Northeastern Pennsylvania’s literary experts share their favorite summer books
Whether you’re packing your beach bag with paperbacks or filling up your Kindle with novels you’ve always wanted to read, summer is the perfect time to curl up with a good book. To help us prepare for a summer of great literature, we asked a few of our favorite local bookworms — Joanne Austin, supervisor of the North Branch of the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre; Amye Archer, author and ec and dc Bookmarks’ columnist; and Jim Warner, poet and writer — for their top reading choices this season. Here’s what they’ll be reading this summer, in their own words:
Joanne Austin’s picks:
Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski and Dawn’s Prelude by Tracie Peterson
- Whether you’re a mystery or a sci-fi buff, Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski, will leave you feeling like you just entered an episode of the old TV show “Outer Limits.” This is a great, fast read that takes place in Philadelphia. Mickey Wade just lost his job and ends up in his old neighborhood, crashing in his ailing grandfather’s apartment. While there he pops what he thinks are some expired Tylenol, goes to bed, and wakes up in the past, literally, on the day of his birth. Mickey is able to see things as they were, and not only that, he meets up with the young boy who will eventually grow up to murder his father. When he tries to change the past, to prevent his father’s death, it causes a wave of events that keep this book a true page turner. Drug experiments and insane asylums are at the center of the problems that whip through this story, and we learn what can happen to the present day, when we mess with the past. This book won the 2011 Anthony Award for best paperback and as it turns out, the author formerly lived in Forty Fort before moving to Philadelphia.
- Dawn’s Prelude by Tracie Peterson, is the first in a trilogy of books set in the 1870s. It starts in Missouri where a young Lydia Gray is the widow of a much older Floyd Gray. After a miserable marriage, Lydia is somewhat relieved when her husband of 12 years passes on. The problems start when the family attorney informs her that she has inherited all of her husband’s estate, which is quite substantial. The stumbling block is her grown step-children. They have no intention of letting their stepmother inherit anything, let alone the entire fortune. Not being able to stand the harassment, and with no family to hold her back, she sets out for Alaska, to the home of her aunt, and it is there that she decides to stay. It doesn’t hurt that she meets the handsome local sawmill owner, Kjell Lindquist. All seems well until she realizes that she is pregnant….with her dead husband’s child. With her stepchildren in pursuit and her newly discovered pregnancy, this book is a great story of perseverance in a time when daily living was a difficult task.
Amye Archer’s picks:
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas
- I’ve always been intrigued by This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the great American writer, for two reasons: 1. It was one of the more prominent attempts at an inter-textual novel. It is a fictional narrative that includes some free verse, some poetry, and letters. 2. The book was written as a desperate attempt to win back Fitzgerald’s then girlfriend, Zelda, who he was convinced would come back to him if he could write a successful novel. He was right. I’m a sucker for a good love story. This Side of Paradise is a story about a young, disillusioned youth named Amory, trying to find love and meaning in a post World War One world. The story is also similar in tone to The Great Gatsby in that it is Amory’s search for truth and honesty against the greed and corruption of his generation. Amory is also said to be Fitzgerald in every way that counts, which is a quality of the author’s writing that has always been a draw for me.
- Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas. I could go on and on about this book. It’s the memoir that made me a memoirist. It’s the memoir that made me think about what it means to be a woman, a mother, a wife. It’s the memoir, in my opinion. Abby, as she is called, was married three times. Safekeeping is about her second husband’s lengthy illness and subsequent death. While this is happening, she is married to the third already, but remains co-parents and more importantly, friends, with her second husband. The book is written in many different points of view, sometimes first person, sometimes second, and often third. It is a collection of vignettes stitched together by the common feminine experience. And the reason it is a great beach read? I could read the whole book in a day. It’s the perfect weekend beach read.
Jim Warner’s picks:
Apples to Oranges by Maureen Thorson and Don Juan in Hankey, PA by Gale Martin
When I think about summer reading, it usually consists of looking at a long list of recommendations which I have accumulated throughout a year of work, adjuncting, or long conversations before and after poetry readings near and far. One of the truly great bonuses of doing readings far and wide is the opportunity to get turned on to some fantastic reads. Both of my picks I have had the chance to share the stage with over the last year.
- Maureen Thorson’s first collection of poetry, Apples to Oranges (Ugly Duckling Presse), moves us from the subtle to the sublime of life, using the word orange as a gateway through the entire collection. From the sensual imagery of peeling an orange to the description of color and distortion when ancient technology fails to make connections, Thorson blends craft with the deft hand of distorting expectation all the while speaking in an assured voice which belies the power and authority of her language. The unexpected and the staying power of the unintended endings make each piece resonate reading after reading. At 59 pieces, Thorson’s readability may breeze you through the collection, but it’s true wonder comes from the awareness of our breath as you read it. Like a long, drawn satisfied exhale, Apples to Oranges is the pause we come to discover in the hope for connection.
- A local opera production of Don Giovanni takes center stage in my second summer choice, Don Juan in Hankey, PA by Gale Martin. When the dramatic lead reveals himself to be every bit as much a Don Juan offstage as he is onstage, the struggling Hankey Opera House finds itself with all the kindling it needs to become a 5-alarm dumpster fire. A true joy of a read, Martin has a knack for fleet-footed humorous dialogue with quirky, memorable characters that could only exist in small towns … or the arts. Don Juan in Hankey, PA is a summer read in the truest spirit of the phrase.