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My Summer Reading

June 07, 1998|ESMERALDA SANTIAGO and SIDNEY SHELDON and DIANE JOHNSON and T. CORAGHESSAN BOYLE and RICK MOODY and MONA SIMPSON and ALAIN DE BOTTON and HERBERT GOLD and BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD and RAY BRADBURY and ELIZABETH HARDWICK and SUSAN CHEEVER

Every summer I choose one big, fat book, the thicker the better, and carry it wherever I go, to steal moments of reading pleasure in between the obligations of everyday life. At the ballpark waiting for practice to end, at the food court at the mall where my children shop, at a diner on the way back from dropping my daughter off at camp, I will open "Siete Novelas" by Alvaro Mutis, a collection of the great Colombian writer's seven novels about Maqroll el Gaviero. My edition, published in paperback by Alfaguara, is 718 pages. By the end of the summer, it will be scratched, bent, stained with coffee, dirt and sweat. But I will have lived in Spanish for a few hours a day, as my life, in English, swirls around me.

Esmeralda Santiago is the author of "El Suen~o de America" ("America's Dream") and "When I Was Puerto Rican."

SIDNEY SHELDON

This summer I will be rereading George Bernard Shaw for his champagne play on words and ideas.

Sidney Sheldon is the author of the international bestseller "'The Other Side of Midnight" and, most recently, "The Best Laid Plans."

DIANE JOHNSON

For the good of my character, I'm going to reread Dostoevsky, something I've been planning to do for a long time, because surely I read him too young the first time, the way we read the classics too young. For a certain treat, I'm going to reread the novels of the French academician Jean Dutourd--in translation, lazily--especially "The Horrors of Love," an enormous tour de force. Long enough to keep me going for quite awhile (664 pages), it takes place in 24 hours and consists entirely of a dialogue between two men taking a walk in Paris. It concerns the affair of a friend of theirs, a member of the Chamber of Deputies, so it's a love story; there's tragedy, murder, fascinating digressions--this is a great book, funny, wise--I know this sounds like a blurb. Then I'm going to read for the first time Dutourd's "The Best Butter," which someone important (I forget who) has called the greatest novel to come out of France about World War II. These and another of his works, "Pluche," have been translated into English, and all are worth ransacking secondhand bookstores for.

Diane Johnson, novelist and critic, is author of "Health and Happiness" and, most recently, "Le Divorce."

T. CORAGHESSAN BOYLE

My new novel will have to do with environmentalism, ecology and the death of everything we know, so I've been reading thrillingly depressing books like Bill McKibben's "The End of Nature" (third time); Carl Safina's "Song for the Blue Ocean"; Alston Chase's "Playing God in Yellowstone"; as well as E.O. Wilson's charming "Naturalist" and the book that started it all, Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring." For pure rollicking fun, I've got Redmond O'Hanlon's demented travel narrative, "In Trouble Again"; David Quammen's "Natural Acts" (nature essays); David Halberstam's "The Fifties" (whatever happened to us way back then when I was learning to tie my shoes?); and James Baldwin's "Collected Essays," just out from the Library of America. In fiction, I'm doing a tag-team bout with Denis Johnson's "Already Dead" and Don DeLillo's "Underworld." It's a pile, I admit it, but of course my summer began in early May, when the semester ended at USC, so I've got a jump on everybody else.

The book I'm most looking forward to rereading this summer is Richard Leakey's "The Sixth Extinction." Why? Because I want to go down to the beach, spread out my towel and be depressed. No thrillers for me, no sci-fi, no romance, no travel. Nope. I want the hard-core, I want to be crushed with godlessness and the randomness of nature and natural selection. I want to be reminded that we are now in the midst of the greatest extinction of animal and plant species since the end-Cretaceous catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million year ago--that by some estimates, as many as 4,000 species a day are vanishing before our eyes, gone up in the sour smoke of habitat loss and over-plundering. It's good to know just how effective my recycling of aluminum cans has been. But I'm not interested in sounding the death knell here for our 6 billion brothers and sisters, or of reminding everyone that we are not the crown of creation but just a random accretion of protoplasm, or that God is dead and Darwin too--I just want to go down to the beach, spread out my towel and be depressed. Sunshine? Who needs it. Waves? Bah!

T. Coraghessan Boyle is the author of numerous novels including, most recently, "Riven Rock."

RICK MOODY

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