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Summer reading

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You could, I suppose, spend your time staring at those damned Magic Eye collections of vibrating squiggles that allegedly turn into 3-D images, but those might take all summer to crack. You could devote yourself to reading all six glorious volumes of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, but that would take very little time at all once you got hooked, and you’d still be left with months of summertime to kill. You could hunker down with George Eliot’s Middlemarch and try to figure out what, exactly, was supposedly so special about the BBC’s recent adaptation (hint: nothing; the book is far more subtle and interesting), but that might be too much small print to handle comfortably while sitting outside in a deck chair. Or you could consider these terrific summer-reading alternatives, none of which involves dogs, angels, or people who have come back from the near-dead and feel compelled to chat about the trip:

Mary Morris is a mother now with a 5-year-old daughter, so I’m not surprised that she’s been hit by that thing that sometimes happens to women writers once they’ve given birth to a child: the urge to incorporate the miracle of parenthood into the plot of one’s books. Her latest, A Mother’s Love, is about mothers and daughters-specifically, about a young mother trying to find her mother, who abandoned her when she was a child. Read it-but then immediately go to the author’s vibrant, earlier nonfiction book Nothing To Declare, to admire how jazzed she was writing about a younger, single Morris living and traveling in Mexico and Central America. The work of the then-unmarried, unmothering author is an inspiration to anyone afraid to make vacation plans-or even go to the movies- without a pal.

For nutty good flavor, snap open the lid of the ingenious cereal-style box that houses T. Coraghessan Boyle’s The Road to Wellville and settle in for a crackling tale told with manic Boyle energy: the story of the inventor of Kellogg’s cornflakes and the early 20th-century spa he created in Battle Creek, Mich., for the promotion of good health, longevity, and other fine American virtues. After which, inspired by the gumption of Kellogg, you’d do well to turn to the chutzpah of Steve Ross, the late tycoon who, with a combination of vision, swagger, schmoozing, and scheming, forged Time Warner, the gigundo entertainment conglomerate that owns this magazine, among other prize assets. Connie Bruck’s Master of the Game is a fascinating chronicle of Ross’ daredevil career; pair it with Christopher Ogden’s The Life of the Party for a nice study in contrasts between an utterly male and a classically female expression of power.

The legions who loved A.S. Byatt’s romantic-yet-brainy Victorian tour de force Possession will settle in happily with Byatt’s Angels & Insects, two new entertaining novellas set in the same richly detailed landscape. But for the legions who loved Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County and Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend-or, for that matter, those who planned to love the books but who found that the writing is about as touching as the verses in Hallmark greeting cards-I’ve got one crucial piece of advice: Read Willa Cather immediately! For poetry, romance, and an American language plain and strong enough to take your breath away, treat yourself to a new copy of that dog-eared high school classic My Antonia and experience what truly great literature is all about. I promise you it will be the most moving experience you have all summer, even counting the thrill of getting one of those squiggle pictures to come into 3-D focus.

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