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Summer Reading List: Super-Smart Edition

There’s nothing lightweight about the Bay Area’s literary community—nor, it turns out, about their idea of “light” summer reading. Here’s what a few local luminaries have been doing this summer and the books they’ve taken along with them.

Peggy Orenstein

How you know her: Prolific feminist author whose works include Waiting for Daisy (2008) and Cinderella Ate My Daughter (2011).

What she’s doing this summer: Visiting the Minnesota State Fair, which is “famous for its food-on-a-stick: pork chops on a stick, Belgian waffles on a stick, deep-fried pickles on a stick, Alligator on a stick, deep fried candy bars on a stick, chocolate covered bacon on a stick...”

What she’s reading:

Kepler’s Dream, by Juliet Bell (2012)

“My daughter Daisy and I are enthralled right now by the local author of this wonderful young adult novel.”

The Fatal Gift of Beauty, by Nina Burleigh (2012)

“This is about the Amanda Knox Trial. Not exactly a beach read, but an amazing story and incredible reporting.”

 

Rebecca Solnit

How you know her: As the author of 17 books on politics, art, history, and the environment, including Infinite City, (2010), arguably the most interesting atlas that’s even been done of San Francisco.

What she’s doing this summer: Spending some time in New Orleans: “It’s near 100% humidity and in the 90s here, with many compensating glories.”

What she’s reading:

When Women Were Birds, by Terry Tempest Williams (2012)

“This should get some sort of prize for the most poetic title in recent history. It’s about Terry’s mother, but also about women and silence and erasure”

Migritudes, by Shailja Patel (2010)

“This one is about Shailja herself, her mother, immigrant experience, displacement, and claiming voice and power; it emerged from dramatic performances of the texts, but the book is its own beautiful journey through ideas and images.”

 

Tupelo Hassman

How you know her: Her 2012 debut novel, the trailer-park drama Girlchild (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which the New York Times called “harrowing.”

What she’s doing this summer: Getting married and heading to the UK for Girlchild’s release there. “Such an important summer requires very important books.”

What she’s reading:

Speak, Memory, by Vladimir Nabokov.

“My brother Daniel suffered a traumatic brain injury a few years ago and his memory still suffers. Today, he remembers me best as a little girl. My fascination with memory grows, so I’m turning to old man Nabokov’s take on the subject. That guy knows everything.”

All of Margaret Atwood, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Anne Lamott, and Susan Straight.

“As a first-time novelist, I’m feeling the need for a posse, so I’m reading through beloved female writers’ collections in order of publication. Not only am I hearing how their voices and themes have developed, I’m having a fantastic time. This meets my need for obsessive focus but is way better than organizing socks.”

 

Don Lattin

How you know him: One-time Chronicle religion reporter who wrote the irresistible The Harvard Psychedelic Club (2011)

What he’s doing this summer: “Most of my summer will be spent planning a fall season of shameless self-promotion for my new memoir, Distilled Spirits” (University of California Press)

What he’s reading:

Out of the Flames, by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (2003)

“It’s the story of the Protestant Reformation and the Inquisition as told through the life of Michael Servetus, a free-thinking 16th-century theologian who was burned at the stake. It’s a great read, just my kind of light summer fare.”

 

Adam Hochschild

How you know him: The journalist, essayist, and social critique responsible for, among other weighty works, King Leopold’s Ghost (1999).

What he’s doing this summer: “Trying to get a start on a new book when I’m not taking care of my grandchildren.”

What he’s reading:

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo (2012)

“The first book by a writer whose magazine reporting in The New Yorker I have long admired greatly.”

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

“I’ve read it twice before, but this will be the first time in the [2004] translation by the much-praised team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, who have been retranslating all the Russian classics.”

 

Stephen Elliott

How you know him: Editor-in-chief of The Rumpus and author of seven books, including The Adderall Diaries (2010).

What he’s doing this summer: Working on the film adaptation of his 2004 novel, Happy Baby, and “immersing myself in [the late Chilean author] Roberto Bolano, whose sentences are magical. Really, for me, there is only Roberto Bolano. It’s hard to care about anyone else.”

What he’s reading:

Bolano’s The Savage Detectives (U.S. edition, 2007)

“In Bolano’s work, especially in this book, poets are people of consequence, where they publish matters.”

Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas (2009)

“A series of short biographies of right-wing poets and novelists. I’m reasonably certain it was fiction.”

Bolano’s 2666 (2008) “His masterpiece. 2666 is about the killings in Juarez; it’s the only thing I’ve ever read that makes any sense of it, or at least tries.