We gave it an A-
Good swimwear and exciting books are two of summer’s most important purchases. And while we can’t help you find the perfect bathing suit, we DO know a thing or two about great reading. EW Online asked EW’s book editor, Tina Jordan, to recommend the seven books you shouldn’t visit the shore without (in alphabetical order).
1. ”A Confederacy of Dunces,” by John Kennedy Toole (Louisiana State University Press) This is one of my all-time favorite American novels — and without question the funniest book I’ve ever read. It’s the story of a New Orleans misfit and hot dog vendor named Ignatius Reilly, and his crazy mother and assorted friends. It has a fascinating and tragic back story: The author committed suicide, after which his mother tried valiantly to have his sole completed novel published. It was turned down everywhere she sent it until the writer Walker Percy championed it and LSU press took it on. It was published to great acclaim, and Toole won a posthumous Pulitzer. This is the book’s 20th-anniversary reissue. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s an absolute must.
2. ”Demolition Angel,” by Robert Crais (Doubleday) Crais is one of my absolute favorite thriller writers. I’m always surprised that he doesn’t break out and become a best-seller on the scale of, say, Patricia Cornwell, since his books are so fast-paced and gripping. What’s more, he has a real talent for characterization, and this one — about a down-and-out LAPD bomb squad detective on the trail of a mad bomber — doesn’t disappoint.
3. ”Fiona Range,” by Mary McGarry Morris (Viking) Morris was an Oprah pick for her last novel, ”Songs in Ordinary Time,” which I really loved, and this follow-up is equally luminous. It’s not a happy or particularly upbeat story, but it’s a fascinating and complex one — the story of a loser, a young woman who finds herself at a crossroads and makes a valiant effort to get her life together. It’s one of those books I could not put down.
4. ”Five Sisters,” by James Fox (Simon & Schuster) The five sisters of the title were the Langhornes, daughters of an American railroad baron, who at the turn of the century were kind of society’s It Girls: beautiful, smart, and interesting. One served as the model for the Gibson girl and, in fact, married Charles Dana Gibson; another married a British aristocrat and became the first female member of Parliament; the youngest was a rebel who ran around with the F. Scott Fitzgerald crowd. This is a pleasing combination of history and biography.
5. ”Lucy Crocker 2.0,” by Caroline Preston (Scribner) Lucy Crocker designed a nonviolent computer game that became a multimillion dollar hit, and she and her husband started a software company that made them rich. But now her husband’s having an affair with the marketing director; she can’t come up with a sequel to the game; and her twin boys have turned into Internet geeks. This is a sleeper: a quiet, intelligent, rewarding small novel that you want to buy and give to all your friends.
6. ”Romeo and Julie,” by Jeanne Ray (Crown) Nothing against romance novels, but this is a romance novel for someone who wouldn’t be caught dead reading a romance novel. It’s a modern-day take on ”Romeo and Juliet,” which may incite a lot of eye-rolling, but I loved this book. Don’t be put off by the fact that the Romeo and Juliet characters are middle-aged feuding Boston florists. I found the book smart and funny with nothing sappy or sentimental about it.
7. ”White Teeth,” by Zadie Smith (Random House) This debut novel — already a best-seller in England — is one of my favorites. It’s a big, sweeping novel that depicts London as a cultural melting pot, and tackles big, sweeping themes: friendship, race relations, marriage. Its 24-year-old author is already drawing some heady comparisons to Dickens and Trollope. It’s a long, sprawling, satisfying book you can really lose yourself in.