It's warm outside. There are adventures to be had, places to see, and people to meet. We all have so much to say, do, and learn in the course of a few months. This summer, take the opportunity to use your reading time to look through the eyes of someone different. Become involved in their story and their passions. Let them draw you in, becoming an important part of your summer break and the growing up process that comes with it.
These books held my rapt attention for a few days and have stayed firmly anchored in my memory since. They illuminate people, whether fictional, past or present. Each one brought a particular issue to my attention and caused me to think about it. Each one also surprised me for its ability to communicate and connect, while still being absolutely enjoyable. Novel, memoir, or otherwise, they are easy to read, engrossing, fun, and have that certain summer flair.
A Painted House by John Grisham
A Painted House is not the typical John Grisham legal thriller. Set in 1952, this coming of age novel centers around 7-year-old Luke Chandler, who lives with his dirt-poor family on their Arkansas cotton farm. The Chandler family is typical of most cotton farmers of the time-they are simply trying to harvest enough cotton to feed themselves.
Grisham's writing prowess is on display here as he takes readers through a nostalgic journey to a time and place where life was simpler and every day was tough. Survival depended on rain, the price of cotton, and how many "hill folk" and Mexicans you could hire to help harvest the crop. The prose is simple and beautiful throughout, whether discussing the importance of Cardinals baseball or the rugged Arkansas landscape.
The book's characters are engaging, and memorable-love them or hate them. The character development is the bread and butter of the story. The plot itself moves quickly and powerfully and is not overly complicated, but Grisham throws in a couple twists you won't see coming.
While it is not Grisham's usual fare, A Painted House is easily in the running for his finest work. Part To Kill a Mockingbird, part Grapes of Wrath there is something in this boyhood romp through summer for every reader.
Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz
Pulitzer prize winning author and journalist Tony Horwitz has an obsession with the Civil War. His father passed it down to him in part by reading accounts of the "War Between the States" to young Tony, in the place of standard fairy tales. When Horwitz wakes up one morning in his peaceful New England home to the sounds of musket fire and rebel yells, he is more than a little confused.
On that morning, Horwitz meets the "hardcores," a group of extreme Civil War re-enactors who strive for absolute authenticity-they forsake modern comforts such as electricity and plastics in their quest for the ultimate "period rush." Horwitz is fascinated and sets out on a two-year journey to discover the meaning behind modern obsession with the Civil War.
Humorous and exceptionally well written, this travelogue examines the war that still affects every American today. Travel from Fort Sumpter, in Charleston, S.C., where the first shots of the war were fired, all the way to Appamatox, Va., where General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysess S. Grant. Engage a sub-culture of fanatic history buffs you never knew existed. Come to understand the numerous and unseen ways the Civil War is still being played out. You don't have to be a Civil War expert to understand what Horwitz is saying, and any Civil War buff will learn something in the process of joining him on his journey.
Confederates in the Attic is chock full of adventure, zany characters, interviews, and incredible insight into the American South. Part history, part sociology, and incredibly entertaining, this is not a book to be missed. If you thought the Civil War was over, think again.
Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston
Imagine Honey I Shrunk the Kids crossed with Godzilla. Throw in a giant bug, some menacing, technologically tricked out bad guys, a group of grad students, and a world unexplored by us big humans and you have Micro.
Michael Crichton is the man who wrote Jurassic Park and brought the long-running television show "ER" to the world. He has written numerous other books, including State of Fear, a novel he used as a counter point to proponents of global warming. Crichton passed away in 2008 and readers reconciled themselves to no more new material.
But as they sorted through his desk, Crichton's family found a number of unfinished manuscripts. Richard Preston, a writer of scientific horror, stepped up to complete Micro in Crichton's stead. The transition between authors is seamless.
The plot is gripping, well researched, and terrifying. Micro preys on the fears of 21st century readers-technology that is hard to understand, impossible to control, and deadlier than imagined. The consequences are horrifying. The only thing keeping Micro from becoming a sci-fi classic is some jerky dialogue and underdeveloped characters.
The story itself is reason enough to give "Micro" a try, despite some flaws. Once you start reading, it is hard to put down. Once you read it, it's unforgettable, and all too believable.
The Pat Conroy Cookbook by Pat Conroy
Before you skip over this suggestion and move on, let me explain. I can't cook. In fact, I regularly burn brownies, massacre pancakes, create awful salads, and have even set fire to more than one Pop-tart. The Pat Conroy Cookbook is about more than a catalog of recipes. If it were just about cooking it would be useless to me. The Pat Conroy Cookbook is about stories. It's about life, creativity, passion, family, friends-all within the inspiring world of a phenomenal writer. And of course, it's about the food that fuels it all.
The Pat Conroy Cookbook is a memoir disguised as a cookbook. It is filled with hilarious, touching, memorable tales written with flair. Conroy artfully recounts his days strolling in the footsteps of legendary authors, like Hemingway, in Paris. Pride and love are evident in his tone as he tells of cooking for his daughter's bridesmaid luncheon. A chapter entitled "Dying Down South is More Fun" expertly observes and explains the peculiar, revered institution of the Southern funeral. Perhaps most memorable is a chapter where he explains how he came to write the ending for "The Great Santini," a chapter so intense that I stopped blinking and breathing while I read it. Each story has a hearty helping of food to go with it.
The book contains 21 chapters and 100 recipes, which range from peach pie to sophisticated Italian dishes, fluffy biscuits, or classic southern shrimp and grits. Any palate would find something to eat among the book's pages.
If you are a gifted cook, unlike myself, you'll find plenty of inspiration. If you are an aspiring writer, you'll also find inspiration. If you just enjoy a well-spun story, then I can't recommend this enough. Pat Conroy has a gift for speaking directly to the heart, leaving behind words you will have a hard time forgetting.
I would recommend reading anything by Pat Conroy, who has written multiple bestselling novels and memoirs. His writing style is surpassed by few authors of our day, or any other for that matter. He is a master, first rate storyteller. If he decided to publish his grocery list, it probably would be worth reading.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby requires little introduction. Set in the summer of 1922, Fitzgerald's legendary novel follows Nick Caraway and a cast of young New York City elites. They are models of a morally lax, grandiose lifestyle. The Roaring 20's was a time of plenty in the United States. Lavish was the word of the day, and Nick's new acquaintance Gatsby is the master of over the top.
Critically acclaimed as Fitzgerald's finest work, The Great Gatsby effectively captured the spirit of a generation. His finely crafted work is hailed as a classic American novel, required reading for most high school and college students. The novel utilizes symbolism with stunning results.
If you haven't yet had a chance to pick up this poetic bit of fiction, this summer would be a great time to soak in the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald, one strikingly similar to our own.
Even if you have read The Great Gatsby go back and read it again. With a new movie adaption hitting theatres this year, it will be worth another look. Soak in a timeless American masterpiece while you're swinging in your hammock or catching some rays at the beach.
Editor's note: This is the 14th in a series of summer reading recommendations from World on Campus writers. Each writer chose a few of his or her personal favorites to share with readers who might be looking for something new, or old, to dive into before class starts next semester. Don't miss the other reviews in our Summer Reading series. Enjoy!