What do you get when you combine America’s best beach with Florida’s best library system? (Just in case you missed those accolades, Siesta Beach was named No. 1 last May, and Sarasota County’s library system brought home the gold this April.)
You get the perfect place for summer reading, and to help make your summer reading even better, I’ve asked some staff members which books they’re loving right now. Our office is crawling with bookworms; at lunch, you can see them reading in the kitchen, on a bench at Bayfront Park or even in their cars in the parking lot. Here are a few of their suggestions; to see the entire list go online to this column at sarasotamagazine.com.
Executive publisher Kelley Lavin reads so avidly and widely that I call her an infomaniac. “I absolutely could not put down Andrea Wulf’s The Brother Gardener—the author’s first book,” she says. “And that’s funny, because I would no sooner put my hand into a shrub than jump off a cliff.” Kelley says she learned that “what I thought was simply a hobby is a passion that united people even in wartime.”
Editorial and web assistant Beau Denton was absorbed by Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me. Ian Morgan Cron writes about growing up in an overly religious house with an alcoholic father who was in the CIA. “It’s about faith, family, addiction, identity, literature, so much,” says Beau. “His writing is so beautiful, and his reflections so profound, that at the end of most chapters I felt like I’d just paid for an hour with a therapist.”
Biz(941) editor Susan Burns takes a break from economic highs and lows with the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall. (He also wrote the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.) This series focuses on a set of quirky characters in Edinburgh, Scotland. “Smith gets inside the head of each character—even a dog debating about whether to bite someone’s ankle—with such humor and such a belief in the goodness of humanity that I feel there’s hope for us all,” she says.
For publications director Norma Machado, “Reading is a wonderful adventure,” especially when books satisfy her love of history. For light historical fare—perfect for those mornings when she rises at dawn and heads to the beach with a book—Norma relies on the Brother Cadfael series by Edith Pargeter (aka Ellis Peters). “Medieval history is mixed with mystery and intrigue in these wonderful little stories,” she says.
Associate editor Hannah Wallace just reread The Shipping News “for the umpteenth time.” Hannah argues it’s the perfect choice during a Sarasota summer. “The setting, a small town by the shore, is like a character in itself,” she explains. “But it’s in Newfoundland, so all the icebergs and the May snowstorms help keep you cool. And, despite the darker parts of the story, the small-town quirkiness always makes me smile.”
Lately, senior editor Ilene Denton has been hooked on a series of “smartly written” books by Olen Steinhauer, and she credits the milieu as much as the mystery. “They take place in some nameless Eastern European country after World War II,” she says. “Everything is bleak, gray, fatal and very convoluted. I can smell the boiled cabbage.”
Executive editor (and Anglophile) Kay Kipling recommends a debut novel set in a modern English village, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. “It’s very funny in a modern-day Jane Austen way,” she says, chronicling an unlikely romance between a 60-something British major and a Pakistani shopkeeper, along with a host of “sharply observed” village characters.
And I just raced through the new Escape from Camp 14, the story of the only person born in one of North Korea’s political prison camps who is known to have escaped. I was astonished both by the horror of the camps—where some 200,000 people are suffering in brutal slavery right now—and by young Shin Dong-hyuk’s daring escape. It’s horrible, harrowing, exciting and inspiring all at once.