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Critics share their picks for this summer's most anticipated reads


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: It's summertime, and the reading is easy. At least, we hope you will get the time to enjoy some books during vacation and travel.

Here to help Jeffrey Brown. He speaks to two big-time readers, who offer some guidance.

It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: We look at some of the many books out or soon out for your summer reading pleasure with Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR's "Fresh Air," and Gilbert Cruz, books editor at The New York Times.

It's nice to see both of you.

Gilbert, I'm going to start with you.

A couple of summer books, however you want to define those. Why don't you start us off?

Gilbert Cruz, Books Editor, The New York Times: So there are two books I want to start off with.

The first is called "The Five-Star Weekend." It's by an author named Elin Hilderbrand, and she's a summer staple. This is a woman, an author who has written almost 30 books, most of which are set on Nantucket Island. She's a perennial bestseller.

This one involves a recently widowed food blogger who brings a bunch of friends together on Nantucket to sort of help her heal. I have read many of these books. I have read one a summer for the past many summers, and they all share similar themes and similar dynamics, and they're quite entertaining. And I'm looking forward to reading this one very much on my vacation soon.

Another book I'm looking forward to this summer is "Crook Manifesto" by Colson Whitehead. Many of your viewers probably know Colson Whitehead's name. He's a two-time Pulitzer winner. He's won for very serious books about the Black experience in America, "Underground Railroad" and "The Nickel Boys."

But he's worked across many genres, and he has written a heist novel. And this is a sequel to that heist novel "Harlem Shuffle," which came out a couple of years ago. That novel was set in 1960s Harlem, and this one is set in 1970s Harlem.

And if you know anything about New York in the 1970s, it was a grimy place, a dangerous place, but it was also a very exciting place. So I'm looking forward to seeing how Colson Whitehead sort of tackles that time period.

Jeffrey Brown: OK.

Maureen Corrigan.

Maureen Corrigan, NPR Book Critic: One novel that I think really is perfect for summer is Luis Alberto Urrea's novel "Good Night, Irene."

Usually, he's writing about issues of the U.S.-Mexican border. But here he's drawing on a story that derives from his mother's experiences during World War II. She was a volunteer with the Red Cross. She was a so-called Donut Dolly. She and another woman rode around in a truck delivering coffee and donuts to servicemen.

I had no idea -- my dad was in World War II, and I had no idea that these women did more than just meet soldiers at the railroad station. His mother followed Patton's Army behind the lines in Battle of the Bulge. I mean, so we're kind of getting a Herman Wouk-type big history, but also with a lot of twists and turns, and very affecting.

So, "Good Night, Irene" is one of my recommendations.

And then Lorrie Moore's "I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home." Lorrie Moore, there's nobody like her, the way she plays with language, her kind of warm, but absurdist view of life. She's telling a double story here. One is a story set in the 19th century, and it has something to do with Abraham Lincoln.

So anybody who's read George Saunders' "Lincoln in the Bardo," this kind of has that feel to it. And then the other story she's telling, it's very up to the minute about a young man who's lost his lover. And it plays into that fantasy of, if only I had a few more hours with this person I have loved. And they go on a road trip together, he and his dead lover.


Jeffrey Brown: Sounds very uplifting for summer.

Maureen Corrigan: It's great.


Jeffrey Brown: OK.

Gilbert, I don't know if -- does your reading change during the summer or do you turn to other genres, other things that you want to -- give us a couple of other picks.

Gilbert Cruz: I love the horror genre. And there's a young author, a Mexican-Canadian author named Silvia Moreno-Garcia, who has a new book out this year called "Silver Nitrate."

She's had some wonderful titles the past couple of years, "The Daughter of Doctor Moreau." A very big one in 2020 was "Mexican Gothic." And this one is set in the 1990s Mexico City film scene. It stars a sound editor, her best friend, who is a soap opera actor, and this cult horror director that they come across who believes he's been cursed by a piece of film that a Nazi occultist sort of handled.

It's spooky and it's scary, but it's also set in Mexico City. So you have both the cool and the hot. It's something that I'm looking forward to checking out this summer.

Jeffrey Brown: You know, Maureen, you have both mentioned some big-name authors. Colson Whitehead, we heard Lorrie Moore.

Maureen Corrigan: Yes.

Jeffrey Brown: I noticed -- I don't know if this is different -- but there seem to be a number of novels coming out by some well-known names.

Maureen Corrigan: There are.

Jeffrey Brown: Ann Patchett, Richard Ford, Isabel Allende.

Maureen Corrigan: Yes. Yes.

Jeffrey Brown: Any that you want to tell us about or...

Maureen Corrigan: You know, I'm looking forward -- who could not to -- Ann Patchett's "Tom Lake," in which she kind of plays with Chekhov's three sisters. These are three sisters who isolate at a family cherry orchard during the pandemic. So there's that.

Richard Ford. he's bringing his Frank Bascombe novels to a close with a fifth novel called "Be Mine." What an achievement. I love Richard Ford. I love his writing. And to think that he's sort of saying farewell to this character whose life has followed his own through the seasons of his own life is really touching.

So, I'm also looking forward to James McBride, "The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store." He too is so wonderful at combining social commentary. This novel is set in the 1970s in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, a Jewish and African American community. But a body is found under the floor of a building site.

So that's something I'm really looking forward to. It does seem as though more big-name authors like Colson Whitehead too are now publishing in the summer. And summary used to be more lighter fare, but I'm happy to see that.

Jeffrey Brown: Let me ask you with both of you one final thing.

A lot of us, a lot of people use the summer to reread an old favorite or perhaps a classic. I don't know if either of you do that. Gilbert, is there anything that you want to go back to?

Gilbert Cruz: I wish I could say that there was. In this job, I feel incredibly guilty if I'm going back and rereading books.

Jeffrey Brown: Oh, you're not allowed to anymore, huh?

Gilbert Cruz: No. No, it's in the contract.

But there are classics that I have not read. It embarrasses me to say so. So, is this the summer that I finally get to "Bleak House" by Charles Dickens? Is this the summer when I finally get to "The House of Mirth"? I don't know. You know, hope springs eternal. I'm hoping that I -- this might be the one.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, Maureen, you have one or two?

Maureen Corrigan: Yes.

This is a big year for Willa Cather, who we're celebrating the 150th anniversary of her birth. This year, "A Lost Lady" celebrates 100 years of its publication. That was made into a film in the '30s with Barbara Stanwyck. And Cather hated the film so much, she wrote a clause into her will: No more films of any of my novels.

Jeffrey Brown: Oh, I have heard that from other novelists who don't like what happened to their...

Maureen Corrigan: Yes.

Jeffrey Brown: Yes.

Maureen Corrigan: But I have been rereading Cather, "One of Ours," her novel about World War I, and "A Lost Lady." And, as a native New Yorker, I came late to Cather. But these novels of the Great Plains are really spectacular.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, that's great, some old books and some new books.

Maureen Corrigan, Gilbert Cruz, thank you both very much.

Maureen Corrigan: Thank you. Thank you.

Gilbert Cruz: Thank you.

Amna Nawaz: And you can find the full list of book recommendations online at

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