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Steve Luxenberg: LibraryThing Author Interview

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Author Steve Luxenberg offers his take on a summer reading list.

Quick: What is summer?

Summer is freedom. Summer is a long walk. Summer is taking a chance, and not caring (as much) whether it works out. Summer is the opposite of "should." Summer is not obligatory. Most of all, summer is not a list.

That's why I cringed at first when LibraryThing asked me for a summer "to-do" list of five books. I was not about to offer five "shoulds" to anyone, especially not anyone within fifty miles of a beach, a lake, a mountain or a glass of something extremely cold.

As an editor myself, I'm familiar with the need for a concept, a gimmick, something to draw readers in. But rather than a to-do list that I feared would end up as a "not done" list, I’ve decided to take a different tack: Here are five books in home-made categories that celebrate the spirit of summer. I chose books that might have slipped by you the first time around. They won't qualify as escapist, but they will transport you to unfamiliar and unknown places. Bon voyage.

  • Rooting for a teenager: Jason Taylor stammers, and that's not his only problem. Bullies outnumber his friends and he can't rely on his family. His stammer isn't even reliable: Some days, he must avoid words beginning with S, while other days, N is his nemesis. David Mitchell's semi-autobiographical novel, Black Swan Green (2006), takes us deep inside Jason's world (which is Britain, circa 1983) as he tries to negotiate his way around the minefields that dot the landscape of his adolescence.
  • The friends we have, the friends we need: Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty (2004) offers an intimate, often funny and always unsparingly honest exploration of friendship and its limits. Even at its most painful moments – and they are inescapable – I found myself immeasurably enriched by Patchett's portrait of her relationship with fellow writer, Lucy Grealy, whose death in 2002 was the spur for Patchett to write this remarkable book.
  • The war novel: No list would be complete without a book that deals with war, but Pat Barker's Regeneration (1991) is unlike any war novel I've ever read. Inspired by the true story of the British soldiers treated for shell shock at an Edinburgh hospital, including several famous anti-war poets who wrote memorably about their battlefield experiences, Barker imagines the conversations and interactions between the soldiers and the doctor who is supposed to bring them back to sanity so they can return to the front.
  • Not your ordinary mystery: If you're looking for a fast, absorbing read that will stay with you long after the sun has gone down, Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know (2007) offers that elusive combination in this tale of two sisters missing for 30 years. One suddenly reappears with a story that doesn't wash, setting the novel in motion. Lippman provides both clues along the way for those who like to figure out the puzzle, and vivid characters for those who put people above plot.
  • Faraway, and yet as timely as today's headlines: Roya Hakakian's memoir Journey From the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Tehran (2004), pulls back the veil on life in Iran in the years before, during and just after the 1979 revolution. She mesmerized me with her ability to stay within her teenage self as she recreated those exhilarating, confusing and (ultimately) repressive days. Her account will resonate for those looking to understand what is happening in Iran today, yet it is, first and always, a coming-of-age story.

Steve Luxenberg is the author of Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret (May 2009), a nonfiction account published by Hyperion. The book has earned starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, and has been featured on NPR's All Things Considered. Steve is an associate editor at The Washington Post. Read more about Annie’s Ghosts at his website, steveluxenberg.com.

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About author interviews

Each month we feature a few exclusive interviews with authors in our "State of the Thing" newsletter. Know an author who might want to be interviewed? Find out more.


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