What are your favorite summer reading rituals?
When I’m on vacation, I love waking up in the morning and reading before I get out of bed. Picking up my book, right where I left off the night before, and not having the usual get-dressed-make-breakfast-make-lunch-get-out-the-door extravaganza ahead of me is a luxury. I also love a pilgrimage to the Montague Book Mill, a rambling used bookstore off of Route 63 in Western Massachusetts. It’s set on the banks of the Sawmill River, and the peace of the place is enhanced by the creaky floor-boards. Their motto is “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.”
What are some of the titles on your current Clarkson Potter list that excite you the most?
In the early fall, there’s POWER VEGETABLES!
by Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach
. As you can probably tell from the lava lamps on the cover, the vibe is “so wrong it’s right.” I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard reading a cookbook. Pete calls it “all-caps cooking” for people who want to eat more vegetables. Not a hard sell. He always brings me in for the food, but I stay for the laughs; his is a humor that’s one part lovable downtown cool dude, and one part grown-up who never takes himself too seriously. Pete’s gift—the whole charm of Lucky Peach
, I think—is in creating great recipes that keep it real. I know someone who has all the ingredients used in LUCKY
PEACH PRESENTS 101 EASY ASIAN RECIPES on his kitchen counter so that every recipe is within arm’s reach. I admire that, but am glad I don’t live with it!
Our most transporting summer cookbook is VICTUALS
by Ronni Lundy. It’s really a sui generis
oral history of Appalachia. Each chapter opens with an essay about a particular tradition like salt making, or pickling, or seed saving. Ronni brings grace to difficult subjects, too, such as Appalachia’s role in slavery and shows the vibrancy and rich lives of a people who have been written off as unsophisticated and poor. It’s fashionable to say that the food of Appalachia is being rediscovered
by a new generation, but that notion isn’t right: what Ronni shows us is that it never disappeared. And the photography! It’s so beautiful: grounding like the best documentary photography, but also exuding that special, stay-for-dinner Southern warmth. Francis Lam, Ronni’s editor, is wildly knowledgeable about the South and Southern food and Stephanie Huntwork, the book’s designer, hails from West Virginia. Their collaborative magic is on every page.
What are two of your all-time favorite summer reads and why?
It’s tough to pick just two. Middlesex
, A FINE BALANCE
, THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS
, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
, BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS
. I can’t not mention those. But if I had to pick just two: The summer before my senior year in college, I was lucky to have landed an internship at FSG. They were just about to publish John McPhee’s Looking for a Ship
. I remember taking the galley into Union Square Park during lunch one day and coming across a sentence that compared the size of the merchant ship on which McPhee’s subject, Andy Chase, finds a job, to that of Union Square Park. I was tickled by the immediacy of the passage and the thought that perhaps McPhee had written that sentence after leaving his publisher one afternoon.
And I was exhilarated, too, by the idea that someone would put a book into your hands after having just waved goodbye to the author. That was the summer I discovered and fell in love with the romance of publishing.
Last summer I read A LITTLE LIFE
. I had an attachment to it that I can’t remember having had in a long time. Why? I suppose because it’s a story of remarkable friendships and the rhythms of those friendships that sometimes ebb and flow in all the wrong ways—and then sometimes do so with musical perfection. I was so engrossed in the book, I became deluded, thinking the four main characters were my friends, too. That last page was like an anguished goodbye. It’s also such a courageous book. Yanagihara writes the unspeakable. But not just unspeakable tragedy; she also writes unspeakable love. I brought the hardcover on a family vacation and read whenever we had even the briefest downtime. My kids started bringing their books on our sightseeing trips, too. There’s a picture from the trip of three of us reading: my son has Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
, my daughter is buried in a Judy Moody and I have A LITTLE LIFE. I’d like to caption that shot, “The family that reads together sticks together…”