Three Choices for Great Summer Reads

| By Melanie McNair |

Many of us look forward to the uninterrupted reading that can happen only when we are away from our daily routine, stretched out on a beach towel under the summer sun. I’ve chosen three radically different new books here for summer reading options.

Books1First, for those who like a good historical novel, I recommend Melanie Benjamin’s The Swans of Fifth Avenue. Set in the luxurious homes and hotel suites of New York’s high society in the 1950’s, reading this feels like being on the receiving end of the hottest gossip of the day. It starts that way anyway. The swans in the book refer to the glamorous women Truman Capote cultivated friendships with in his effort to be at the center of the golden heart of successful New Yorkers. One swan, Grace Paley, emerges as the queen, and the relationship between her and Capote is nothing less than a great love. Benjamin conjures complex pasts for each character, taking these giants from history and painting them as both fragile and admirable in their humanness. Of course, it is their flaws that ultimately matter most.

The next book is also a historical novel, but this one is set in sixteenth century Istanbul, during the Ottoman Empire. In The Architect’s Apprentice, Turkish novelist Elif Shafak builds a story using all of the elements of her native city to their fullest potential. East, West, science, religion, knowledge, ignorance, art, beauty, ugliness, vast wealth, poverty, Christian, Muslim, and Jew all mingle together in the rich tapestry of the world built here. The novel is told from the point of view of Jahan, a boy whose family raises elephants in India. He accompanies Chota, a rare white elephant, to the menagerie of the Sultan. The royal architect and the Sultan’s daughter discover him there and great stories are set in motion. Shafak is Turkey’s most read novelist, and it is clear to see why her books have been translated into over forty languages. She is a writer whose imagination and lyricism transport readers into alternate universes where art and beauty matter most. This one is newly out in paperback, so it won’t weigh your beach bag down.

For the final book, I’ve chosen a book for those readers who prefer to spend their beach time catching up on current events. Carol Anderson’s White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide could not have been better timed, given the national conversation sparked by the presidential primaries. Anderson is a professor at Emory University and she carefully links events in American history with the more recent conflicts in Ferguson, Missouri. She argues that, while the media focused attention on riots and “black rage,” the real problem is white rage. She unpacks American history with a focus on race, starting with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment and moving through reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act, the War on Drugs, and voter suppression laws in Southern swing states. She is meticulous in her arguments and relentless in her focus. This one is guaranteed to elicit a strong response in any reader and will likely become a big part of the conversation about race in the media in the next few months as we move toward Election Day in November.

There are many great new books to choose from, so come on by the store for a recommendation based on what you love.

Melanie McNair is a writer and bookseller living in Asheville, NC. You can reach her at

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker