New York Times Summer Reading Recommendations

The gray lady recently revealed several Summer 2017 reading lists in mystery, horror, graphic novels, and more, including these 10 Macmillan titles:
True Crime (full list)

In his lively literary biography ARTHUR AND SHERLOCK: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes, Michael Sims traces the real-life inspiration for the first “scientific detective” to the renowned Dr. Joseph Bell, a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh celebrated for his uncanny diagnostic observational skills. His methods were “quite easy, gentlemen,” Dr. Bell would assure his students. “If you will only observe and put two and two together,” you, too, could deduce a man’s profession, family history and social status from the way he buttons his waistcoat.

Grace Humiston was an advocate for an earlier generation of lost and forgotten women, and her inspiring story demands a hearing. In MRS. SHERLOCK HOLMES: The True Story of New York City’s Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case That Captivated a Nation, Brad Ricca makes a heroic case for Humiston, a lawyer and United States district attorney who forged a career of defending powerless women and immigrants. For her dogged work on the 1917 case of a missing girl that the police had given up on, the newspapers called her “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes.”

Authors of true crime books have made a cottage industry out of analyzing what makes killers tick. Michael Cannell gives credit where credit is due in INCENDIARY: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber, and the Invention of Criminal Profiling by profiling one of the pioneers, Dr. James A. Brussel, a New York psychiatrist who specialized in the criminal mind. After 28 attacks, Dr. Brussel, a Freudian psychiatrist who ministered to patients at Creedmoor state mental hospital, used “reverse psychology,” a precursor of criminal profiling, to identify features of the bomber — his “sexuality, race, appearance, work history and personality type.” Aside from an unseemly fight over the $26,000 reward money, the case was a genuine groundbreaker in criminal forensics.

Horror (full list)

Some horror novels, though, feel timeless whenever you happen to read them, and Kit Reed’s wondrous new ghost story MORMAMA seems to me one of those. It’s a haunted-house tale, set in Jacksonville, Fla., in which three elderly sisters, a young single mother, her 12-year-old son and an amnesiac drifter who might be related to them all, attempt to fend off the uneasy spirits also resident in the crumbling mansion they live in. Reed, who has been writing fiction of all kinds for nearly 60 years, certainly knows how to construct a traditional spooky tale, and she does that expertly in MORMAMA, alternating different voices (some living, some not), laying out complex family relationships over several generations, managing a complicated plot and then drawing everything together in a spectacular, and unexpectedly moving, conclusion.

Graphic Novels (full list)

Most of Guy Delisle’s longer graphic novels to date, like PYONGYANG and BURMA CHRONICLES, have been memoirs of his travels. HOSTAGE is neither about the Canadian cartoonist’s own experiences nor grounded in his canny observations of place: It’s the story of Christophe André, who spent almost four months in 1997 as a hostage. Kidnapped from a Doctors Without Borders office in Nazran, Ingushetia, a Russian republic near Chechnya, where he was an administrator, he was taken to Grozny and handcuffed to a radiator next to a mattress in a darkened room. That was all André knew. He didn’t speak his captors’ language, got almost no information of any kind from them, and had no way of knowing when or how he might be freed.

It’s usually a slight to argue that an artist “hasn’t found their voice yet”; in the case of the restlessly versatile Jillian Tamaki, it’s an endorsement. BOUNDLESS collects short stories that are so far apart from one another in tone and technique that they could almost pass for the work of entirely different artists. If Tamaki (the illustrator of the Book Review’s By the Book feature) has a favorite storytelling strategy, it seems to be dreaming up some kind of odd artifact of mass culture and then examining the way people react to it.

Travel (full list)

In HAVANA: A Subtropical Delirium, Mark Kurlansky (whose previous books include COD, SALT, and PAPER) concedes that “to be truthful,” the place “is a mess. The sidewalks are cracked and broken, as are most of the streets.” So that prospective visitors can know what they’re not yet missing, Kurlansky reaches back 500 years to track the city’s evolving history, separating out the different strands — Spanish, African, American, Russian; political, social, musical, culinary — that slowly steeped to create Havana’s piquant blend of static defiance. For now, the city retains the form it has held for so long, “frozen in the tropics” and time.

When Lisa Dickey went to live in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1995, hoping to energize her journalistic career, she had no idea she would be drawn back again and again. But that year she accepted an invitation from a photojournalist to travel by car and create a “very personal” photo essay. The result was a portrait, “in words and photographs, of the lives of contemporary Russians.” Ten years later, she returned to revisit the people she had met. And in 2015 she returned yet again. In BEARS IN THE STREETS: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia, Dickey integrates all three visits in 12 chapters, divided by city. The title of her book comes from a repeated complaint she heard on her most recent trip: “Americans think that in Russia, we have bears roaming in the streets!”

Nature (full list)

The intriguing, and more intimate, WITNESS TREE: Seasons of Change With a Century-Old Oak, by Lynda V. Mapes, portrays trees as “scribes, diarists, historians.” A reporter herself, covering environmental issues for The Seattle Times, Mapes sets out to tell the story of climate change through one tree. She finds her oak in the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts and spends a year with it, telling of the farm on which it grew, twisting up out of a stone wall, and drawing forth people devoted to befriending and studying trees. Mapes is a graceful writer. She describes “the quiet finesse” of a tree; “the fructifying funk” at the base of an oak; the “wand of time” that is a core sample drilled out to ascertain age; the “choring and the weariness” in the diary of a 19th-century farmer’s wife; a spider that has “rappelled gracefully” off her glasses.

Music (full list)

The structure of the prolific songwriter Jimmy Webb’s THE CAKE AND THE RAIN is as unorthodox, and at times as puzzling, as the lyrics of “MacArthur Park,” the oft-recorded Webb composition from which the book takes its name. THE CAKE AND THE RAIN is full of colorful anecdotes, well told and entertainingly punctuated by the steady dropping of names: Frank Sinatra was my friend! Louis Armstrong encouraged me! Elvis Presley knew my name! They range from harrowing tales of extreme partying to the origin of the monster hit “Up, Up and Away” — a music-business friend Webb for some reason identifies only as the Devil (we never do learn his name) asked him to write a song about a hot-air balloon for a movie that never happened — to the remarkable account of a chamber music concert at his home for which everyone, the musicians as well as an audience that included Joni Mitchell and David Geffen, was required to be nude.

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