The Books of Summer



by Rebecca West (1957)
Recommended by Laura Amy Schlitz

“Rebecca West’s ‘The Fountain Overflows’ is a book with a piquant and distinctive flavor. Set at the turn of the last century in foggy London, it is a family story: warm, delicious and funny. The father is a mercurial genius addicted to debt and disgrace; his wife, a brilliant musician, is characterized as a bird of prey. Though the plot includes both a poltergeist and a murder, the main conflict is centered on the appalling musicianship of the oldest girl, Cordelia, who insists on playing the violin. The real subjects of the book—its central mysteries—are music and family love.”

Newbery Medal-winning children’s literature author Laura Amy Schlitz has published six books, including last year’s “Splendors and Glooms.” She works as a librarian at the Park School.


by Paul Bowles (1949)
Recommended by Manil Suri

“‘The sky hides the night behind it, and shelters the person beneath from the horror that lies above.’ Like this famous line, the rest of this great novel draws you deeper into its existentialist angst each time you read it. Sit on the beach this summer and allow yourself to be transported to the sands of the Sahara instead. It won’t be a tourist trip but rather a journey into a vast and timeless landscape that will strip away the trappings of civilization you know and set you loose in a more primeval existence.”

Manil Suri, a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is the author of “The Death of Vishnu” and “The Age of Shiva.” His new novel, “The City of Devi,” was published earlier this year.


by Patricia Highsmith (1952)
Recommended by Jessica Anya Blau

“Patricia Highsmith is one of my favorite writers from the 1950s. She wrote ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ series; ‘Strangers on a Train,’ which Hitchcock made into a great movie; and ‘The Price of Salt,’ which I’m recommending. The story starts when Therese and Carol meet in a department store. As their relationship develops, they take off on a road trip with Carol trying to outrun her husband and Therese trying to hang on to Carol. It feels a lot like ‘Thelma and Louise,’ only it’s the ’50s. Oh, and the women are in love.”

Jessica Anya Blau has published three novels: “The Summer of Naked Swim Parties,” “Drinking Closer to Home” and the just-out “The Wonder Bread Summer.” Winkingly modeled on “Alice in Wonderland,” Blau’s new book traces the calamitous adventures and misadventures of a college gal inadvertently enmeshed in a drug-dealing ring.


by Michael Kimball (2012)
Recommended by Madison Smartt Bell

“The latest novel by the always startling Michael Kimball has got a lot of wit and a lot of heart, in a strikingly poignant combination. The daring Mobius loop-the-loop this book makes between fiction and memoir is something I haven’t seen before in quite this style. It makes you wonder what you can trust, but maybe that’s the point. ‘Big Ray’ is richly entertaining, thought-provoking and more than a little troubling, all in one. In the end, it’s a lesson in finding some way to love somebody you’ve got lots of good reasons to hate.”

The multiple-award-winning author of 21 books, Madison Smartt Bell is most celebrated for his trilogy of novels about Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian revolution. His most recent book is the 2011 novel “The Color of Night.” He is a professor of English in Goucher College’s Creative Writing Program.


by Robert Coover (1968)
Recommended by Dan Fesperman

“Summer means baseball. It also means kicking off your shoes and letting your mind run free. Coover takes the conventions of the baseball novel and stands them on their head, doses them with a hallucinogen and strips them naked. Lovingly so. The result is a darkly funny tale of a sad sack office drone who becomes so absorbed in the world of his own tabletop dice baseball game (note to baby boomers: think of a personalized version of Strat-O-Matic in which every player and team springs from your imagination, complete with back stories) that it takes over his life.”

Dan Fesperman has authored eight international thrillers, several of which have earned awards in the United States and England. A former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, his most recent novel, “The Double Game,” was published in 2012.

Beautiful Ruins

by Jess Walter (2012)
Recommended by Marion Winik

“If you’re looking for a good time—the literary kind—then stop here. This is the most fun book I’ve read in years. Walter’s gorgeous, juicy, beautifully written novel moves from 1962 to the present, from a tiny Italian coastal town to the Hollywood backlot; along the way, it narrates a love story, meditating on fate and serving up an all-you-can-eat buffet of fiction’s pleasures—suspense, glamour, wisdom, beauty, satire and pathos. Among the ensemble cast of sweethearts and rogues is a spot-on version of dipsomaniac womanizer Richard Burton, here given a secret love child and a hilarious, drunken soliloquy delivered from a fishing boat.”

Marion Winik is the author of nine books, including this month’s “Highs in the Low Fifties”—a sweet-and-sour, smart-and-sassy memoir of her dating life in Baltimore.Winik is an assistant professor in the University of Baltimore’s School of Communications Design, and her biweekly “Bohemian Rhapsody” column appears at


Translated by Coleman Barks (2004)
Recommended by MK Asante

“My favorite poet: illuminating, funny, inspiring, piercing and mystical all at once. I revisit the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi often. Each time, new ideas, new images and new relevancies emerge. No matter where I am in the world or in my life, Rumi assures me, ‘What you seek is seeking you.’ He asks me, ‘You were born with wings. Why prefer to crawl through life?’ And, finally, he instructs me, ‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Author and filmmaker MK Asante has published two collections of poetry and the nonfiction “It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop.” His memoir, “Buck,” scheduled for an August release, chronicles his years growing up in a troubled family amid the violence of North Philadelphia. Asante teaches creative writing and film in the Department of English and Language Arts at Morgan State University.


by Paulo Coelho (1988)
Recommended by Sheri Booker

“While I’ve read many books, only one has challenged me to look deeper within. Far from a self-help book, Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’ is my go-to read for all things concerning life. In this tale of self-discovery, a young Santiago takes a journey to find a hidden treasure, only to discover the treasure is already inside. He realizes that a little faith, courage and self-trust are all he needs to develop his personal legend. I throw this book in my carry-on for long trips and keep it handy on my iPad. It’s a timeless tale of magic that can be read over and over.”

Sheri Booker is the author of the poetry and short story collection “One Woman, One Hustle” and the e-book “I Am the Poem.” Her just-published coming-of-age memoir, “Nine Years Under,” recounts her near decade-long, tragicomic stint working in a West Baltimore funeral home.


by Wilton Barnhardt (1989)
Recommended by Laura Lippman

“It’s a book that made me laugh out loud—and one that almost made me cry as well. Almost. It’s a true coming-of-age story about that seminal time when you realize you’re going to be a little less crazy and a lot less interesting than you once thought. It has an eclectic fan base, and I’m always tripping over other huge fans—such as Alex Marwood, a U.K. crime writer whose debut novel I read recently. We got to talking via Facebook and found out that we both adored it.”

Multiple-award-winning author Laura Lippman has published 18 books, including 11 in the popular Tess Monaghan private investigator series. Her most recent is last year’s “And When She Was Good.”


by Richard Wilbur (2005)
Recommended by Daniel Mark Epstein

“Richard Wilbur has been widely praised for the elegance of his verse: the beauty of his musical line, the brilliance of his imagery and the ingenuity of his metaphors. I value the life-giving function at the heart of that celebrated technique—that is, a man thinking deeply with his entire being, a man who thinks feelingly. He is our greatest metaphysical poet. His work is an invaluable record of a poet’s struggle with the eternal questions of life, death and perception: ‘The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save/That in the very happiest intellection/A graceful error may correct the cave.’”

The author of eight volumes of poetry and seven biographies, including three pertaining to Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Mark Epstein’s most recent book is “The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait,” published in 2011.

Book Keepers

Checking in with The Ivy Bookshop

When New Yorkers Ed and Ann Berlin bought The Ivy Bookshop 18 months ago and moved to Baltimore, people told them they were crazy. But a year and a half later, the Falls Road shop isn’t just surviving but thriving. “Our numbers are up from last year,” says Ed, who grew up in Forest Park. “It continues to surprise us how much the community wants an independent bookstore, how much they value a non-generic place to shop.”

In an era when readers can download a novel at the click of a mouse, The Ivy has carved out a niche by offering author readings, book clubs and a “curated selection” of more than 30,000 titles. “A good, independent bookstore should be part of the community, a gathering spot and a source of intelligence on the best literature out there,” says Ed.

The Berlins say that by Christmas they should be selling e-books, which may not seem like the province of an independent bookstore, but the owners say the medium could grow to become nearly half the shop’s business within five years. “People feel as comfortable listening to the radio as watching TV,” says Ed. “There doesn’t need to be two distinct camps [of readers].”

All told, the Berlins say their expectations for The Ivy have been met—except one. “We expected to be able to relax a little more in Baltimore,” says Ann, who retired from the book publishing industry. “We’re busier than ever.”

The Berlins’ recommended summer reads: Fiction—“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” by Anthony Marra. “Marra spent two weeks in Chechnya and you would think he lived through the war,” says Ann. “It’s phenomenal, a beautiful story about noble characters having to deal with difficult circumstances.” Nonfiction—“Brilliant Blunders,” by Mario Livio. “By a Baltimore astrophysicist. It’s extremely accessible book about how the bigger the scientific intellect, the bigger the blunder,” says Ed. “But it goes on to tell how each of these blunders led to even bigger discoveries.” —Joe Sugarman  

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