These books will help get you through those long hours at the beach … or that long plane ride to the beach
Put down the BlackBerry and slowly back away. Summer is that time of year when the onslaught of tweets and emails diminishes, allowing our battered attention spans to stretch across pages and pages of good writing.
To help you choose your summer reads, we've compiled a handy list of highly recommended books this season — all of which you can even read on an electronic device, if you insist. And for those executive types who can’t justify spending the dog days dog-earring pages, we've included some books about high-powered people just like you — as well as a few titles you might want to option.
Wendy McClure's very funny examination of "Little House on the Prairie" finds the author rekindling her childhood love of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books and traveling to their midwestern settings to see the land where the homesteader family struggled to survive.
McClure, a children's book editor and memoirist, churns her own butter, considers whether the TV show based on the books is tribute or sacrilege, and explores the reasons for her own devoted fandom.
Think of it as a prairie home companion to "Julie & Julia."
Other than Keaton vs. Chaplin, the biggest show-business rivalry of the 1930s and '40s concerned a couple of clarinetists: Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.
Nolan's fascinating book looks at the entire Big Band era, as well as Shaw's complicated romantic entanglements. (His eight wives included Ava Gardner, Lana Turner and Evelyn Keyes, and he spurned a young Judy Garland.)
In his late 40s, as Sinatra and other singers eclipsed the Big Bands, the cantankerous Shaw got disgusted with his genius going unrecognized and turned to writing novels (sometimes under other names), going on talk shows and producing movies.
"Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN"
By James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
The authors of "Live From New York," the essential "Saturday Night Live" oral history, return to the format for surprisingly revealing interviews with the people who made ESPN one of the most successful networks in cable.
The book offers up anecdotes about Keith Olbermann's squabble-filled tenure with the network. But it's the unexpected detours, such as a look inside the Getty family (Getty Oil was a crucial early investor), that ensure there's something here even for people who don't know a hat trick from a ground-rule double.
The book also offers a fascinating look at the early days of cable — and there's some sports, too.
By Tina Fey
At times, Fey's sort-of-memoir feels like an excuse for her to tell jokes — but that's fine by us.
The book jumps around as unpredictably as the best episodes of "30 Rock," hitting on topics that range from impossible beauty standards to male comedy writers' tendencies to pee where they shouldn't.
You won't mind the disjointedness. Fey's self-deprecating wit and phenomenal way with unexpected punchlines makes this a quick and easy read — but you'll pick up some genuine wisdom along the way.
It should help tide "30 Rock" fans over until their favorite Emmy-winning sitcom returns in early 2012.
"Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob (and Sex)"
By Peter Bart
Legendary Variety editor Peter Bart dishes on his eight years calling the shots as a top Paramount executive.
Along with Robert Evans, Bart helped usher in what is widely considered the high-water mark for American film, and he played a crucial role in the production of classics such as "The Godfather" and "Chinatown."
Bart's claims that Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie had sex during their steamy onscreen hookup in "Don't Look Now" have gobbled up much of the book's buzz, obscuring a smart and incisive memoir.
"The Good and the Ghastly"
By James Boice
The end of every NBA finals reminds us of Boice's addictive 2005 debut, "MVP," a fictionalized retelling of Kobe Bryant's life.
Luckily, this year brings us Boice's brand-new novel, "The Good and the Ghastly," a futuristic gangster story and cultural critique that imagines a world in which no one understands the past — or the present.
Stephen King is believed to be the author of "Romeo and Juliet," "Death of a Salesman" and "Pulp Fiction," while Bob Dylan gets credit for almost everything else. Into the ignorance steps a manipulator hoping to be the next Alexander the Great — or at least Dylan.
"The Garden of Beasts"
By Erik Larsen
While you wait for the movie adaptation of Larsen's 2003 stunner, "Devil in the White City," tide yourself over with his latest page-turner about evil in plain sight.
Larsen reconstructs the tragic ambassadorship of William E. Dodd, who served in Germany as the Nazis rose to power, and his daughter's romantic adventures with an S.S. man and a Russian spy.
Looking at 1930s Berlin through the eyes of the Americans living in it forces you to consider how quickly you would have recognized its brutality — and what you might have done to stop it.
By Michael Connelly
Connelly is one of the best mystery writers working today, and this sequel to "The Lincoln Lawyer" finds attorney Mickey Haller working for clients stung by the housing crisis. One of them is charged with the murder of the banker trying to evict her.
At one point the book winks at this year's movie adaptation of "Lincoln," which starred Matthew McConaughey, when a movie producer asks Haller who could play him on film:
"'I was thinking of going to Matthew McConaughey with this. He'd be excellent. But who do you think could play you.' I smiled at him and reached for the door handle. "You're looking at him, Clegg."
"A Dance With Dragons"
By George R.R. Martin
Fans of the epic fantasy series that gave us HBO's "Game of Thrones," have waited six years for the latest book in the series. Even at 1,040 pages, can it possibly satisfy them?
There's no way to describe the plot without revealing spoilers for anyone who hasn't merrily slogged through the four tomes that preceded it. (And Martin has lots of new fans who just discovered him, thanks to HBO.)
Suffice it say that lots of really, really cool stuff happens, and that some of it involves dragons. And that fans will eat it up with glee emanating from their faces.
Brent Lang, John Sellers and Lew Harris contributed to this report.