'Day to Day' Vacation Books
In comparison with the rest of the industrialized world, Americans have the longest working days and shortest amount of vacation time. So NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates figures that if she's only got a little bit of time off, she wants to do something specific with it. Here's her literary equivalent of two weeks at the beach:
The Right Address Carrie Karasyov and Jill Kargman (Broadway Books 2004)
The Right Address is the fanciful saga of cutthroat jockeying for social position among New York's "ladies who lunch" -- kind of a modern version of Vanity Fair. Except instead of Becky Sharpe, we have Melanie Korn, an airline flight attendant who struck it rich when she married a sweet schlub of a multimillionaire. Melanie spends most of the book battering her head against the stone walls thrown up by the Upper East Side ladies, and by the book's end her definition of social success has changed radically.
The Botox Diaries by Lynn Schnurnberger and Janice Kaplan (Ballentine Books 2004)
Written by two women -- this team writing thing is a trend, too -- The Botox Diaries chronicles the midlife traumas of two friends in the affluent Connecticut suburbs. There are enough brand names, charity balls and adultery to keep any beach reader happy.
Better Homes and Husbands by Valerie Ann Leff (St. Martin's Press, 2004)
This slim volume follows the goings-on under the roof of a fictional Park Avenue co-op from several points of view, including its uniformed doormen and bespoke-suited head of the co-op board. The author grew up in the building that was once the home of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, so the details and the dialogue sound authentic.
The Paris Review Book for Planes, Trains, Elevators, and Waiting Rooms (Picador USA 2004)
The really cool thing about this book is it's divided into parts that roughly correspond to, as author Richard Powers says in the introduction, "stories arranged in the length of available time." On a plane? There are several short stories from authors like Philip Roth and New Yorker favorite Junot Diaz. An elevator? Plenty of poetry, from people like Philip Larkin, Jamaica Kinkaid and former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky to keep you company between floors. And the book is a paperback, so if you leave it behind as you travel, someone else can enjoy it and pass it on.
The Narrows by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown 2004)
Readers will be happy to see that Connelly's hero, Harry Bosch, has returned -- only this time, he's a former detective. He's given up the detective game, but only officially. Harry Bosch is still very much in pursuit of evil. And many critics think this is Connelly's best book to date.
Little Scarlet: An Easy Rawlins Mystery by Walter Mosley (Little, Brown 2004)
Easy Rawlins is back, and Mosley's latest is set amid the chaos of the 1965 Los Angeles riots. And once again, Mosley shows why he's so very good at wrapping issues of race and class into a compelling story.
The Last King by Nichelle D. Tramble (Ballentine 2004)
Sports and mystery fans might be interested in Nichelle D. Tramble's latest novel, which links a rags-to-riches story, crime, race and professional basketball into one very fast-paced mystery. Oakland usually is lost in San Francisco's shadow, but in this book, you get such a sense of Oakland -- how it's laid out, its social structures. Tramble does for Oakland what Walter Mosely does for Los Angeles, or what Patricia Cornwell did for Richmond.
Web Extra: Here are some more books Bates recommends to wile away the summer hours:
Social Crimes by Jane Stanton Hitchcock (Miramax 2003)
Murder and malice amidst the Highly Social of New York City. When Jo Slater, one of the most revered socialites in Manhattan, loses her husband to a sudden heart attack, she also loses her fortune -- the dear departed left it to the mistress Jo didn't know he had. Hitchcock's mordant wit and sharp eye for this milieu make Social Crimes a really satisfying read.
The Viaduct by Grace Edwards (Doubleday 2003)
Grace Edwards has made her mark in writing mysteries that are set in modern Harlem -- her series of books featuring detective Mali Anderson were very well received. The Viaduct features Marin Taylor, a black Vietnam veteran who is easing back into life, enjoying his role as a husband and father-to-be, when a violent attack sets in motion a chain of events that result in the kidnapping of Taylor's newborn. Edwards is a Harlem native, and writes lovingly -- and sometimes astringently -- about her neighborhood.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Penguin Books 2003)
Fourteen-year-old Lily can barely remember when her mother was alive -- she spends most of her time dreaming about how much her mother loved her, and arguing with (and sometimes being beaten by) her father. When her babysitter Rosaleen has the temerity to argue back with three white men who insult her, Lily and Rosaleen flee before Rosaleen can be lynched. They seek sanctuary in the home of three eccentric sisters who produce locally famous honey -- and who may be able to help unravel the secret of Lily's mother's death. Beautifully written, intensely human, Carson McCullers fans might see echoes of her in this book.
The Noise of Infinite Longing by Luisita Lopez Torregrosa (Rayo 2004)
A finely-written biography about a young woman's coming-of-age in a prosperous Puerto Rican family in the 1950s. Lopez Torregrosa writes about the passionate but ill-fated courtship and marriage of her lawyer mother and physician father, and life in their close-knit extended family. The six Torregrosa children go in all directions -- one sister becomes an adviser to revolutionary Nicarguans, another moves to Dallas to become a prosperous suburban mother, and a brother teaches in the South Bronx. Luisita herself becomes a foreign correspondent, and is now an editor at The New York Times. This memoir will be a revelation for anyone who automatically links "Puerto Rican" with "West Side Story."
Walking With the Wind by John Lewis (Harvest Books 1999)
This intimate account of a life that became enmeshed in the Civil Rights movement is really a snapshot of America at one of its most idealistic times. Lewis' account of the movement and the individuals that contributed to the victory of justice for all is a fine thing to read (or re-read) on the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Summer. In that summer in 1964, Lewis and hundreds of students from around the country, black and white, converged on the Deep South to register black voters, teach in Freedom Schools and press for an end to segregation. Walking With The Wind is a reminder for people who lived through that era of how far we've come. And for people who are too young to remember, it's an evocative portrait of a turning point in American history.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.