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Elevated Summer Reading

Leave the pulp for the Jersey Shore.


by Sarah Peruzzi

Essays After Eighty
by Donald Hall | First Mariner Books edition 2015

Fifty college-educated guests at a cocktail party would be hard pressed to name more than one poet laureate. And so it’s no surprise that, Donald Hall writes in Essays After Eighty, “I expect my immortality to expire six minutes after my funeral. Literature is a zero-sum game. One poet revives; another gets deader.” In his newest collection of essays, Hall delivers that type of honest analysis of art and aging in America. Praise, fame, and wealth, he reminds readers, are rusted armor against self-doubt, infirmity, and grief. The essays seep into your anxious worrying about what it is you’re supposed to do. But to Hall, “contradiction is the cellular structure of life.” The well-heeled gentleman sipping cognac is a blow-hard; the wild-eyed wizard in the corner has stories to tell. The wizard is Donald Hall.      

The Ancient Minstrel
by Jim Harrison | Grove Press 2016

In the author’s note, the late Jim Harrison writes, “I spent a month trying to figure out whether I should call this novella The Wicked Minstrel or The Ancient Mongrel. Both are apt.” In this memoir disguised as fiction, the protagonist finds that making it rich as a screenwriter hasn’t brought the envisioned joy. His success hinges on gluttony and bacchanalia. “It didn’t work to try and write about sex, doom, death, time, and the cosmos when you were thinking about a massive plate of spaghetti and meatballs.” The second story, Eggs, lets Harrison explore the idea of interspecies love. Not the bestiality type: Catherine, an educated, gritty rancher, has memories of her parents’ liquor fueled fights, dulled by “the soft murmur of the clucking hens.” So it’s to the henhouse for Catherine for refuge and acceptance. To Harrison, our memories might be blood-filled and melancholic, but we can splice in a new reel.    

The Smell of Other People’s Houses
by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock | Wendy Lamb Books 2016

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock debuts an ambitious coming of age novel set in brutal Alaska as four disparate characters struggle to find footing in their unpredictable lives. Hitchcock employs the sense of smell to evoke feelings of longing, regret, misery, and neglect. The rich smell of cedar, clean soap, and privilege, the poor of mildew, whiskey, and sorrow. Caught off guard and repressed by random events and misfortune, Hitchcock’s characters learn that lives can be recharted, and, as Hitchcock writes, “…sometimes you just have to hold on to whatever you can.”

Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens
by Steve Olson | W.W. Norton & Company 2016

In Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, author Steve Olson attempts to unravel how the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens caught so many off guard. From politicians to logging barons, no one wanted to believe the scientists’ warnings that the mountain would likely erupt “violently and intermittently” in the near future. There were trees to harvest and income dependent on tourism and recreation. Olson deftly explains the science of volcanoes and the aftermath of the eruption. But perhaps the most important takeaway is how in an age of climate deniers, Olson writes, “We are all like the people camping northwest of Mount St. Helens in the weeks and days before the volcano’s eruption, blissfully unaware of the risks we face.”

National Geographic Guide To National Parks Of The United States
8th EditionNational Geographic Books 2016

In honor of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, National Geographic revamped their bestselling guidebook with stunning photos, updated maps, and current visitor information. Readers learn insider tips about when to visit and what to do at each of the nation’s 59 National Parks. Discover Capitol Reef, the least known of Utah’s national treasures, where the National Park Service has preserved orchards of more than 3,000 trees, from apricots to apples. Or head north to Denali’s Sable Pass, rich in berries, to watch for rooting Grizzlies.

The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb
by Neal Bascomb | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

In the enthralling The Winter Fortress, author Neil Bascomb unearths a theater of war often overlooked by historians. In 1940, German forces took control of the Vemork hydroelectric plant in Norway. There, Nazi scientists hoped to amass enough “heavy water” to create a viable atomic bomb. Alerted to Germany’s plans, the Allies enlisted saboteurs on skis to blow up the facility. Lief Tronstad, director of the commando operation, tells the men, “Your actions will live in history for a hundred years to come.” Hardly. But at last, Bascomb’s exhaustive research reveals how close the Nazi war machine came to acquiring the bomb. And how, as the last surviving saboteur put it: “…freedom is like a glass boat.”

From our Early Summer 2016 issue.

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