There has to be a good reason why we at the Indy have the presumption to compile our own summer reading list. After all, you don't need us to tell you that the latest from Chelsea Handler, Stephenie Meyer and Janet Evanovich are going to be the next four months' hot-ticket tomes — a quick glance at amazon.com could tell you that.
No, the Indy Summer Books Guide exists to satisfy a far more pressing question: How are you going to beat your friends to the next great read?
Simple — you allow us to predict exactly what's going to be peeking out of their back pockets this summer. From your cookout cronies to your barista to that one guy you secretly compete with in yoga class, we've already figured out what book they're going to love next. This, of course, allows you to meet their gushing enthusiasm with a cool, worldly "Oh, yeah. I read that." Read on, you Machiavellian bookworm, you. The height of bitchy literary prestige is within your grasp.
Friends and family
We'll jump right in with your besties from high school. They'll want you to read Sisterhood Everlasting (Ann Brashares, June 14). Brashares' new novel catches up with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 10 years down the line, seeking to recapture the lively camaraderie and sense of adventure that made the STP books such a hit with teen girls. Now those girls are grown up, and so is the franchise — this book, which begins with the death of one of the Sisters and goes on to explore the alienation and compassion in loss, marks Brashares' most recent foray into literature for adults.
Next, your coffee date crew will want you to purchase Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (Alexandra Fuller, Aug. 23). The long-awaited follow-up to Fuller's shattering 2001 memoir Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, this new installment returns readers to the colonial Africa of her mother's childhood. Fuller's beautiful prose draws the eye even as her gift for anecdote provokes laughter and dismay, intensifying as the story dives from idyll into war, flight and heartbreak. Throughout, readers will welcome the pleasure of becoming reacquainted with Fuller's fierce, astonishing family.
Heartless (Gail Carriger, June 28) is the book your feminist, closeted-Twilight-fan girlfriend will push on you. The werewolves are Scottish, the vampires are gay, and there's not a single codependent teenager in sight. Best of all, the female heroine brings 21st-century feistiness to a deliciously quirky 19th-century setting complete with semiautomatic parasols and a cameo appearance by Queen Victoria.
Speaking of travel, your globetrotting cousin will want you to dog-ear The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments From Lives on the Road (Paul Theroux, May 19). There are a lot of terrible travelogues out there, but a guy who spent 50 years wandering the world ought to know his stuff — and oh, he does. Theroux offers up the best of the writers who inspired him as a traveler, from well-known greats like Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene, to pleasant surprises like Isak Dinesen and Pico Iyer. Not only will you get to snub your cousin, but you'll emerge enviably well-read. We can't wait.
Meanwhile, your armchair-traveling uncle will want you to savor The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (David McCullough, May 24). The latest tome from America's favorite two-time Pulitzer-winning historian displays all the well-written energy of his earlier efforts, which include John Adams and 1776, with the added appeal of one of history's most exciting settings: late-19th-century Paris. McCullough injects life and power into the stories of a bevy of American writers, doctors, artists and thinkers — everyone from Mark Twain to Elizabeth Blackwell makes an appearance — who found their callings electrified in the City of Light.
Kids, critters and co-workers
Moving on, your precocious grade-schooler will beg you to read The Throne of Fire (Rick Riordan, released May 3), just so you'll have a chance of understanding half of what she's talking about this summer. Failing that, just buy it for her — she'll be too busy re-reading it to worry about the baffled expression on your face. With preteen heroes and heroines, heart-pounding adventure, gentle silliness and a couple of ancient Egyptian gods on the loose, Riordan ably reprises the style that made his previous series, Percy Jackson, a smash hit with kids and adults alike.
Hell Is Empty (Craig Johnson, June 2) will be your child's swim instructor's selection for you. Between the shocks of a tragic cold case gone hot again and the thematic nods to Native American mysticism and Dante's Inferno, the Wyoming author has created a hair-raising brain-twister of a Western mystery. You'll be so absorbed in the plot that you won't even notice when the instructor stops teaching your kid the crawlstroke and starts a massive game of tackle Marco Polo instead.
The babysitter will want you to read Go the F**k to Sleep (Adam Mansbach, June 14), or at least will want you to buy it so he can have the joy of introducing your toddler to sarcasm. We recommend you reserve that pleasure for yourself. Never has a parenting book spoken so honestly to the irritating side of bedtime, or been so f**kin' hilarious.
Your dog will nose a paperback re-release of A Dog's Purpose (W. Bruce Cameron, May 24) your way. OK, that's a bit obvious, but what faithful companion wouldn't want his Person to savor this paean to the canine-human bond? Nationally syndicated humorist Cameron creates a moving story with a simple premise: that the need to live a life that has meaning beyond oneself is not an exclusively human trait. What if a dog's destiny develops over a series of lives — and owners? Fans of Amazing Gracie and The Art of Racing in the Rain will love A Dog's Purpose.
Have you met the "godfather of Chicano literature"? No? Your culture-vulture colleague will want you to pore over Randy Lopez Goes Home (Rudolfo Anaya, June 10), and you should prepare to feel like your ancestral hindbrain has been removed and given a good shake. Anaya plays on themes of the epic and the philosophical with Homeric skill as he chronicles the spiritual voyage of a New Mexico man caught between two worlds in myriad ways. Lopez may be flirting with death, but like Anaya's classic Bless Me, Ultima, his story crackles with the kick galvanic.
Then there are your co-workers. They will not want you to read the upcoming re-release of 1994's Whatever (Michel Houellebecq, Aug. 1), but you should anyway. French literary enfant terrible Michel Houellebecq has created the perfect monster in his unnamed hero, who so perfectly embodies the sin of acedia — that restless torpor that makes us wish we were anywhere, anyone but where and who we are — that it's all you can do not to perform nude cartwheels in the office parking lot in an effort to escape Houellebecq's lingering, perfectly orchestrated atmosphere of despair. Whatever lands like a chocolate-covered suckerpunch.
... and everyone else
Your fellow Springs brainiacs will want you to read In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson, released May 10). Larson's The Devil in the White City was one of the 2010 selections for All Pikes Peak Reads, and its grisly, thrilling true-history plot surely kept lights on and pages turning far into the wee hours all across the Springs. With Garden, which takes place in the American embassy in Nazi Berlin, it appears that Larson's power to wrest a horrifyingly good yarn from the arms of history has only improved.
40 Years of Chez Panisse: The Power of Gathering (Alice Waters, Aug. 23), will be next on your list from the foodie in your life, though it may test the limits of your been-there, read-it-first ambitions. Don't get us wrong — Waters' writing combines a sensual appreciation for the joys of the table with a peculiar sense of earth-loving destiny to brilliant effect. But you might be deserving of some kind of prize if you make it all the way through the 304–page memoir-cum-cookbook without racing off to the kitchen.
Your sophomore English teacher will nag you to read The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925). She knows you didn't read it when she assigned it in the summer of 1986, but she figures where she failed, director Baz Luhrmann might succeed. His 3D film version of the booze-and-disillusionment classic drops next year, so you'll have a good long time to drag yourself through those grueling 200-some pages. We're sure of one thing: Carey Mulligan's cute little mug would make a much better book cover than that creepy blue illustration by Francis Cugat.
And finally, the reporter (yours truly) wants you to pick up Mr. Popper's Penguins (Richard and Florence Atwater, 1938). 20th Century Fox's version is scheduled to hit theaters June 17, but before it was a Jim Carrey vehicle, the story of a man who finds a penguin shipped to his doorstep was one of the most treasured books of my childhood. Share it with your favorite mini-person, or take a quick trip back to kid lit all by yourself — either way, you'll be charmed.