The Hippo


Oct 21, 2019








Meet the authors

Events are free unless otherwise noted.

• Poet Andrew Merton reads from and signs copies of his new volume of verse, Evidence that We Are Descended from Chairs, on Thursday, June 28, at 7 p.m. at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord.

• Barbecue guru Steven Raichlen, star of The Primal Grill on TV and author of The Barbecue Bible, has spread his spicy wings and written a novel, Island Apart. It’s billed as The Bridges of Madison County with better food. His book tour brings him to Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Friday, June 29, at 7 p.m.

Nancy Sporborg and Pat Piper will talk about their book It’s Not About the Hike, which is not about the hike, on Wednesday, July 11, at 7 p.m. at Merrimack Public Library. They are two 50-something non-hikers who one day decided they would climb the 67 New England mountains that are 4,000 or more feet high.

• Concord news reporter Mark Travis will talk about his novel Pliney Fiske: A Civil War Mystery, which is set in Concord, on Thursday, July 12, at 7 p.m. at Gibson’s Bookstore. He’s also the co-author of  2003’s My Brave Boys: To War with Colonel Cross and the Fighting Fifth, a nonfiction account of New Hampshire soldiers in the Civil War.

Katherine Howe will discuss and sign copies of her latest historical novel, The House of Velvet and Glass, on Fri., July 13, at 7 p.m. at Toadstool Bookshop in Milford. Howe is also the author of NYT-bestselling The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.

• The annual Tory Hill Author Series in Warner starts on July 14 with Mary Ann Esposito, host of Ciao Italia and author of 12 cookbooks, at 7 p.m. at the Warner Town Hall, 5 Main St. A dessert buffet and signing will follow a Q&A period with the author. Tickets are $7 per event or $30 for the series and may be purchased at the door. Next up is photojournalist William Hubbell, author of Good Fences, on July 21. For a list of authors and dates or to purchase tickets online, visit

Nancy Bergeron will talk about her book The Postmaster’s Cottage on Tues., July 17, at 7 p.m. at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter.• Deborah Harkness will talk about Shadow of Night, a sequel to her bestselling debut A Discovery of Witches, at a Writers in the Loft event on Thursday, July 19, at 7 p.m. at The Music Hall Loft in Portsmouth. Tickets, $43, include reserved seat, book, bar beverage, author presentation, Q&A and book-signing meet-and-greet. Call 436-2400 or go to

• Rebecca Makkai will read and sign copies of her debut novel The Borrower on Tuesday, July 24, at 7 p.m. at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord.

• Betsy Woodman will read from her debut novel, Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes, on Tues., July 24, at 7 p.m. at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter.

• Go for the Gold, the new novel by Chris Cleave about Olympic competitors. Cleave will talk about the book on Wednesday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m. at The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth, as part of the Writers on a New England Stage series. Tickets to the event cost $13 and are available at the box office, 436-2400 or Copies of the book can be purchased in advance at the Music Hall box office. The producers ask patrons to support this series by purchasing their books through The Music Hall.

• Jennie Fields will talk about her book The Age of Desire, about Edith Wharton, on Wednesday, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m. at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord.

Relax With a Good Book
Summer reading recommendations for your vacation or your weekend


Some summer reads, you choose. Others are thrust upon you.

They are thrust at the airport when you forget your Kindle and, in the last desperate moment before your boarding call, you buy the paperback closest to the spearmint chewing gum. They are thrust upon you by your mother, who has been saving this book and another since the holidays, and why haven’t you been home since then? Sometimes they are thrust upon us by owners of the vacation places we rent.

At the South Carolina beach house where my children and I have vacationed for the past six years, there are two tall bookcases: one in the family room, one in the master bedroom. The books are lightly stained and heavily dog-eared. They are someone’s discards, books not good enough to remain in the owner’s home library, but not bad enough to toss in the Planet Earth bin. None are in my own library. There are bodice-rippers, science fiction, Agatha Christie paperbacks, Jack London, Stephen King, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books in hardcover. (Why would anyone read a condensed book, I wonder? No theater ever shows portions of movies.) There are aged Nancy Drews, Felix Salten’s original Bambi (which stands tall over all subsequent Disneyfication), how-tos and self-helps and histories of South Carolina.

There is nothing special about this collection; all together, it probably wouldn’t fetch $25 at a garage sale. But still, after we unpack and put the groceries away, the kids put on swimsuits while I treasure-hunt, picking through another family’s books. 

Good or evil, warm weather helps
Last summer, I found Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History. Googling it later, I came across many apparently outraged comments in Arabic about the book. That was something. Personally, I found the little book compelling. Say what you will about the authors’ politically incorrect conclusions, but to reduce 10,000 years of human existence to 100 pages is an intellectual feat. 

I liked this sentence: “When the universe has crushed him, man will still be nobler than that which kills him, because he knows that he is dying, and of its victory the universe know nothing.” But then, I walked out onto the beach and watched a full moon rise over the ocean, and I decided the Durants were deranged cretins, or at least had never seen the moon rise over the ocean, or they couldn’t possibly have concluded that scabby little man is the noblest of creation.

But it’s OK. I don’t have to agree with everything in a book to love it. I can forgive a lot of things, if the words are arranged artfully.

Summer reads can be deep and sinister, or gauzy and lissome, but they must be vaguely connected to the season. I’m sorry, Miss Alcott, but Little Women can never be a summer read, because it opens at Christmas. Christmas is off limits, as is any book in which the characters endure a perpetual snowpack. As engaging a fellow as Ebenezer Scrooge is, he’s not someone you want to accompany you on summer vacation, even after he’s given the prize turkey away.

Summer reads don’t have to be about warm weather and beaches, although this helps. I enjoyed Nancy Geary’s Being Mrs. Alcott and Joan Anderson’s A Year by the Sea all the more because they unfold on Cape Cod. Same with Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic. Anything by Anne Morrow Lindbergh qualifies because of her Gift from the Sea.

There’s something else important about summer reads: They must not be embarrassing. They must be something you’re willing to share with the flight attendant on the plane, or with your second cousin’s third child at the family reunion. One reason we read books is so that we can have something to talk about when we’ve exhausted politics and the weather. “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it,” P.J. O’Rourke once said. Or, if you leave it behind accidentally at the motel. Fifty shades of anything cannot be your summer read. It just can’t; don’t ask why. Nor can anything that is slow-footed and onerous.

In high school, most of us got summer reading lists. These were mostly classics we were required to read before school began. The public schools, in their zeal for improved standardized test scores, shoot and miss. An opportunity to make reading fun, gone forever, slain by Ulysses. Instead of lists, why don’t they tell the students, read whatever you want, as much as you want, just make it fun. Because that’s what a summer read really is, yes? Something that you want to read. Something that will add depth and pleasure and memories and pleasant associations to the season we already love.

Summer is blemished by an opaque read, and there are too many of them raining banalities on our lovely summer days.  One million books were issued last year; two-thirds of them self-published. Who’s going to read all these books? In Asia, people who work in jungles wear face masks on the backs of their heads to keep tigers from pouncing. Likewise, with this saber-toothed onslaught of publishing, you need to be alert in every direction. A million breathless authors are thrusting books at you. Open your arms and catch wisely.

My list
Here is what I’ve read over the past few summers, books that are special because they became part of my cherished summers.

Legion by William Altimari, a self-published and beautifully adroit novel about heroes of ancient Rome. Bright Flows the River and Answer as a Man by Taylor Caldwell, favorite books of my youth, which I re-read every few years and which become more true and sensible the older I get. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, which kept me awake for two hours after I finished it at bedtime. Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants; Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, of course, and Stephanie Saldana’s The Bread of Angels, which is Eat, Pray, Love for smart people. C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, because I’m an adult-onset reader. George Orwell’s Animal Farm, because I somehow missed it in school. The charming and poetic Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, because one of my kids was reading it. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. 

Here is what I read earlier this year but wish I’d saved for the beach: Chris Bohjalian’s The Night Strangers, gripping and utterly compelling. Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty, a keep-you-up-all-night novel about a woman coping with a child’s death and a divorce.

What I do have, though, is a sequel to Legion, which I first read in the summer of 2008. Horses on the Storm has been out for a couple of months, but I’ve tucked it away so I won’t be tempted to open it until my vacation. Heeding the recommendations of local bookstore owners, I’m also planning to take along The Art of Fielding and Gone Girl. Then, of course, there’s the lure of the beach house shelves. It’s been a long time since Stephen King seduced me, but I’m always less inhibited at the beach.

From the experts

“I think there are two kinds of summer reading,” says Jim Shea, a novelist, software engineer and trustee of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. “One is the book that might be a little deeper and require the time to focus on. The other is precisely the opposite: light reading you can do in a couple of days on the beach.”

In truth, a summer read, or “beach read” as some call it, can be whatever you want it to be. The only requirement is that it not waste your time. Vacations, like summery weather in New England, are too short and too precious to spend even half an hour reading a bad book.

To aid in your quest for the perfect summer read, I surveyed Granite Staters whose lives are all about books, asking what they’re reading this summer, and what they’re recommending to friends. After angry convulsions over having to narrow their picks down to a few, they recovered and offered a generous array of titles. How eclectic is the list? So much that only two books came up repeatedly. (The Art of Fielding and Gone Girl.)

Katharine Nevins of MainStreet BookEnds of Warner said even though selling books is her business, she only recommends books that she has read, is reading or “cannot wait” to read. Her list this summer includes The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough, Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Oh, and anything by Wendell Berry, she adds.

Sarah Basbas, a Manchester librarian, chooses summer books that are light: “not too serious or requiring too much concentration, preferably in paperback so it’s easy to carry, and just for fun.” She likes Kate Morton’s books: The Forgotten Garden, House at Riverton and The Distant Hours.

Dee Santoso, deputy director of the Manchester City Library, is planning to read Smokin’ Seventeen by Janet Evanovich. “I personally like to read more light-hearted and entertaining reads in the summer, since the heat and the multiple social gatherings that occur make it more difficult to hunker down with a heavy, thought-provoking, non-fiction title,” Santoso said. She recommends Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson and any novel by Robert B. Parker, especially the “Spencer” mysteries, which are great for foodies. “I very much enjoy the fact that Spencer cooks wonderfully and pairs his meals with good wines, and sometimes such interesting libations as pear brandy,” Santoso said.

Don Luckham, manager of the Toadstool Bookshop in Keene, is recommending paperbacks by authors who have new hardcovers out this summer. Makes sense. If the reader likes the author in paperback, she can invest in the new title come fall.

“Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl has been a breakthrough hit for her, and she has two previous novels worth checking out for fans of riveting, frightening reading: Sharp Objects and Dark Places,” Luckham said.

With the summer Olympics beginning July 27 in London, Luckham also recommends Chris Cleave’s Gold, the fictional story of two female cyclists vying for medals. An older title of the author’s worth checking out in paperback is Little Bee.  “Cleave gets great reviews for his ability to get into the heads of his characters,” he said.

Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night is new, but for summer, readers might want to try the first book of her All Souls Trilogy, A Discovery of Witches, Luckham said. “Harkness’ writing has been compared to Anne Rice and Diana Gabaldon, and this novel is great storytelling informed by Harkness’ career as a history professor,” he said.

For many people, summer is the time to savor something new by an author you’ve previously enjoyed. Jim Shea is looking forward to Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312. He calls the author “phenomenally thought-provoking while at the same time engaging.” 
“His last, Galileo’s Dream, was a great read, and I can’t wait for this one,” he said.

Time for the classics, crime

Summer reads don’t have to be new titles, of course; what better place than a hammock or ferry to revisit something that was meaningful to you in the past?  For Shea, it is Donald Norman’s The Psychology of Everyday Things, first published in 1988 and now issued under the title The Design of Everyday Things. He also recently picked up a copy of Fahrenheit 451, the late Ray Bradbury’s “classic that’s always true.”

Paul Durham, chair of Entertainment, Media and Publishing at the law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green PA, said a good read of any season must be a combination of two things: “good writing and compelling storytelling — which are not always the same thing.”
“That said, in summer, I do find myself drawn to fiction set in unfamiliar or unconventional places. Maybe hot weather and vacations set my mind drifting towards foreign and exotic locales,” he said. Durham, also a trustee of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project, recommends Bangkok 8 by John Burdett. It’s an unconventional detective novel that he says “feels like an insider’s guide to the underbelly of Thailand.”

In the crime fiction genre, he also lauds any book by Elmore Leonard. (Begin with Out of Sight if you don’t know where to start.) “Leonard’s dialogue has been lauded for decades, and it is, put simply, music. He could turn the story of a shoplifter at your local convenience store into a summer page turner,” Durham said.

Another seamless read is Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon, recommended by Manchester librarian Amy Hanmer. The story: a 40-something woman, unhappy in her 20-year marriage, takes a marital happiness survey, becoming Wife 22, and in anonymity, uncovers personal truths about life and love.

The No. 1 favorite paperback of Dan Chartrand of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter is The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: “The author created these five amazing characters, and he loves them. It’s a great read; you want to share with everyone you love.”

After that, Chartrand recommends another “art”: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, by Jan-Philipp Sendker. The novel was first published in Germany, but its translation is selling well as a paperback in the United States. “It’s a story both poignant and joyous. Like reading poetry,” he said.

“Another book I’m handing out to people I care about is Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I’m also recommending [Susan Cain’s] Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which is popular because people who love to read skew toward being introverted.”

For those who like their summer reading dense, try The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King — The Five-Star Admiral Who Won the War at Sea. Walter Borneman’s World War II history came out in hardcover this spring. And, Chartrand said, “We’re huge fans here of a retelling of The Iliad, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, which just won the Orange Prize for women authors.” And another great paperback: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, he says.  

A promotional blurb about The Family Fang says “Fun ensues,” which, of course, is what’s supposed to happen on vacation. But be honest: Do booksellers, writers and librarians, who spend the other 51 weeks of the year reading books, really read on vacation, which is supposed to involve the cessation of work?
“Of course,” says Michael Herrmann, owner of the venerable Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. “We never stop.”

Topping Herrmann’s recommendations is Dave Egger’s A Hologram for the King, followed by Barack Obama: The Story by David Maraniss. He also echoes The Art of Fielding and Gone Girl, and also suggests The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian and Blue Nights by Joan Didion, which, he concedes, is a somewhat gloomy book, “but summer doesn’t mean things have to be all sunny and optimistic.”

Heavy reads

Herrmann believes summer reading should include classics like Melville’s Moby-Dick or Dickens’ Bleak House, as the relaxed pace of the season offers time to pick up a difficult masterpiece you always meant to read, but for work and family and the assorted travails of life. He’s enthused about a biography of James Joyce, the first to come out since 1959. By Gordon Bowker, James Joyce: A New Biography comes in at 608 pages, doorstop size … summer reading, and perhaps fall’s, too.

This leads us to the other perplexing question about summer reading: e-reader or dead trees?

Since many e-readers don’t perform well in sunlight, or with suntan oil and sand looming threateningly over the screen, the expected response would be paperback, the more worn, the better, like the 50-cent treasures you can collect by the armload at the Salvation Army Thrift Store.
Then again, there’s the airlines have weight restrictions.

“Do you really want to lug a bag full of books around?” asks Herrmann, proving that bookstore owners, too, can nimbly adapt to changing times. (Gibson’s is one of the growing number of bookstores that are selling e-books and well as print.)
Well, no. And yes.

Like the matter of light or heavy summer reading, for the devoted reader, the answer is “Both, please.”

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