23, 2014 08:41 UTC

Audio / Explorations

For Many Americans, Summertime Is a Time for Reading

Some popular choices at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington
Some popular choices at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington

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SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: I’m Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Our subject today is books. For many Americans, summer is a good time to catch up on reading, whether the book is serious or fun.

Some popular novels are called “beach reads” because they are fun and light stories that can be read while -- possibly -- sitting by the ocean on a beach. Some newspapers and magazines publish lists with summer reading suggestions. Today, we tell about some of those books.

(MUSIC)

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: We start with a reading suggestion that seems a good choice for the summer. “Maine” takes place during a summer holiday at a seaside community in the United States.

This is the second novel by New York-based writer J. Courtney Sullivan. It tells the story of three generations of women in the Kelleher family. They spend time together each year at the family’s summer home in Maine. Each woman is facing her own difficulties.

Critics say “Maine” is a thoughtful story about desire, secrets, and the deep love of family.

STEVE EMBER: Writer Ann Patchett’s latest book is called “State of Wonder.” It tells the story of Marina Singh, a medical researcher living in the state of Minnesota. Her co-worker Anders travels to the Amazon River forests of Brazil to examine a research program his company operates there.

The program is led by another researcher, Dr. Swenson. She lives with and studies a tribe of natives whose women are able to have babies into their seventies. Dr. Swenson and her team are working on developing a fertility drug from a plant the women eat every day.

Marina Singh receives news that Anders mysteriously dies. She then travels to Brazil to investigate his death and learn more about Dr. Swenson’s findings. Her trip brings many surprising discoveries.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Last month, Ann Patchett spoke at Politics and Prose, a bookstore in Washington, DC. Here, she reads a passage where Marina Singh, two doctors and two tribe members, named Benoit and Easter, have a frightening moment together. Benoit has just lifted a huge Anaconda snake onto the group’s riverboat, deep in the Amazon forest.

ANN PATCHETT: “There was too much coiling and uncoiling for an accurate measurement but the snake appeared to be fifteen feet long, eighteen when it stretched. Benoit appeared to be five feet, five inches, and he was outweighed by as much as fifty pounds. The three doctors pressed away, screaming various invectives in an unhelpful language. Marina wanted to jump in the water and to run across the lettuce with the long toed birds, but who could say the snake didn’t have a family down there?

"There was an odor none of them recognized, the smell of [a] furious reptile, an oily stench of putrid rage that worked its way into the membranes of their nostrils as if it planned to stay there forever. The back half of the snake whipped up and made itself a knot around Easter’s slender waist and wrapped and wrapped and at the moment its head swung past, Easter reached into the air, his hand a quarter of a second faster than the snake, and grabbed its throat just below the head, well above Benoit’s fist. Easter had caught the snake that Benoit had caught.”

(Sound courtesy of Politics and Prose)

STEVE EMBER: Mark LaFramboise is a book buyer for Politics and Prose. We asked him what defines a good summer book.

MARK LAFRAMBOISE: “I think, for me, summer reading is all of those things that you wish you had time to read during the busiest part of year, now you are going to take some time off, now you are going to go on vacation and now it is time to read that stack of books that has been sitting next to your desk. So I don’t necessarily think that summer reading has to be something light, has to be something mindless”

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Two of Mark LaFramboise’s suggested books involve animals. “The Tiger’s Wife” is by the twenty-five year old writer Tea Obreht. She lives in the United States, but was born in the former Yugoslavia. Her book takes place in an unnamed Balkan country.

MARK LAFRAMBOISE: “Even though the writing is beautiful, the language is beautiful, it’s really the story that packs the most punch”

For Many Americans, Summertime Is a Time for Reading
For Many Americans, Summertime Is a Time for Reading

STEVE EMBER: “The Tiger’s Wife” tells the story of a young doctor named Natalia. She is on a trip to treat a group of children whose parents have died. Natalia has just learned that her beloved grandfather died mysteriously.

Much of the book includes stories the grandfather told about his childhood. These include the story of a wild tiger that frightens a small village and the story of a deathless man. Last month, Ms. Obreht became the youngest person ever to win the British Orange Prize for Fiction for her novel.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell is set in the heat of southern Florida.

MARK LAFRAMBOISE: “I love books that can make you laugh and can make you cry at the same time, and she does that really well.”

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Thirteen year old Ava Bigtree comes from a family of alligator wrestlers. Her family owns a wildlife park called Swamplandia!, where they perform their unusual skills. But after the death of Ava’s mother, the family’s business and home life slowly start to fall apart.

Her father leaves home on business. Her brother goes off to work at a competing business. And her sister falls in love with a ghost.

Ava bravely attempts to repair the failing Swamplandia! and also bring her family back together.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: Last summer many Americans picked up Swedish crime novels, including “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest” by Stieg Larsson. This was the third of three books in his popular “Millennium Series.”

Swedish crime books remain popular this year. “The Hypnotist” is the first book by Lars Kepler. Lars Kepler is the professional name for Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril, the Swedish husband and wife team who wrote the book.

The story is about the murder of a family, and the son who survived this tragic incident. However, he is too shocked to discuss the events he witnessed. A hypnotist attempts to get the boy to a mental state where he can discuss what he saw so that police can learn more about the attacker.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: American crime writer George Pelecanos is known for both his books and his writing for the television show “The Wire.” His latest book will be released in August.

“The Cut” tells about a young man named Spero Lucas. He has returned to the United States after serving in the military in Iraq. He finds work doing special investigations for a lawyer in Washington, D.C. But he soon finds himself deeply involved in a world of crime and violence.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: E.L. Doctorow is known for his many novels. He recently published a collection of short stories called “All the Time in the World.” One critic said the stories in this collection reveal news not just about the world, but also about the mysteries of human behavior.

STEVE EMBER: Bharati Mukherjee is an Indian-born writer who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. Her new book is called “Miss New India.”

The main character, Anjali, comes from a traditional lower middle-class family in a small town.She is expected to marry the man her parents choose for her. Anjali decides this is not the kind of life she wants. So she leaves her family and moves to the big city of Bangalore where she finds work. She becomes part of a group of energetic and successful young people.

Ms. Mukherjee says she met and talked with people just like Anjali in India. The writer says she saw these Indians as time-travelers moving away from tradition and an eventless youth, heading into an exciting and high-tech future.

(MUSIC)

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Other summer reading possibilities include works of non-fiction.

“The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris” is by historian David McCullough. It tells about how the city of Paris had a huge influence on many nineteenth century American artists and scientists. These include writer James Fenimore Cooper and inventor Samuel Morse.

Erik Larson’s latest book takes place during the first years of Adolf Hitler’s rule in Germany in the nineteen thirties. “In the Garden of Beasts” tells the story of the growing influence of the Nazi party through the eyes of two Americans living in Berlin at the time.

STEVE EMBER: “On China” is by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In this book he describes his efforts to restart diplomatic ties with China during the presidency of Richard Nixon in the early nineteen seventies. Mr. Kissinger discusses how China’s history has helped shape its foreign policy and its positions toward western countries.

Two popular books are autobiographies, books in which the writer tells about his or her life. “Bossypants” is the work of television actress and writer Tina Fey. It is a funny book that tells about how Ms. Fey became famous for her writing and acting.

STEVE EMBER: Steven Tyler is the lead singer of the rock band Aerosmith. The book he wrote about his long music career is called “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?” One critic said the book does not make a lot of sense, but it is filled with spirit and energy. It is about his music, marriages, drug problems, and much more.

(MUSIC)

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. What books are you enjoying? Leave a comment telling us what you have read on our website, voaspecialenglish.com. You can also find us on Facebook and YouTube at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

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