Beyond Beach Reads

Despite a troubled book industry, summer books are sizzling. Here’s a sampling of the best.

So far, 2012 has been tough on the publishing industry. Last month, the Department of Justice sued Apple and five major publishers for allegedly conspiring to fix the price of digital books. Nearly $1 billion worth of e-books were sold in 2011; price-fixing might have cost consumers more than $100 million. And while experts continue debating the death of printed books, the recent news that no Pulitzer Prize would be awarded for fiction this year stunned readers everywhere.

Ironically, this summer is neatly bookended by three Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists. May will bring Richard Ford’s Canada (Ecco Press, $28), the story of 15-year-old Dell Parsons, whose life is changed when his parents are arrested for bank robbery, and Toni Morrison’s Home (Knopf, $24), about an African-American Korean War vet who returns to Atlanta to care for his ill sister. As summer fades into memory, Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue (Harper, $28) should lessen the sting. It’s about an indie record store’s battle against an unwelcome competitor.

Of course, there’s more to this summer than this trio of highly anticipated novels.

Colin Powell’s It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership (Harper, $28)—co-written by Tony Koltz—isn’t a memoir, it’s an inspirational collection of leadership anecdotes and likely to be one of the year’s big books. Douglas Brinkley’s Cronkite (Harper, $35) is the compelling story of “the most trusted man in America.” Fans of Augusten Burroughs’ Running With Scissors (2002) will surely appreciate This is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More for Young and Old Alike (St. Martin’s, $25). It’s a title worthy of Fiona Apple, but readers can expect more of Burroughs’ hilarious, honest insights.

Fans of historical fiction will appreciate A Blaze of Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Shiloh (Ballantine Books, $28), the first installment of a new Civil War trilogy by Jeff Shaara. History buffs will want to investigate The Art of Intelligence: Lessons From a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service (Penguin Press, $28) by Henry A. Crumpton, a former top-ranking spy.

Mystery fans seeking familiarity will enjoy James Patterson’s 11th Hour (Little, Brown and Co., $28), a new “Women’s Murder Club” story, co-written by Maxine Paetro. Janet Evanovich’s Wicked Business (Bantam, $28) isn’t a Stephanie Plum novel, but fans will appreciate the return of Lizzy, a pastry chef with special abilities, and her partner, Diesel, who first appeared in Wicked Appetite (2010).

If you’re looking for something different, consider Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22), another graphic memoir from the author of the award-winning Fun Home (2006). For comic relief, choose Justin Halpern’s I Suck at Girls (It Books, $17), from the father and son team responsible for Sh*t My Dad Says (2010).

Need a little action this summer? Check out Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Imperative (Grand Central Publishing, $28) from author Eric Van Lustbader (the man responsible for more Jason Bourne adventures than series creator Ludlum) and Ridley Pearson’s The Risk Agent (Putnam, $26), a thriller set in Shanghai. Afraid of mummies? Lincoln Child’s The Third Gate (Doubleday, $26) will keep you rapt. There’s an archaeological dig, an ancient curse and medieval history professor Jeremy Logan to sort things out.

Amped by Daniel H. Wilson (Doubleday Books, $25) offers techno thrills: In the future, implants give humans superpowers. When these “amplified” individuals are persecuted, they are forced to flee or fight. The 500 (Reagan Arthur Books, $26) is the debut novel from Matthew Quirk. In it, a lawyer is groomed to pull strings for Washington’s power elite, and Quirk delivers a new spin on power and corruption. Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles (Random House, $26) is another debut novel, albeit a more literary one. Here, the slowing of the Earth’s rotation causes an unforgettable backdrop for this stunning coming-of-age novel. I’m also looking forward to Alex Stone’s Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind (Harper, $27). Stone has a background in physics, but his desire to become a master magician takes him all over the world, from Vegas to Stockholm.

Remember Anthony Swofford’s riveting Jarhead (2003)? The ex-Marine is back with Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails: A Memoir (Twelve, $27), an honest account of the madness that followed his service in the Gulf War. Barack Obama: The Story (Simon & Schuster, $32.50) is something of a misnomer; David Maraniss has written a detailed biography of the current president, but it only covers his first 27 years. The results of this election year will determine the length of Maraniss’ next installment.

In addition to fireworks, July brings a little local interest with Caesars headliner Elton John’s Love is the Cure: On Life, Love, and the End of AIDS (Little, Brown and Co., $28) and Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (Princeton University Press, $35). The latter is anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll’s riveting account of our fascination with machine gambling, based on 15 years of research.

Bottom line? Printed books won’t fade as fast as your summer tan. E-book sales will steadily increase, thanks to lower costs and convenience, but publishers are still ordering huge print runs and distributing millions of books. The Apple lawsuit may have benefited Amazon, but since Microsoft just entered the fray by investing in Barnes & Noble’s Nook, don’t despair of an Amazon monopoly just yet. Hardcovers and paperbacks don’t dominate the market the way they used to, but they will never disappear.

Suggested Next Read

Open letter  to Mitt: Embrace Donny & Marie


Open letter to Mitt: Embrace Donny & Marie

By Steve Bornfeld

Yo, Mitt—over here. Acting as your (apolitical) adviser, may I suggest a campaign stop? Our bastion of fulsome wholesomeness: Flamingo’s Donny & Marie show. Why: The M Word. Rightly or wrongly, the Mormonism of Mitt is in play. (Politically indifferent readers, we’re addressing the Mittster, a.k.a. Mr. Romney, presumptive Republican presidential nominee.) Portrayed as so colorless you’d lose a personality contest to a coatrack, you’ve made some voters and pundits uneasy as the enigmatic face of a religion many don’t understand and some fear.