August 7, 2005
My, What a Novel Idea

Okay, so by this time you’ve gone through all those cotton candy summer beach reads. Sure, they were fun, but now you’re ready for some substance and maybe a little something out of the ordinary, right? I went back to some of the writers I’ve recently talked to for City Type for recommendations that could carry you straight through to fall.

Kim Ablon Whitney is the author of young adult novels See You Down the Road and The Perfect Distance, which will be published this fall. She suggests The Cuban Prospect by Boston native Brian Shawver, which she says is especially great for the baseball season.

Tom Daley, poet and poetry teacher, offers these three picks: One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw by Witold Rybczynski. A book for the general reader interested in the history of science and tools, with fascinating digressions into the lives of inventors such as Archimedes. Beatrice Chancy by George Elliott Clarke, a verse play that tells the harrowing tale of the daughter of a white Nova Scotian slaveowner and his African slave in the Canada of the early 19th century. Letter to an Imaginary Friend by Thomas McGrath, an autobiographical book-length poem and a tumultous, heady narrative of growing up in the plains of the Dakotas.

Edith Pearlman, whose most recent short story collection is How to Fall, suggests
St. Exupery, by Stacey Schiff, a biography of the pilot and writer that is eloquent and irresistable; and two novels, Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters and The Shroud, by John Banville, which is dark and fascinating.

Prabakar T. Rajan, author of the poetry collection, Leaving Ripples, offers two recommendations, Elaine Pagel's The Gnostic Gospels, a fascinating glimpse at early Christianity but also sits with the largerquestion of the tensions between different approaches to God; and a novel by Walker Percy called the Moviegoer, a very sad, strange, unusual book, with richly odd and quirkily endearing writing.

Jane Holtz Kay, author of Asphalt Nation and Lost Boston, recommends Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists and Activists Are Fueling the Climate Crisis--And What We Can Do to Avert Disaster, by Ross Gelbspan, an enlightening book on the problem of the day or, more aptly, eons: global warming. His book is a thoughtful, intelligent analysis of the problem, told in clear, political activist language.

Philip Nikolayev, author of the poetry collection Monkey Time suggests Glyn Maxwell's latest poetry collection, The Sugar Mile and Claire Messud's The Last Life(cq), both superb books.

Katia Kapovich, poet and author of Gogol in Rome, recommends The Irresponsible Self. On Laughter and the Novel, by James Wood, a collection of essays on difficult and fascinating writers and poets that uses modes of laughter as a litmus test to draw a line between the old and modern nove. She also suggests Wake up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames, which takes place in the artists’ colony Yaddo and says she was happy for a week while reading it.

I recommend these wonderful short story collections by Boston-area writers: Calamity and Other Stories, by Daphne Kalotay; On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, by Karl Iagnemma; How to Fall, by Edith Pearlman; and The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories, by Steve Almond.

Ellen Steinbaum can be reached at You can see past City Type columns at

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