Tag Archives: David Mitchell

Our Favorite Summer Reads

For me, one of the most surprising concepts in this culture is that of the summer book. I am surprised, furthermore, that summer books aren’t defined, necessarily, as books about, set in or somehow evocative of summer. They are, rather, (I guess,) books to put on a reading list for a season during which people have more time for leisurely pursuits…? And there’s also an element of lightness involved in there somewhere.

So I put the question to our staff and requested their favorite summer book(s) of all time, however they define the term. Let me tell you: they were quite enthusiastic about this one.


Danielle has two absolute favorites for summer. The first is Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk. Why? Because “it’s a long, sprawling book. And it’s romantic but not so trashy that you feel cheap.”

Her second is Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, because “it’s a book I wouldn’t have the head space for at any other time.”


So my understanding is pretty much correct:  A summer read is like chewy ginger candy for your brain, and it is enjoyed primarily when one has the luxury of extra time.


Julie’s favorite is Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. She says, “it’s one of my most favorite reads of all time. The title alone sends my heart racing with delight whenever I see it hiding in my bookcase. The reading of it, however… oh, the reading of it always fills me with joy and excitement.”


                                                                                                                                                                        Lucia’s is Play It As It Lays, by Joan Didion.


BJ has a few. In order:


Donna’s “favorite summer read is The Handyman, by Carolyn See. Set in L.A. in the summertime…not exactly a coming of age but more of a coming-of-art book.” I ‘m pretty sure I understand what that means.


Mine (Aida’s) would have to be All the Living, by C.E. Morgan. The book is set in the South… during summer. I read it last winter, fell deeply, deeply in love with every single word and plan on reading it again this winter. It’s so hot in the book… so very hot and muggy.




What’s a summer read to you? What’s your mostest favoritest?

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Dear Santa Claus, Please bring me World Peace and a PlayStation 3

We may be people who are more at home in the world of the mind, but we’re people too, you know. We like stuff, too. In fact, there is so much on our shelves we’re coveting, we thought we’d share some with you.

Pictures of stuff courtesy of Donna and Jane.


Julie covets:

New York: Portrait of a Bookstore City, by Reuel Golden


French computer bag with orange interior


Frank covets:

At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson


Wooden Tic-Tac-Toe set with hand-blown Venetian Marbles


Lucia covets:

The Thousand Authumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell


It Is Right to Draw Their Fur: Animal Renderings, by Dave Eggers


Eva Ophelia (Lucia’s little reader) covets:

Hourglass for kids


Keats’s Neighborhood – An Ezra Jack Keats Treasury


Jane covets:

Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff


Candy-colored flatware


Kevin covets:

The Best American Comics 2010, edited by Neil Gaiman


Medieval chess set


BJ covets:

Faithful Place, by Tana French


Elegant ceramic canisters


Aida covets:

Bukapalooza: A boxed set of essays, short stories, pictures and poems in tiny, separate editions, to be read in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. ($1.49 each makes them perfect stocking stuffers!)


Fancy and cozy pajamas


Donna covets:

Atlas of World History, edited by Patrcik O’Brien


Handknit scarf


Lilly covets:

Historical Atlas of the North American Railroad


Boxed set of Rance soap, Made in Milan, original fragrance


Doug covets:

Selected Poems of Amy Clampitt


The Most Awesome Fire Truck Ever



What’s on your wish list?

On our beloved Patty’s daughter-in-law’s list were two things: a turquoise-colored scarf and a red one. When Patty wandered in 2 days ago, guess what she happened past. Go on. Guess.

Magic, I tell you. Magic!

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Ahistorical Historical Fiction, Part Deux

Historical Fiction is not always historically accurate, but that’s okay. Please see Part One for more words on the subject and the first half of this list.


Michael Moorcock

I’ve written a bit about Michael Moorcock in one of my previous posts, and I return to him again with Gloriana, his rather fantastical and darkly imagined take on the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  Moorcock always takes pains to write fantasies lacking in idealism, and the England (or Albion) of Gloriana is an unpleasant, decadent, and bloated empire ruled by a debauched queen, with the book’s lurid descriptions of the kingdom and its court sometimes bordering on the didactic.  Written as “a dialogue with Spenser’s The Faerie Queen“, Gloriana offers a rare, unabashedly fantastic take on a supposed golden age that is not afraid to confront the ugly realities of the period.


The Sot-Weed Factor
John Barth

John Barth is an occasionally difficult author known to interlace his works with complex structures and esoteric ideas, but his works are also filled with ribald humor, genuine cleverness and exciting storytelling.  The Sot-Weed Factor, his most well-known work, tells the story of Ebenezer Cooke, ‘Poet-Laureate and Virgin’, a somewhat over-aged innocent traveling throughout Colonial America whilst attempting to write an epic poem about his homeland.  Primarily what drives this story is the quirkiness of its characters and the adventurous spirit of the novel, but the work also contains extended portions examining the actual events surrounding American colonization, including a notably different take on the story of John Smith and Pocahontas.


Umberto Eco

Baudolino, for what it’s worth, grants the reader a reprieve from Eco’s traditionally overstuffed and extravagantly erudite style of writing.  This may or may not be a good thing, since I tend to enjoy the challenges his fiction offers, but even with its deceptive simplicity, Baudolino stands with Eco’s best works.  Set in the High Middle Ages, Baudolino is the story of the titular character, a born liar and the adopted son of German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, as he travels across Europe using his genius and penchant for lying to solve the various problems of the continent.  To get the full gist of the story you are best served to have several degrees in European history, but even if you fall short of this requirement it is not hard to grasp the central thesis of the book: the way history, myth, and outright fabrication all contribute to our perception of the past.  Most of the book plays it straight, but in the last third of the story we follow Baudolino to the legendary and quite fictional realm of Prester John, where he encounters satyrs, unicorns, blemmyes and other inventions of the medieval mind.  Although the story is straightforward, much of it is based around a complex, multilayered examination of truth and fiction and the story may leave the reader with some fairly heavy lingering philosophical questions. (What is reality?  How does mythmaking affect our understanding of history and the immanence of time?  Did anything real actually happen to Baudolino or did I just read a 500-page novel that was some guy riffin’ on made up stuff!?)


The Baroque Cycle
Neil Stephenson

Like science?  Want to read a 2600 page trilogy about the establishment and early history of science, including excessive jargon, seemingly endless tangents on subjects you never thought to consider, complex historical analysis and bold, occasionally revolutionary diatribes on the changing nature of science and evolving paradigms in the way we view nature and reality?  Neil Stephenson is a science nerd par excellance, and he requires that his readers be the same.  Traditionally challenging, dense, and packed with facts you don’t need to know but should anyhow, his books excel because as an author he rarely forgets the fundamentals of a good story and fills his work with excitement, fun, and, in the case of ‘The Baroque Cycle’, some good swashbuckling.  Set during the time of Isaac Newton’s inquiries into science, the novels track the story of a group of scientists (or natural philosophers, as they were known at the time) as they seek to develop the systematized method of thought and analysis later to become the scientific method.  Lots of other stuff too. And there are enough bizarre and decidedly pseudoscientific events occurring in the series to place them disticntly in the camp of science-fiction, even if the optimist might declare that some of the oddities throughout the story are more improbable than impossible, and that Stephenson is educating us about branches of science that are yet to be uncovered.


The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
David Mitchell

The most recent work on this list, and directly and openly inspired by Norfolk’s Lempriere’s Dictionary.  Set in Japan during the Napoleonic Wars, (making it the third book on this list set in that period,) The Thousand Autumns chronicles the lives of Dutch traders living on a small traders’ post in Nagasaki Harbor, attempting to adapt to the alien culture as well as to the changing times.  For the most part this book is very straightforward, and might read as some exceptionally well-written spinoff of the ‘Shogun‘ novels, but the inclusion of an immortal Zen master and his rather enigmatic temple adds what is, for my money, some old fashioned science fiction goodness to an otherwise very unremarkable tale of culture class, forbidden love, and days of trade and plunder.  I won’t say too much about what happens, but I will say I have a distinct theory about what Mitchell leaves to the reader to figure out. (Hooray for me.) Also, let it be noted that Mitchell has announced this book IS a science fiction novel, despite the scarce evidence to prove it as such, and he is currently planning two sequels that will involve the theme of immortality and take place in the far future.


Happy Reading!



Filed under Curious Lists