Peculiar and fascinating, like a bad car wreck you can’t take your eyes off of, Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip will keep you turning pages long after you’ve vowed to stop. Taking scrapbooking to the edge of darkness, Lesy chronicles the death and destruction of a small town in the late 1800s through photos, letters and newspaper clippings that promise to distort your view of nostalgia.
An engaging and intelligent writer, Shankar Vedantam tells the story of the subconscious in The Hidden Brain. Sometimes chilling and always fascinating, Vedantam shows how and why we, often unbeknownst to ourselves, make decisions as large as whom we vote for without realizing why.
Carol Goodman’s Arcadia Falls manages beautifully as a faux historic tale and compelling read. Set in an art school chock full of secrets, lost diaries and unresolved murders, Goodman’s lead character, Meg Rosenthal, takes you along on her journey through time that surprises and delights at every twist and gnarled turn.
Finally, another wonderful novel from Glen David Gold, the genius behind Carter Beats the Devil. The author’s latest, Sunnyside, whips up an equally intoxicating mix of history, fantasy and illusion with a heaping side of “what if.”
Secrets, adoption, kidnapping and mental illness all play a role in Geoffrey Becker’s Hot Springs. If that’s not enough to intrigue the reader, Becker also turns out to be a rollicking good read and a terrific writer.
A new Anne Lamott book always calls for a celebration and Imperfect Birds is no exception. While I always revel in her terrific nonfiction works, like Operating Instructions and Bird by Bird, a trip into Lamott’s imagination remains a treat.
Sometimes love does conquer all, or so trumpets Helen Simonson in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. With verve and a notable appeal, the author unites two characters long past their prime in a way that will provoke palpitations in even the coldest heart.
Katie Crouch’s Men and Dogs combines two chick lit staples in a way that somehow manages to remove both from the realm of cliché. A journey of self-discovery, Crouch has created a great character, in Hannah, whom we can all relate to and root for.
When Kathryn Stockett (The Help) anoints a novel worth reading, it is time to sit up and pay attention. In the case of The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake, you won’t be sorry. A sweeping tale of three women’s lives during WWII, this novel will remind you of the romantic time pre-e-mail, when getting a letter could mean everything.
At last, Jane Smiley has a new tome to match the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres. Private Life, full of rich detail of one woman’s life, spans two centuries to paint a complete and beautiful portrait.
For all the ladies out there, Laura Moriarty’s While I’m Falling provides an intoxicating mixture of romantic love, family strife and college life. Written with surprising finesse for such a readable tome, Moriarty will keep you turning pages.
In the Arts
Amor y Tacos: We could not have said it better. Inspired by roadside taqueros in Baja and Tijuana, Deborah Schneider serves up tacos, antojitos, salsas, tequila- and mezcal-based cocktails and aguas frescas – and you can, too!
If you’re looking to spruce up your dorm, apartment or home, score The Big-Ass Book of Home Décor by do-it-yourself guru Mark Montano. Choose from more than 100 simple, cheap and fun projects to improve your pad.
Got tattoo? Or maybe you’re thinking about getting inked. Body Type 2: More Typographic Tattoos, the sequel to Body Type: Intimate Messages Etched in Flesh, by tattoo expert Ina Saltz showcases over 200 tattoos with commentary, like recollections by the tattooed about their motivations.
A Los Angeles borough lush with history and romance, Laurel Canyon boasts an illustrious rock ’n’ roll pedigree. Harvey Kubernik’s gorgeous illustrated book, Canyon of Dreams, puts you right in the midst of the magic.
Coming Home: A Seasonal Guide to Creating Family Traditions, by Rosanna Bowles, offers recipes, tips, experiences and life lessons that spotlight the magic of tradition and encourages readers to add a little ritual in their lives.
For all you comic-kazes out there – and your numbers appear to be growing exponentially – Alex Ross’ Rough Justice will surely tickle your fancy. Chock full of gorgeous sketches and drawings done for DC Comics, Ross’ talent for gesture, expression and action will leave you breathless.
A perfect gift for film lovers, Robert Schnakenberg’s Secret Lives of Great Filmmakers bursts with esoteric info on your favorite directors. My personal favorite: Hitchcock apparently frightened his actresses by lifting up his shirt to reveal a lack of a belly button.
You’re back from the farmers market, and you don’t know what to whip up with all those fresh veggies. Open The Vegetarian Option, by Simon Hopkinson, for 125 recipes that pair ingredients that naturally enhance each other’s flavors. With headings for 40 different vegetables, you’ll have ideas for days.
Fact proves stronger than fiction in movie producer Jerry Weintraub’s tale When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead. With a huge cache of films under his belt, ranging from Robert Altman’s Nashville to the Ocean’s Eleven series, Weintraub has seen it all and lives to tell about it.
Being from one of America’s oldest and richest families provides the backdrop for Wendy Burden’s insightful story, Dead End Gene Pool. Being a Vanderbilt by blood turns out to be both a blessing and a curse – not to mention a good read.
If you liked Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, you will adore Keeping the Feast. Paula Butturini’s telling of healing herself and her relationship through Rome, with its beauty, cuisine and spirit, will have you booking the next flight out.
Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll provide the ever-loving triumvirate of timeless pleasure and excess. Kerry Cohen’s personal tale, Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, takes you there.
In house-centric Los Angeles, it’s no surprise that real estate has become the hot literary topic of 2010, but the rest of the universe seems to have caught up. Previously handled in such great reads as Stephen McCauley’s witty Alternatives to Sex, Andre Dubus’ House of Sand and Fog and E.M. Forster’s Howards End, real estate is fast replacing sex as the go-to backdrop for a story.
Even memoirs, like Meghan Daum’s funny Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House can dip their toes in this fecund well. With insight and anecdote aplenty, Daum reminds us why Americans feel such a gravitational pull toward hearth and home. She even compares the trend to the previous post-9/11 literary obsession where every other book seemed to be a metaphor for the tragedy.
Splashing Summer Reads