Infoplease's Recommended Books to Read During the Summer

From One Hundred Years of Solitude to Atlas Shrugged

by Dana Quigley

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Summer brings not only warm weather, but also ample opportunity to curl up with a good book. The next time you're heading to the beach, pack one of Infoplease's recommended summer books. These titles will help keep your mind off the heat during the dog days of summer.

The following purely subjective list includes new and old books that span different genres, countries, and areas of interest.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez (1967, translated into English in 1970 by Gregory Rabassa)
Universal themes abound in this classic novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez. Márquez parallels the complex history of Latin America in the 19th and 20th centuries with the love, loss, and complicated relationships that surround the Buendía family in the fictional town of Macondo. Márquez mixes fact with fantasy, and magnificently recreates the perils and pleasures of growing up in Latin America—and in the Buendia family.

On the Road (1957)
by Jack Kerouac
Kerouac's classic novel symbolizes the Beat movement and deftly captures the thirst for individuality in an era of conformity. This semi-autobiographical novel chronicles the exploits of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty as they travel across America in the late 1940s. This book is perfect for the summer road trip, though you may think twice about reenacting its plot.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
by Michael Chabon
As a teenager, Josef Kavalier escapes Nazi-occupied Prague and travels on a circuitous—and decidedly cramped—journey to New York City to live with his cousin, Sam Klayman. Set during the golden age of comics, the novel follows the young men as they rise to the top of the budding industry. With World War II as a backdrop, the novel draws a stunning portrait of the politics, pop culture, art, literature, religious attitudes, and national sentiment of the period. Chabon won a Pulitzer Prize for the book.

Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
by Thomas Pynchon
Pynchon's postmodern classic follows Oedipa Maas as she executes the will of her ex-boyfriend, Pierce Inverarity, and her attempts to uncover the motive behind a global rivalry between two mail distributors, Thurn and Taxis and the Trystero. Along the way, Oedipa encounters unforgettable characters with unlikely names such as Manny Di Presso and Mike Fallopian. As coincidences collide, Oedipa becomes more and more obsessed with the origin of the Trystero organization and risks her life in her pursuit of answers.

Life of Pi (2001)
by Yann Martel
As the son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry, India, Piscine (Pi) Patel enjoys a fulfilling life, rich in knowledge and adventure. Political turmoil, however, uproots the family. On the way to Canada with numerous zoo animals in tow, their ship sinks. Only Pi, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker survive. Pi must learn to navigate the perils of the sea and outlast his fellow passengers. During his journey, Pi draws on Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism as he develops his philosophy of faith and human nature. Martel won a Booker Prize for the book.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
by Junot Díaz
The eponymous Oscar Wao (actually named Oscar de León) is an overweight, Dominican-American uber-geek with horrible social skills and an obsession with writing fantasy fiction. Oscar is plagued by a curse that has dogged his family for generations, and his tragic family saga is deftly woven into the book. The tragicomedy is packed with pop-culture allusions, Spanish phrases, and plenty of footnotes about Dominican history, which prove to be both appealing and aggravating. Díaz won a National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize for the book.

What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception
by Scott McClellan (2008)
McClellan's memoir recounts his tenure as President George Bush's press secretary from 2003 to 2006. McClellan suggests the Bush administration deliberately manipulated the facts regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and its links to al-Qaeda to justify the invasion of Iraq. Though the clunky title indicates a fundamental bias, the book provides an insider's look at the inner workings of the White House and weighty allegations about the executive branch. McClellan notes that the book is based on his personal reflections—a distinction that did little to mollify proponents of the Bush administration who lashed out at McClellan, who they accused of being cowardly, traitorous, and opportunistic.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2007)
by Michael Pollan
Pollan analyzes the food industry and the ecology of food, tracing and comparing the production of four meals, which include foods that were industrially processed, organically produced, and homegrown. He examines the economic impact and ethical factors of each system. Pollan urges readers to be aware of the origin of the food that they consume and its toll on the environment. Many of Pollan's observations about our food culture are decidedly hard to digest.

Three Cups of Tea (2007)
Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Greg Mortenson, an American nurse, barely survived his unsuccessful attempt to climb Pakistan's K2. He was nursed back to health by the residents of Korphe, a tiny, impoverished village in Pakistan. He vowed to repay them by a building school in the village. Mortenson repaid his debt many times over, building 55 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The novel vividly recounts Mortenson's rewarding, yet often frustrating, effort to replace bombs with books and bring education to regions saturated with violence.

Atlas Shrugged (1957)
Ayn Rand
This behemoth of a novel sums up Rand's school of philosophy—objectivism—through the many interactions of her characters. As hinted by the title, the premise of the book stems from the notion that the innovators of art, industry, politics, literature, science, and thought have stopped contributing their work to the world in protest of unfair compensation from the rest of society. The novel will take a considerable amount of time to read, but the effort will prove immensely satisfying, as it provides many philosophical points to ponder.

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