Reading material is always a matter of personal taste. Some seasons of life draw us to one type of book or another. At other times, we are drawn to an abundance of choice and an assortment of different entertainments.
In summer, when for most of us the available produce pleasantly diversifies our diets, it seems fitting to enjoy a variety of books, each with its own effect on our palates. Here for your perusal is a market-fresh selection of recommended new and nearly new reads for the summer.
More than any other book out now, I am excited to read Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.
The second book in a trilogy on the life of Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII of England, might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the first book, Wolf Hall, was easily the best book I’ve read since it was released in 2009 so hopes are high.
In that year Wolf Hall also won the Man Booker Prize, the most prestigious literary award offered in the United Kingdom and the other countries making up the Commonwealth of Nations.
The reason to read this book is for its protagonist, Cromwell: as author Mantel portrays him, he is involved in every political machination of the time; he is loving and compassionate and ruthless all at once; and he stands next to you as you read the text, a real person, rounded, beautiful and flawed.
The first book of the series told the story of the rise of Cromwell who was instrumental in events surrounding England’s formal entry into the Reformation, namely Henry’s divorce of his first wife and marriage to Anne Boleyn. In this sequel Mantel gives us just one more year of the story, 1535-1536: Henry’s great turn against Anne, and Europe’s turn against England.
As the unity of Europe teeters on the brink of economic destruction in real time, why not read an enjoyable book about what came of such crises once upon a time?
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. 410 pp. A John Macrae Book/Henry Holt & Company. $28.
Angering everyone from fundamentalists to atheists, Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists attempts to approach various religions and take from them insights stripped of doctrine and orthodox faith.
Composed as an alternative to baby-with-the-bathwater style atheism, de Botton works to cull from faiths of the world all that is “useful,” without any of the baggage of belief in miracles, a theistic being, or anything outside a scientifically realist perspective.
Released a year ago in the United Kingdom, Religion for Atheists now can rattle American audiences as well. Written with an absolute and sunny skepticism of faith in general and an optimism for his project’s success, de Botton’s book is an entertaining and provoking read, whatever position you hold.
Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton. 320 pp. Pantheon Books. $27.
Applicable to anything we make and the shape that object takes in our minds as we create it, The Shape of Design is the first book by designer, illustrator, and writer Frank Chimero.
If you’ve ever wondered how the creative process works and why it is we choose one element over another as we create, read this. It is an extended meditation on good design of all sorts and what goes into making it.
More than that, Chimero extrapolates for discussion how we learn and how we engage life at large and why, and what motivates learning, enjoyment, and personal expression.
The Shape of Design by Frank Chimero. $30 hardcover or $10 ebook.
An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler is a book about eating practically, resourcefully, and mindfully. It encourages a thoughtful return to the cooking and eating life our grandmothers led.
The book’s title comes from the idea that elements of your meal and the items left in the kitchen after that cooking experience are the ingredients for the meal to follow. Leftover bread becomes croutons for the soup the next day; roasted veggies become the base for a quiche; one supper’s rice is next evening’s rice pudding. Even stems of parsley play a role in the next meal.
An Everlasting Meal is elegantly written. It leaves you wanting to explore the possibilities between sauces and herb oils while reminding you of the legitimacy of a simple meal of soup and bread.
An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. Simon & Schuster. $15.
Published in May 2011, Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars: Poems won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2012, and just arrived at the front of my queue at the library.
In this collection, Smith merges extremely personal elegies with contemplation of the stars, amusing anecdote with gory news, and David Bowie with a fear of death, as in this excerpt from “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?”
Time never stops, but does it end? And how many lives
Before take-off, before we find ourselves
Beyond ourselves, all glam-glow, all twinkle and gold?
The future isn’t what it used to be. Even Bowie thirsts
For something good and cold. Jets blink across the sky
Like migratory souls.
Life on Marsby Tracy K. Smith. 75 pp. Graywolf Press. $15.
Almost nothing can improve on enjoying the actual sun shining down, but when the clouds inevitably come, we hope you enjoy these brilliant words shining up.