So Many Books, So Little Time

Whoâ's reading what this summer, and why

Feature Story

These are the laziest days of summer, the days when we're in a hurry to do nothing much at all. A wise man once said that these are the days when we spend all day in our bathing suits and all night looking for them. Here's to the days when the heat is unrelenting, when the humidity is too much to bear. Here's to our distractions, a fleeting moment of peace thinly veiled as the pursuit of knowledge, whether it be adorned with the waxed chest of Fabio on a piece of romantic sleaze or pages filled with heart wrenching memoirs or ribald thrillers or pithy descriptions of historic or contemporary social, political or cultural issues.

So, grab a drink with a little umbrella and find your favorite spot to waste the day away. Here's what some of Knoxville's newsmakers, artists and resplendent weirdoes are reading to waste the summer away. After all, â“[t]he printing press is either the greatest blessing or the greatest curse of modern times,â” Sir James M. Barrie once mused, â“sometimes one forgets which it is.â” â" Compiled by Eric Connelly and Heather Mays

Bernadette West

Former downtown entrepreneur who is serving federal time on a money-laundering conviction

When I first got to Alderson, I decided to catch up on my classics. The first book that I got from the prison library was The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. When I read his biography in the beginning of the book I became even more interested. Nicolas the First had Dostoevsky arrested for crimes against the government, and he was sent before a firing squad. At the last moment, when Fyodor had his death shroud onâ"the firing squad's guns pointed at himâ"the execution was halted and he was sent to Siberia for four years instead. Bad for him, good for us: The time he spent in the Siberian Gulag helped his creativity. It was after this that he began writing his most well-known novels. I have just started reading Crime and Punishment . I read about one chapter at a time to let the weight of the writing seep in for me to digest. His life story and his books are helpful to me while I am incarcerated.

He makes his reader think, â“Whose definition of crime do we go by, God's or Man's? What is the definition of a â‘criminal'? Is a man or woman a criminal when they commit the act not accepted by society, or when they are found guilty by the government, or is this a judgement that only God can make?â” Dostoevsky deals with all the gray areas of government, God and crime in complex characters that have both good and bad qualities (much like the inmates I deal with on a day to day basis here in Aldersonâ"Martha Stewart is gone, but I still hear stories about her). Which brings me to the next book on my summer reading list.

Ironically, this book is called Crime & Punishment , although it is in a Time/Life series about criminals throughout history, what they did, and what happened to them. It's an easy read, and it tells brief biographies of the infamous, like Nero, Ned Kelly and Virginia Hill, as well as the not-so-famousâ"Bob Toye, who was a blind bank robber who got away with it for several years before he got caught. (He had actually escaped once over two fences using his cane to knock them down, but then he ran into a pine tree.)

On that note, I should mention that humor is a necessity in prison. So I recently reread Confederacy of Dunces by Jon Kennedy Tooleâ"laugh-out-loud funny (much to the consternation of my fellow inmates).

I figure that they should maintain a sense of humorâ"in addition to cultivating peace and patience. I have been reading about and practicing yoga between 15-20 hours a week, which helps tremendously. The air is very clean and fresh here in the middle of West Virginia, so big deep breaths are invigorating and calming at the same time.

On my to-read list next is a book I recently heard about on NPR (my favorite radio station by far, especially on Sunday mornings). A North Carolinian author, Michael Parker, did a book-reading on his recent book of short stories called Don't Make Me Stop Now . Believing that Otis Redding is therapy for the soul, he writes about passion and relationships among individuals that he â“would not introduce to his sisters.â”

But my favorite summer reading by far are letters from home, and of course, Metro Pulse , which I receive weekly.

David Butler

Director of the Knoxville Museum of Art

Last summer, before I moved to Knoxville, I was able to spend an entire month in Rome, much of which I spent reading. It was heaven. I've hardly had time to pick up a book since. I did recently manage to finish John Berendt's The City of Falling Angels , his first book since the much-beloved Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil . Generally people like the earlier book better, and I have to agree, although I enjoyed the Venetian setting that plays such an important role in this non-fiction work. The eccentric Italians Berendt writes about aren't nearly as much fun as the deranged Southerners he discovered in Savannah, but Angels is still a great read and very highly recommended.

Sandra Clark

Editor of the Halls Shopper News

I'm currently reading The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008 by Mark Helperin; in another room I'm reading A Thousand Splendid Suns ; getting ready to tackle Presidential Courage : Brave Leaders & How They Changed America by Michael Beschloss; last week I knocked off Invisible Prey by John Sandford and The Overlook by Michael Connelly.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is incredibly sad. It's sad just knowing how much sadder it will become. I had to take a break with Sandford. Khaled Hosseini's first book, The Kite Runner , humanized the people and customs of Afghanistan for those of us unfamiliar with them, but women were incidental. Suns is a woman's story, and it hurts like sitting in the dentist's waiting room hearing the drill. Not sure I can finish it.

The Way to Win is a fun read. Most anybody can analyze an election after it's over. These guys are analyzing the ongoing presidential race in advance. And they've got a strong paradigm.

Greg â“Lumpyâ” Lambert

County Commissioner

I am reading and re-reading in some cases (I read some of them when I was a teenager) the original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming this summer. The latest movie, Casino Royal , inspired me revisit the literary works that inspired the films. I am starting with Casino Royal (the first book written in 1953) and also plan to read For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy and The Living Daylights , both collections of short stories.

Matt Shafer Powell

News director of WUOT-FM

It's not as if I'm a huge fan of memoirs. But these days, it's hard to cross a room without tripping over one. Maybe that's why I seem to be reading more of them lately. Fortunately, the ones I've read are quite good.

If I am Missing or Dead; A Sister's Story of Love, Murder and Liberation is a heartbreaking, haunting memoir written by Janine Latus, whose younger sister Amy was murdered by her boyfriend while living in Knoxville. I read the book to prepare for Janine's appearance on WUOT's â“Dialogueâ” program. But I found it hard to put down and even harder to forget.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is another powerful memoir, sort of an American version of Angela's Ashes . Books like this challenge my own contention that I'm a painfully slow reader; like the Janine Latus book, I'm having a hard time putting it down and I'm cruising through it.

Under the Banner of Heaven is Jon Krakauer's examination of fundamentalist Mormanism in the Western United States. Krakauer's sharp narrative cuts right to the core of how religious fanaticism can eclipse reason and leave destruction in its wake.

And these are the books I hope to read by the end of summer: The Great Santini by Patrick Conroy. Several years ago, I OD'ed on Patrick Conroy and had to take a break. But I miss his elegant descriptions of Southern-style dysfunction, one part misery, one part sweet tea.      

The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer; My Life at Rose Red was believed to have been written by Stephen King, who wrote the screenplay for the television mini-series Rose Red . However, it turns out the author of this companion book is Ridley Pearson, a colleague of King's. Even so, it looks pretty scary and I like to freak myself out from time to time.                  

Michael Knight

Local author and director of creative writing at the University of Tennessee

I'm currently reading The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies. If you don't already know his work, let me tell you that he is one of the best short story writers aroundâ"on par with Alice Munro, Richard Bausch, Tobias Wollf, people like that. The Welsh Girl is his first novel and it's knockout. No first novel jitters whatsoever. Better by a longshot than some of the more big splash literary novels that have come out so far this summer, but I'm not naming names. The Welsh Girl is set at the tag end of WWII in and around a POW camp in Wales and focuses on the relationship between the title character and a German POW, but it's much more than that, too big and rich and beautiful to do justice to in summary.

Marilyn Kallet

Poet and creative writing professor at the University of Tennessee

Right now I'm reading The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (Harper Collins), a gritty, gristly, funny and heartbreaking mystery story set in a fictionalized version of Alaska; Jews have been exiled from a demolished Israel and have been given temporary land rights in the freezing north. Sentence by sentence, it's terrific!

I'm also reading In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death & The World It Made , by Norman F. Cantor (Harper), which is the UT â“Life of the Mindâ” book for Fall. All the first-year students will be required to read it. It offers a sweeping view of the impact of disease as well as a personal view of the impact of the plague and of anthrax on individuals and their families. Not a laugh a minute, but hey, not everything can be Woody Allen (his new book is on my summer list of to-reads).

I just finished Michael Connelly's latest mystery, The Overlook , which was a sleek and compelling read; I went straight through that one in several hours. And Lee Child's latest, Bad Luck and Trouble. His books are an addiction-â"seamless, a rush. They go by too fast. Don't want them to end.

And I'm going to Paris in July and then to Auvillar for almost a month of poetry writing. So I have been reading books on Paris; the Frommer's new Paris Day By Day and Erika Frommer's 2007 guide on the best places to eat and stay, the best values. Also A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe by Ben G. Frank, third edition. The most helpful and detailed guide on sites of Jewish interest in Europe, particularly helpful in my Holocaust research.

I've been reading and writing poems about the particle accelerator in Cern. They are searching for the â“god particleâ” (how could a poet not be intrigued?)

The New Yorker article â“Crash Courseâ” in late May was a great source of whacked-out metaphors to feed my imagination.

Alan Wier

Author and creative writing professor at the University of Tennessee

Still on my bedside table is Solo Goya , the latest novel by the prolific and wide-ranging Jon Manchip White, a Knoxville writer originally from Wales. Solo Goya is beautifully published by Iris Press in Oak Ridge. I read this novel when it came out in the spring, but I keep dipping back into it. Jon Manchip White fully imagines the love affair the Painter Franscisco Goya had with one of his patrons, the Duchess of Alba. Solo Goya brings 19th-century Spain sensually back to life with passion, irony and humor.

I'm finishing Nocturnal America , John Keeble's story collection that (deservedly) won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction. Keeble is the author of four fine novels and of a widely-read book of investigative reporting, Out of the Channel: The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound . The loosely connected stories in Nocturnal America are set in the American Northwest where Keeble and his wife and children homesteaded about 300 acres; Keeble knows the territory. He is a writer of quiet, subtle power, and these stories transform the characters' struggles with relationships and with the indomitable landscape into a kind of uplifting wisdom.

I've promised to review Wendell Berry's most recent collection of essays, The Way of Ignorance , so I'm re-reading it. Berry is an accomplished poet, fiction writer and essayist who has worked the same farm in his native Kentucky for 40 years. His is a passionate yet compassionate voice for the environment and for the community of human beings. An important cultural critic (the New York Times calls him our â“prophet of responsibility,â” Berry advocates and practices neighborly love, affectionate ownership, and living humbly by working on what he calls â“an appropriate scale.â”)

Brad Vice is a graduate of UT's creative writing program. His first book, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train , won the Flannery O'Connor Award in Fiction and was published by the University of Georgia Press in 2005, then was pulped by that press after Vice was accused of plagiarism. River City Publishing has just come out with a handsome reprint that includes several essays (by the author and by other writers and literary critics) about the so-called plagiarism. The combination of fiction and essays in this new edition of The Bear Bryant Funeral Train offers the reader great fiction and a rare look at some of the forces affecting literary publishing today.

I'm just a couple of chapters into Long Way to Go: Black & White in America , by Jonathan Coleman who will visit UT Knoxville next fall. Coleman is a former Simon & Schuster editor and a former CBS News journalist. He spent seven years in highly segregated Milwaukee, Wis., talking about race with politicians, Black Panthers, white activists, black conservatives, racists, frightened families, and a host of others. From the outset, Coleman writes with frankness and clarity. He's a good reporter, and I am engrossed in his narrative.

And I've just read the manuscript of Peace , Richard Bausch's latest novel, forthcoming next year. With lucid, lovely language and an unflinching vision, Peace dramatizes individual struggles with ethics and responsibility in the midst of war and evokes powerful parallels between WWII Italy and the current Iraq travesty. This novel will likely be compared to the best of Ernest Hemingway. Bausch is one of our finest writers, and Peace is a novel readers will find worth waiting for.

Victor Ashe

Former mayor of Knoxville and current U.S. Ambassador to Poland

I am reading three books this summer: Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How they changed America by Michael Beschloss; The Reagan Diaries , edited by Douglas Brinkley; and Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The life of Colonel House by Godfrey Hodgson.

Reagan has always been a favorite president of mine. He is very popular here in Poland. President Wilson insisted on a free and independent Poland at the Versailles treaty negotiations. His portrait is hanging in my residence in Warsaw in recognition of his efforts that produced a free Poland in 1919 after two centuries of occupation by foreign powers. As ambassador, I see more closely the impact of presidential leadership, and the Beschloss book is a well written and researched book on various examples over 230 years of American history.

Jeanne McDonald

Author and Metro Pulse book reviewer

I just finished A Thousand Splendid Suns , a novel by Khaled Hosseini. I reviewed the book for Metro Pulse ( see page 35 ) , but I would have read it anyway because I loved his first novel, The Kite Runner . Hosseini has a colorful and descriptive style that immediately pulls you into his stories, and his characters are portrayed so compassionately that you find yourself worrying about them even when you're away from the book. While reading Suns , I gained a more sensitive understanding of Middle Eastern women and their centuries-old domination by men. I cried more than once in this one.

Although I love complex literary novels, one of my favorite writers is Amy Hempel, a minimalist whose stories read more like vignettes than finished pieces. But isn't that the way life is? You don't know the ending yet, but various experiences pile up to make a life. And then you die. Hempel's stories, almost always told in first person, don't have plots, but they have invaluable weight in that Hempel always nails the problem of the storyteller and draws you into the scene. For example, in two sentences in her story â“Jesus is Waiting,â” she creates a stark and complicated scene that nags at the reader's heart: â“In a tornado outside Baltimore, in a broken neighborhood off I-95, I asked the attendant in a Mobil station, â‘Where's anywhere else?' He didn't even point.â” This is a book you can carry anywhere with you for a marvelous traveling companion. And in this one you cry and laugh.

Now I'm beginning the most recent novel by Cormac McCarthy, a writer whom Knoxville claims as its own but who actually belongs only to his oeuvre. The Road has already flown to the top of the New York Times book list and has won McCarthy a Pulitzer Prize in Literature. In his only public appearance ever, he recently explained to Oprah Winfrey that although the book is called a postapocalyptic tale, it is really a father and son story, written for his own child, John Francis McCarthy. The novel portrays America burned and ravaged, and the only thing left alive is the tender relationship of father and son and the journey they take together through the bleak and ruined landscape. I think I'll probably need a box of Kleenex for this one.

Kelli Parker

Anchor for WVLT-TV

I'm just starting to read Ready for Responsibility , a book to help equip your children for work and marriage by Dr. Bob Barnes! He's a pastor and a wonderful writer. So far just 100 pages, but he's already taught me the importance of teaching your children to be responsible, respectful, and how teaching them small life lessons along the way will carry them into adulthood! It's a wonderful readâ"with lots of great advice for me!

Mark Littmann

Author and journalism/astronomy professor at the University of Tennessee

Right now I'm reading Rising from the Plains , the third volume in John McPhee's epic nonfiction series on the geology of the United States. This volume is about the Rocky Mountains. McPhee is one of America's great writers. He not only makes the science understandable and interesting, but he tells memorable stories about the people who settled the territory and the geologists who discovered how it's put together. Central Wyoming is a wind-carved landscape with an arctic climate. Homesteaders used to say, â“If summer falls on a weekend, let's have a picnic.â”

I just restarted reading A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage. My first copy disappeared on an airplane trip. The book looks at how beer, wine, whisky, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola changed the world when they were discovered or invented. It's a curious and fascinating way of looking at cultural history.

I recently finished a novel that my wife and two children had long since read: Grendel by John Gardner. It's the story of Beowulf, but presented from the point of view of the monster Grendel. I read it because it was assigned by a book club I belong to. I had wanted to read it for a long time, partly because my wife and kids recommended it and partly because I read Beowulf in Old English in my graduate studies and really liked the sound of Old English and the story itself. The novel stayed faithful to the action depicted in the epic poem but treated Grendel as an intelligent creature with more brain power than mankind. He appreciated the power of poetry and art.

Patricia Robledo

Board member, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of East Tennessee

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian Nobel Prize winner more famous for One Hundred Years of Solitude . It is about a love triangle, set in turn-of-the-century South America, where two lovers wait out careers, marriages, affairs and deaths until they can reunite. It is being made into a movie starring great Colombian actors John Leguizamo and Catalina Sandino Moreno, who got an Oscar nomination for her work in Maria Full of Grace . I loved this book so much I wanted to read it again before it comes out in the big screen. This is a much easier read than One Hundred Years of Solitude !

Abraham by Bruce Feiler. It tells the story of one man's search for the shared ancestor of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. It was a gift from my friend Tom Catani after a conversation we had about empathy.

The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness by Pema Chödrön. Recommended to me by my friend Ellen Kern, an avid reader.

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. One of the most respected works of Chicano literature, Rudolfo Anaya tells the story of Antonio Luna Márez, a young boy who grapples with faith, identity, and death as he comes of age in New Mexico.

My Antonia by Willa Cather. The spirited daughter of a Bohemian immigrant family plans to farm the untamed Nebraska land. Willa Cather's tale comes to us through the eyes of Ãntonia's childhood friend, Jim Burden.

These two books and others are on the reading list of The Big Read , an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of American culture ( ).

Marianne Worthington:

Poet and Knoxville native who currently lives in Williamsburg, Ky.

I spend most summers rereading and revisiting favorite fiction. I always try to reread, for instance, at least one Lee Smith book and one Harriette Simpson Arnow novel. But this summer, I read Lee Smith's new novel, On Agate Hill , which I highly recommend and which I know I will reread in summers to come. I'm working on rereading Arnow's Hunter's Horn , her second novel about a Kentucky man obsessed with chasing a legendary fox. Some literary experts have compared Arnow's Hunter's Horn to Melville's Moby Dick .      

In addition, I've reread Elizabeth Madox Roberts' 1926 novel, The Time of Man , the story of Ellen Chesser, the daughter of poor Kentucky tenant farmers. Roberts' biblical language perfectly captures Ellen's growing knowledge of herself in the natural world. The Time of Man is a wonder, a jaw-dropping work of words.      

I've also reread Knoxville writer Catherine Landis' novel, Harvest , which tells the heartbreaking story of a farming family. The Greene family is displaced after the building of Norris Dam and must find new farmland in northern Knox County. If you've ever tried to get off the Callahan Road or Powell exits of I-75 at rush hour, you might want to read Harvest and weep.      

Neela Vaswani's collection of short stories, Where the Long Grass Bends , is another favorite I've revisited recently. Her uncanny stories are magical, musical, and just down-right weirdly beautiful. Other novels I've reread this summer are Blood Kin , by Mark Powell, a young South Carolina novelist. Blood Kin won the Peter Taylor Prize in 2006, and is well-deserved. Coventry , by Joseph Bathanti, is the 2006 Novello Literary Award winner, and an engaging, graphic, yet poetic, prison story set in North Carolina. I have started a new novel by North Carolina writer Pamela Duncan called The Big Beautiful . I've read Duncan's previous novels ( Moon Women and Plant Life ) so I'm looking forward to another tender and funny journey.

I've read these nonfiction books this summer: Erik Reece's Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wildernessâ"Radical Strip Mining and The Devastation of Appalachia , a terrifying account of mountaintop removal mining practices. As one reader says of this book: â“We can't murder mountains without killing ourselves.â” Read and prepare to get angry, and then drive up I-75 toward Jellico and see the destruction first-hand in Campbell County.

Michael McFee's The Napkin Manuscripts , insightful and eloquent essays by an acclaimed North Carolina poet and teacher.

Mark Zwonitzer's Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music , a wonderful biography of and in-depth account of the musical rise of A. P., Sara and Maybelle Carter in the midst of much personal sadness.

The Bristol Session: Writings About the Big Bang of Country Music , edited by Charles K. Wolfe and Ted Olson, because, well, I'm obsessed with the Carter Family, and because no one ever wrote more prolifically or easily about folk and country music than the late Charles K. Wolfe.

Edward's Hirsch's Poet's Choice , a collection of his Washington Post columns on world poetry, because I never can know enough about poetry. Hirsch is a great instructor and critic.

I've read too many collections of poetry this summer to list them all, but here's four I loved:

Ellen Bryant Voigt's Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 . The selections from Bryant's Kyrie , about the 1918 flu pandemic are especially haunting and beautifully wrought.

Connie Jordan Green's Slow Children Playing , a poetry chapbook by the Lenoir City columnist and young adult novelist. Green's first book of poems is a family journey, and the reader is rewarded with rich imagery and quiet wisdom, rendered in enviable poetic techniques.

Maurice Manning's Bucolics , the third collection from this Yale Series of Younger Poets winner. Manning's unnamed narrator in Bucolics hopes to converse with a higher power, but is never answered, even though he talks in near-perfect rural iambic tetrameter.      

Tatters , the latest chapter book by Bill Brown, a Nashville-area poet and long-time poetry teacher. Brown's poetry always inspires and surprises me, always teaches me something about poetry.      

John Coleman

Owner of the Book Eddy, the rare and used bookstore on Chapman Highway

I read rather disjointedly with sometimes three or more books going at the same time. I guess this comes from having so many books to choose from, which in turn means I do not finish most books that I start. I find the ones that I start by becoming intrigued while scanning briefly literally hundreds of books a day just to decide what to buy for the store and what to discard to Habitat or the pulp industry. Publishers seem unable to discern good from not so good and continue to overpublish, so this can become quite tedious. But there are still so many great books and most of them never sold well and have to be â“found,â” so it's still a worthwhile task.

I try to mix serious reading with fun reading. I have to fight the urge to just read as escapism. I do try to mix current books with dredged up forgotten books. The most important book that I have read recently is Thomas Princen's The Logic of Sufficiency . It is a good example of a book that I believe is â“helpingâ” me even if it is only by helping me to better articulate some idea that I can't quite get my head around on my own and then leaving me exasperated as soon as I walk out of my house and get immediately overwhelmed by the reality and realizing how ephemeral are his ideas.... time for escapism.

From the blurb on the back: What if modern society put a priority on the material security of its citizens and the ecological integrity of its resource base? What if it took ecological constraint as a given, not a hindrance but a source of long-term economic security? How would it organize itself, structure its industry, shape its consumption?

So..., my escapism pile is much, much taller. I decided this summer to start reading Cormac McCarthy over from the beginning as I want to try and understand why I think the Appalachian books are so much better than the newer books.     

I'm in the middle of Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm. This would be an example of going back to find a book after enjoying a wonderful movie. The book and movie are both great. One area of escape for me, whether intentional or not, seems to be 20th-century novels set in rural England. I absolutely recommend Adrian Bell's classic Suffolk Trilogy Corduroy , Silver Ley , and The Cherry Tree . A good example of absolutely wonderful books that I had never heard of, which I'm very lucky crossed the desk of my store.

Jack Rentfro

Knoxville writer/raconteur and truck farmer

I've been carrying Infinite Jest around like an albatross around my neck for about two years. Punishment for failing to finish it and moreso for trying to resume it about midway in after taking a year off from reading anything other than cereal boxes. David Foster Wallace may be the reason for my case of Acquired Attention Deficit Syndrome. This spring and summer, I tried to rejuvenate my faltering reading habits with an eclectic mix of pulp and old favorites: Barry Hannah's Bats out of Hell and TC Boyle's Friend of the Earth and After the Plague . Also pleasant, if not challenging: John Dunning's Deadline and Martin Cruz Smith's Red Square . (Real Dunning fans already know Deadline is a primitive, unsatisfactory precursor to his ingenious series of rare bookdealer-detective stories.)

The last book I read to completion this summer was A Miracle of Catfish by the late Grit Lit writer, Larry Brown. This is ironic, because, the book itself was never completed. Algonquin Press published it this spring anyway as a posthumous salute to Brown. In my youth, I idolized not Kurt Vonnegut or Richard Brautigan like my peers but rather discovered an affinity for W. Somerset Maugham. Nowadays, it seems more appropriate to acknowledge my inner tedious, gin-soaked Englishman. So, my most happy read of the summer has been Maugham's collection of one-off anecdotes and epigrams called A Writer's Notebook which I picked up for a pittance at The Book Eddy. This anglophilia is why I'm force-feeding myself Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim at about the rate of one page a week. Even though it's representative of the Angry Young Men period, the English frostiness I value so highly is there. But I'm still having a hard time with it. The attention span problem seems to keep me from tackling anything of length or complexity. So I find myself simultaneously flipping through an anthology of modern, mostly Southern, short stories called A Cast of Characters and Other Stories that I came across at Carpe Librum. My situation seems comparable to that of the male porn star whose career stalled because of the â“short, and not very big aroundâ” problem.

If anyone can help with my post-literacy issues, please donate to the appropriate fund and dispatch me to a forgotten hotel on the Dalmatian coast with something good to read.

Jesse Graves

Poet and Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Tennessee

I always seem to have two or three books going at once, and this summer is as word-rich as ever. Right now I am teaching a composition course at UT called â“Inquiry into Roots Music and Culture,â” and am reading, along with my students, Lee Smith's wonderful novel The Devil's Dream , which is based loosely on the lives of country music pioneers the Carter Family, and Greil Marcus' cultural history The Old, Weird America . Some colleagues and I are working on a proposal for an anthology of Appalachian poetryâ"believe it or not, there isn't one right nowâ"and with that, I have been spending lots of time with the excellent poetry of East Tennessee's own Jeff Daniel Marion. New novels are out by Michael Ondaatje and Don DeLillo, two of my favorite living writers, and those, along with a recent translation of the poems of Spanish poet Antonio Machado, titled Border of a Dream , are looking like my July books.

Connie Jordan Green

Lenoir City novelist and poet

I managed a good bit of [summer reading] a few weeks ago when my husband and I spent a week at the beach. During our stay I read Louise Erdich's The Painted Drum , Wendell Berry's Andy Catlett: Early Travels , and two novels by Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer, the latter two books that I had been wanting to read for some time. I enjoyed all the selections primarily for the wonderful use of language by the authors but also for the underlying themes of stewardship of the earth and preservation of one's heritage, though Wendell Berry's poetry and essays more clearly delineate his interest in the environment. Since returning home, I've finally read Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance , not exactly light, summer reading, but the choice for a book club I attend. And I'm indulging my love of poetry with two books by Bill Brown, Yesterday's Hay and Tatters , (Brown will be the August speaker for the Knoxville Writers' Guild), along with Mary Oliver's Why I Wake Early . Waiting in the wings is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which I want to read before No. 7 in the series comes out next month. Summer isn't summer if you can't read a couple of books each week, so the list could go on and on and on.

Jack Mauro

Author, meanderer and Metro Pulse columnist

I'm not sure I ever understood the concept of â“summer reading.â” Is the idea that, since it's hot, only light trash will do? Or that really fine books simply do not go to the beach with the rabble?

Oh, well. I'm not reading anything newly minted because I don't trust new stuff. I trust Alice Adams, though, and just started her After the War . Too soon yet to say if this will stick to my emotional ribs, but she's got a sly, almost underhand way with character I love. This I require because my other major read currently is Robert Alter's relatively new translation of the Five Books of Moses . The characters here are just plain zany, let me tell you. When they're not begetting all over the place, they're incurring God's wrath like the rest of us piss-off waiters. Can't wait for the movie.

Liza Zenni

Executive director of the Knoxville Arts and Culture Alliance

This summer, I just finished The March by E.L. Doctorow as a chaser to Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals . Team of Rivals is a well-documented non-fiction history of the Civil War as lived by Lincoln and his cabinet. The March is the fictional flip side of that, telling the story of soldiers, doctors, slaves, and civilians who experienced Sherman's march from Atlanta to the Atlantic coast at the close of the war.

Next on my list is A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. This is a non-fiction (I think) account of the life and redemption of a boy who, at an extremely young age, was conscripted as a brutal murderer in one of the bandit armies of Sierra Leone.

Two books I'll be taking to the beach will be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling and The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown.

Plus: Lots of People and other trashy celebrity magazines!

John Nolt

Environmental writer and philosophy professor at the University of Tennessee

Our family often reads to each other. My current bedtime reading for my stepdaughter, Ãvora, is J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings . It is maybe my 10th time through this trilogy, reading mostly to my kids. I love the way Tolkien paints a landscape, and I love the theme: relinquishing the Ring of Power to preserve the living Earth.     

After Ãvora goes to bed, my wife, Annette Mendola, has been reading to me Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer , an exquisite ecological love story set in the Southern Appalachian highlands. For myself, I am reading Genes, Genesis and God: Values and their Origins in Natural and Human History by environmental philosopher Holmes Rolston III, whose work has greatly influenced my own. Two popular scientific books are next in line: The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe , by physicist Roger Penrose, and Sean B. Carroll's Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo . â“Evo devo,â” short for â“evolutionary developmental biology,â” is the emerging study of how genes shape living organisms.

Finally, I have been greedily perusing a long-coveted copy of The Fishes of Tennessee , by David A. Etnier and Wayne C. Starnesâ"a large, expensive and lavishly illustrated book procured for me at last by my daughter, Jenna, at a discount from the publisher, UT Press, where she has been serving as an intern. Thanks, Jenna! m


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