Editor’s Picks: EcoSalon’s 2011 Summer Reading List

Need some new ideas for what to read this summer? Here are some top picks from our EcoSalon editors.

Summer is a time to get outdoors, spend time with friends, take vacations and catch up on your reading. Here at EcoSalon we all have stacks of books on our bedside tables (or downloaded on our Kindle apps), waiting to be read on the beach or just on the back deck. We thought it would be fun to share our choices and give you a glimpse of our interests and what we read in our spare time.

Did you know that Amy DuFault reads Dorothy Parker to help fine tune her wit or that Vanessa Barrington even reads about food for fun? Scott Adelson and Katherine Butler can’t say enough good things about the same book, so be sure to put it on your must-read list. Although many tackle weighty issues – strong reviews, glowing recommendations or exceptional writing land them on our list. Here are the titles we can’t wait to start, and some favorites we think you’ll enjoy.

Happy summer!

Designers, Visionaries and Other Stories by Jonathan Chapman and Nik Gant
Ever since I wrote Top 15 Eco-Fashion Books We Love a while back I’ve been trying to chip away at reading all of them. As a sustainable fashion writer, as much as I say first-hand knowledge and experience with the industry is important, it’s just as important to take the time to read thoughtful insights from different members of the fashion industry. [Amy DuFault]

The Portable Dorothy Parker
I LOVE Dorothy Parker and whatever I haven’t read of hers I am sure I will find in this tome and I am hoping she helps me sharpen my wit. [Amy Dufault]

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Before she killed herself, Hannah Baker made seven audio tapes with thirteen reasons why she took her own life. The tapes are making the rounds to each of the thirteen people who played a part (knowingly or unknowingly) in her decision. I’m interested to see how Asher treats this issue, especially since reviewers, teens and parents alike rave about the story.  [Andrea Newell]

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce
The summary had me at “hypnotically dark story.” A couple is caught by an avalanche skiing, and after they dig themselves out, they find that the world is empty. But is it? A friend couldn’t put it down, and I love page turners while I am at the beach listening to the waves.   [Andrea Newell]

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
This is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. Janie Crawford is a black woman in the early twentieth century South who marries three men, but only one for love. She lives her life unapologetically, even when she is judged for daring to pursue passion and happiness, and accused of murdering one of her husbands. “The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.” [Andrea Newell]

Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook
Few people know or would believe that the ubiquitous tomatoes we find on our fast food and deli sandwiches could possibly have been produced by enslaved workers in this country. Even worse, the tomatoes are so tasteless and mealy; they are not even worth eating. A waste of labor and resources, even if slavery is not part of the equation. Someone has finally written a book about what modern agriculture has done to an iconic fruit that should be delicious, juicy, and full of flavor and the workers who harvest it. It’s about time. [Vanessa Barrington]

Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo
A food memoir of an American woman who marries a Lebanese man, spends her honeymoon in Baghdad and, through her marriage learns to navigate the world of Middle Eastern food and culture. I’m dying to read it because I’ve heard that it’s exquisitely written, but more so because it shows us different aspects of a part of the world that we rarely see other than through wartime images on the news. [Vanessa Barrington]

A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
Why? Because it’s a classic about one of England’s favorite topics, class distinctions. Though this one has the distinction of taking place over an extended holiday. Plus, it’s funny (in that subtle Forster way) and biting, cutting to the frivolities of what it is to have and have not. Or perhaps better put, to want and want not. I picked this book up again last summer after Diane Rehm featured it in her NPR book club. [K. Emily Bond]

Another Country by James Baldwin
This is a story about the downfall and subsequent suicide of a black jazz musician named Rufus Scott, his relationship with Leona, a white woman from the South, his mentor Richard’s relationship with his wife Cass, his best friend Vivaldo’s relationship with his sister Ida, and his first gay lover’s relationship with Cass. Who, again, is Rufus’ mentor’s wife. Lots of sex – of the straight and gay kind – characterizes Another Country, but it’s very much a book about racial tension, denial, ambition and jealousy. It is an insanely absorbing portrait of bohemian 1960s New York vs. the rest of the world, just as relevant today as it was then. Truly, this and Giovanni’s Room are my two favorite Baldwin works. [K. Emily Bond]

I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere and Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda
These might seem a bit obscure, but this contemporary French writer is one of my favorites, and the two books are always good summer reads, because they’re smart, witty and very French. I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere is a collection of short stories, which is ideal for when you’re on the road or simply in need of some brain candy. [Anna Brones]

Astrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson
A heavy but beautiful book that takes a new friendship from the harsh winter months and into the Swedish summer. Olsson is a Swede living in New Zealand, and although she writes in English, her Swedish roots are clear in her writing, which is probably why I am a sucker for her books. [Anna Brones]

Just Kids by Patti Smith
Art, music, love and romance, all as acute and true as can be in an irrepressible late-60s and 70s New York City backdrop. Rock Shaman Goddess Patti Smith takes us with her on an escape from New Jersey to an anything-can-happen art and rock (and art rock) world as is taken form in the desperate nooks and crannies of The City where pure invention was being begged at every turn. Most of all, perhaps, Just Kids is the story of her deep personal connection with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, who passed away from AIDs in 1989. Together they negotiate an extreme transition from poverty and youth to success and fame, while never surrounding their hard-driven addiction to creative authenticity. A super read that bears the texture of Smith’s magical and poetic voice. How many people do you think went to see Jim Morrison perform and walked away thinking “I can do that.” Of those, how many could? [Scott Adelson]

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This Side of Paradise’s exploration of hard-to-like Amory Blaine’s evolution in the face of The Man is as powerful and poignant today as it must have been when it was a sensation at the birth of the Jazz Age. How relevant is it today? Check out this riff: “We want to believe. Young students try to believe in older authors, constituents try to believe in their congressmen, countries try to believe in their statesmen, but they can’t. Too many voices, too much scattered, illogical, ill-considered criticism… Any rich, unprogressive old party with that particularly grasping, acquisitive form of mentality known as financial genius can own a paper that is the intellectual meat and drink of thousands of tired, hurried men, men too involved in the business of modern living to swallow anything but predigested food.” Fitzgerald’s masterpiece changes its tone and structure along with the experiences of Blaine, giving the book a modern feel a nearly a century after it was first published. [Scott Adelson]

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Chopin was exploring women’s “problem with no name” almost a century prior to the 1970s American feminist revival. Gorgeously describing the hot sultry climate of New Orleans and Grande Isle, it’s a great read for summer. [Katherine Butler]

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
What an outstanding read — Egan compiles a group of amazing characters past, present and future. And she gives us a slightly-chilling view of ourselves ten years down the line. [Katherine Butler]

Having won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, many believe Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad is a true modern masterpiece. Magnificent craftsmanship and a unique use of postmodern technique give this novel a cross-time, cross-genre sensibility, and a certain humanity that you might find lacking in the cooler works of Don DeLillo, Paul Auster and other well-known, male Postmodern masters. Egan’s book opens with a story of a kleptomaniac woman and jumps from chapter to chapter, each one bringing new characters into the spotlight without regard to chronology or consistency of style. What emerges is a sense of time, realism and emotional breadth that could not come from your usual “once-upon-a-time” experience. [Scott Adelson]


image: Michela Castiglione

Andrea Newell

Andrea Newell is a Michigan-based writer specializing in corporate social responsibility, women’s issues, and the environment.