Essential summer reading

June 2, 2011, 12:59 a.m.
Essential summer reading
Courtesy of Bantam Spectra

With classes and finals almost out of the way and the joys of summer about to begin, everyone needs a few good books to read on the beach, on the plane or during their commute to work, especially ones that aren’t textbooks or academic studies. Intermission’s got your guide to summer reading — the fun kind (remember that?):


Summer Releases

“A Dance with Dragons” by George R. R. Martin (July 12)

Given the success of the recent HBO series “Game of Thrones,” it should come as no surprise that this is one of the most anticipated books of the summer. That, and the fact that fans have been waiting nearly six years for “A Dance with Dragons.” The preceding book, “A Feast for Crows,” came out in 2005.

“State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett (June 7)

Patchett has a track record of producing moving, critically-acclaimed novels that straddle the nebulous divide between commercial and literary (previous books include the popular “Bel Canto” and “Run”). “State of Wonder,” which features corporate intrigue, South American cannibals, pharmaceuticals research and strong female characters, promises to be just as good.

Essential summer reading
Courtesy of Doubleday

“Robopocalypse” by Daniel H. Wilson (June 7)

The much-lauded Wilson has landed on the New York Times list multiple times, and “Robopocalypse” looks to be another winner. It plays upon a bone-deep fear that’s been around as long as computers have — the AI invasion — and does so masterfully, with intense action, high-concept horror and above all, the acutely sympathetic human element that lesser sci-fi often lacks. Plus, where on earth are there more mad (computer) scientists than here on the Farm?


Books You May Have Missed This Year

“Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins

The popular “The Hunger Games” trilogy has been compared to “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” — anyone who hasn’t at least heard of it has been living under a rock for the past year. “Mockingjay” is the last installment of the series, and the first book is coming out as a film next year.

“The Dressmaker of Khair Khana” by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Essential summer reading
Courtesy of Harper

Fans of “The Kite Runner” and “Three Cups of Tea” will love Lemmon’s debut work; the true story of a young Afghani schoolteacher who is forced to wear a burqa and leave the classroom after the Taliban takes power. In order to make ends meet, she starts sewing dresses for local stores, and ends up running a secret dressmaking business that employs almost a hundred local women. The book has already been racking up rave reviews from diverse sources — don’t miss out.

“On China” by Henry Kissinger

Despite having retired from the political scene over 30 years ago, the former Secretary of State is still an important and somewhat controversial figure among policy makers and the general public. One of his most famous accomplishments was the opening of relations with China, which, given the country’s ascendancy in global affairs, makes Kissinger’s insights and experience all the more relevant today. (Disclosure: I have interned for Penguin Books, which publishes “On China.”)


Relevant Classics

“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

Most people first read “Hamlet” in high school, but how many truly appreciate Shakespeare (without SparkNotes) when they’re 15? “Hamlet” is ripe for a revisit; it’s loaded with teen angst, identity crises and daddy issues, which should sound awfully familiar to college students, from freshmen home for the summer after their first year away to seniors leaving the Stanford bubble and about to make their own way in the world.

Essential summer reading
Courtesy of Scribner

“I, Claudius” by Robert Graves

Graves paints a compelling, sympathetic portrait of one of Rome’s most trivialized emperors. Claudius suffered from a speech impediment and chronic physical infirmities, which made him vulnerable to assassination throughout his reign. (Ironically, the only reason he survived his predecessors’ purges to eventually become emperor was because they continually underestimated him.) He triumphed over all of these difficulties by brains alone and became one of Rome’s most capable and efficient emperors — an underdog story to which many Stanford students can surely relate.

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is another standard high school English text, which usually ended up popular with the hipster crowd and “just another assigned reading” to most other students. Living the college life, though, gives readers a whole new perspective on Fitzgerald’s most famous work; those undergrads blessed with that privileged commodity of a good draw number find themselves throwing house parties not quite as lavish as Gatsby’s Long Island affairs and then contemplating the meaninglessness of it all on Monday morning.


Correction: In the print version of “Essential Summer Reading” The Daily ran an outdated version of the cover of “A Dance with Dragons.” The correct version is given above.

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