Whether you're looking for a beach book or a serious read, there's plenty new to choose from this summer. 

Optional Reading

With vacation time approaching, summer reading is a pleasant problem for any split personality. Should you just toss cares aside and read for pure fun? Or should you, like many of us, think you will use the relaxed time to catch up on some of the more serious literature you have been thinking you should read? Here is a brief list of suggestions that should enable you to do a little of both this summer.


"Anil's Ghost" by Michael Ondaatje (Knopf, $25) — This one is easier to read than "The English Patient" and is a perfectly constructed book.

"Bee Season" by Myla Goldberg (Doubleday, $22.95) — A story about a Jewish family. It includes interesting material about Jewish mysticism.

"Blood Rain" by Michael Dibdin (Pantheon, $23) — The fans of the Italian detective Aurelio Zen will want to read this.

"Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri (Houghton-Mifflin paper, $12) — If you haven't read this one, summer is the time to catch up. It won the Addison M. Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the Pen Hemingway Award and was named The New Yorker's Best Debut of the Year Award.

"Omerta" by Mario Puzo (Random House, $25.95, available in July) — This is the third of the Mafia Trilogy that includes "The Godfather" and "The Last Don." If you liked the first two, you will want to read this one.

"The Running Mate," by Joe Klein ( Dell, $26.95) — Another political novel by the famous "Anonymous" of "Primary Colors."

"The Toughest Indian in the World" by Sherman Alexie (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24) — This collection of short stories about Native Americans picks up where Alexie's previous collection "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" left off. In the cities and suburbs, these are displaced Indians coping with daily life and barely submerged rage.

The writer George Garrett suggests the following five new books of fiction, four of which, though excellent, have not received a lot of publicity:

"Graveyard of the Atlantic" by Alyson Hagy (Graywolf Press, $14) — short stories by a former Virginian.

"True North" by Kimberly Kafka (Dutton, $23.95) — A novel by a writer who earned her M.A. at Hollins.

"One Day in the Life of a Born Again Loser" by Helen Norris (University of Alabama Press, $24.95) — Short stories

"Reap" by Eric Rickstad (Viking, $23.95) — Set in rural Vermont, this story is far from peaceful.

"The Human Stain" by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin, $26) — This novel has certainly not lacked for attention and it is worth reading


"Flags of Our Fathers" by James Bradley and Ron Powers (Bantam Doubleday Dell, $24.95) — Memoir by the son of one of the Marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima. It has received very good reviews.

"Bobos in Paradise" by David Brooks (Simon & Schuster, $25) — What happens when the monied Bourgeoise-Bohemians (Bobos) spend today, and how important that spending is to them. It connects the '60s hippies to the '80s passion for money.

"Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope" by Jonathan Kozol (Crown, $25) — Kozol lets the children of the South Bronx speak for themselves.

"Somebody Told Me: The Newspaper Stories of Rick Bragg" (University of Alabama Press, $24.95) - Fine writing from the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times. A must-read for those who love "All Over But the Shoutin'." Don't be surprised: Many of Bragg's stories are very sad.

Now for the "literary" stuff: If "War and Peace" doesn't appeal to you, why not try one of the authors that New York Times literary critic Michiko Kakutani says belong to the "new wave of writers [that] is reinventing literature." These include: Dave Eggers, ("A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: Based on a True Story," Simon& Schuster, $23); David Foster Wallace ("Brief Interviews with Hideous Men," Back Bay Books, paper, $13.95); Zadie Smith, ("White Teeth: A Novel," Random House, $24.95); Kazuo Ishiguro ("An Artist of the Floating World," Vintage Books, $11, paper. His new novel is not due out until the fall); and Alex Garland (The Tisserad, Riverhead Books, $13, paperback).

Kelly Justice of Carytown Books, Bruce Simon of the Richmond Public Library and June Stephenson of Barnes & Noble contributed to this list.


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