Summer Reads

September 2, 2011, by Group Post

woman reading book on beach

Whether it’s Nook, Kindle or iPad, hardback or paper, library or bookstore — we can never get enough great stories. So as summer starts to wane, we at Fifty is the New share some recent good reads. What we did on our summer vacation, literary style.


This summer reminded me of my girlhood, when every Saturday I checked out 11 books (the maximum allowed) from the Pasadena Public Library, and returned them a week later for another near dozen. Two I liked:

Wesley the Owl: a Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and his Girl by Stacey O’Brien. Mandatory reading for animal lovers!

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery: a romp through France’s bourgeoisie told by two razor-sharp wits whose lives collide in a fancy apartment building in the 5th arrondissement.


Summer for me means sun, sand, sea, and books, lots of books, and though I now live in the mountains I still make time for long, slow days and words that make my heart sing.

I am, for the dozenth time, re-reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This delicious froth of manners and misunderstanding within the Bennett family is a perfect summer distraction from our modern miasma.

I’ve also started Pompeii by Richard Harris, the historical fiction of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Sounds like a potboiler, yes?


A good book teaches you something you didn’t know before about the world and about yourself.

I have been married to a Frenchman for 22 years, and even wrote a book on the humorous differences between our two cultures, but What French Women Know by Debra Ollivier managed to further explain my husband to me. In addition, it provided revelation on the impulses that drive my approach to relationships. An excellent and entertaining read for anyone trying to decipher failed and successful unions!


Summer makes me think of places I have visited and long to return to. This year Ireland captured my imagination and I found Benjamin Black (BB). BB is the alarming alter-ego of Irish literary genius John Banville. His uneasy characters include Quirke, a disheveled (inside and out) pathologist, who stumbles and bumbles along until he is able to uncover a single truth. It’s 1950s Dublin, we are spared any DNA search and recovery, these characters have to observe and think. Christine Falls and Elegy for April are recommended.


Reading isn’t a seasonal activity for me. Since I am not in school nor do I have children in school, time is not as delineated as it once was. But sometimes I read more obsessively than others. Now is one of those times.

Shantaram by Gregory Roberts was 920 pages of complete obsession. I could not stop reading and so I am told, as with any good addiction when I was done I wanted more. I have never been more enthralled by a book. The story is about love, faraway places, loss, redemption and the mystery of human existence—a gut wrenching, epic literary experience.


I get most of my reading done in bed or on airplanes lately, though I long for sun, sand and no sense of time.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese took me to Ethiopia with a story of twin brothers born of a tragic union. Though filled with detailed medical explanations, the stories of love, family and betrayal were riveting and unexpected.

I’m just sinking my teeth into Blood, Bones & Butter a memoir from Gabrielle Hamilton chef/owner of Prune in NYC. Deelicious!


Got a good book to share? Be sure to add your favorite summer read!

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14 Responses to “Summer Reads”

  1. Conz Says:

    I’m on a scifi jag and have Red Moon, by Chris Berman and The Reapers Are the Angels, by Alden Bell on my bedside table waiting to be cracked open. More time, more books, please.

  2. Mellimel Says:

    Just finished Wendy and the Lost Boys – a fascinating bio of the Tony
    and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Wendy
    Wasserstein (Uncommon Women and Others, the Heidi
    Chronicles). Now I am halfway through Hotel on the Corner
    of Bitter and Sweet – wartime in Seattle, a sweet
    friendship between 12 year olds one of Japanese
    and the other of Chinese descent, and the government
    round up and imprisonment of American citizens
    who were also Japanese.

  3. Karen Says:

    I wish you would do these reading lists more often. Love a good recommendation. Shantaram was the best book I ever read and I loved Cutting for Stone and Elegance of the Hedgehog is next on my list. Thanks gals!

  4. christie Says:

    Loved Cutting for Stone and am about to download Shantaram to my Kindle. Thank you! The Bloggerinas are so smart and stimulating. Can we have winter reading recommendations in January?

  5. dearpru Says:

    I’m so excited to read the books you all have recommended! Who is up for a web-based book club? Anyone?

  6. Conz Says:

    I could be in.

  7. Cathy Says:

    Check out Good Reads – seems like we can start a group there.

    What I also read this summer, and recommend, is the Patti Smith memoir, Just Kids. Fascinating take on young love, NY in the ’70s, the Chelsea Hotel, and an unwavering dedication to art.

  8. Mellimel Says:

    Just Kids was Just Great! A real portrait not just of Patti and Robert (Mapplethorpe) but of a time and place.

    Here is a quote from Shantaram

    “One of the reasons we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you.”

    I’ve just now finished Christopher Isherwood’s book THE GURU AND HIS DISCIPLE. An honest and revealing look at Christopher’s spiritual quest and his teacher.

  9. Wendy Says:

    I loved Shantaram, have read it a few times and it never gets old. I also loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Just Kids is so inspiring. Though I usually get books out of the library, I think I may buy this one as a reminder of what it means to make art. I can’t wait to read the rest. I’m on goodreads too. Recently I have been enjoying Zadie Smith…

  10. dearpru Says:

    Cathy, did you know that the Chelsea Hotel is now closed?

  11. Cathy Says:

    I just heard that! How sad…

  12. Waist Backpack Says:

    Just finished The Geography of Bliss – very interesting and valuable info. Thanks for all the great book ideas!

  13. Wendy Says:

    Ladies, I am so appreciative of these book suggestions, they arrived at the library right before I got sick during a beautiful indian summer spell. They were my consolation for spending most of it indoors. So far my favorites are Cutting for Stone and Wesley the Owl. Keep those recommendations coming! And on the subject of the Chelsea Hotel, to look on the bright side, we can be grateful that it hasn’t been turned into a theme park or franchise in Vegas…

  14. Book Dude Says:

    Consider reading a debut novel by Marjan Kamali — Together Tea — that just came out to rave reviews. A warm and wonderful Mother-daughter story that speaks across all cultures. I love it.

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