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New Yorkers Share Their Top Picks for Summer Reading

By Nikki Lohr | July 7, 2013 2:09pm
 Recommendations for summer reads ranged from Russian classics to David Sedaris' ""Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls."
Summer Reading at Strand
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NEW YORK — From a light beach novel to the Russian classic they've been meaning to delve into for years, New Yorkers shared their top picks for the best summer reading.

“During the year reading is always fragmented — you can sneak in 20 minutes here and there,” said Joaquim Font, a 30-year-old trumpeter from Bedford-Stuyvesant, as he perused Union Square's Strand Book Store Tuesday afternoon. “But in the summer, you can make an afternoon of it.”

Font recently started reading Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," saying he liked the serendipity that it was originally printed in Brooklyn Heights, where he now works.

Penny Owen, 60, an English teacher from Brooklyn Heights, said that while many consider summer a time of light reads, she uses it for just the opposite.

“During the summer I read books that require a lot of thought,” she said. “They are the books that I don’t have the energy for during the year.”

She recommended Herman Melville’s "Moby Dick," Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s "The Brothers Karamazov" and an out-of-print series called "Strangers and Brothers" by C.P. Snow — all books she referred to as “lifelong friends.”

Strand worker Jeff Yamane, 25, said the bookstore draws many summer customers looking for suggestions on a good book to take on vacation.

“People ask more for recommendations, whereas during the year most people walk in with specific books in mind,” said Yamane, a Crown Heights resident.

He recommended "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss, a fantasy novel about a legendary magician.

"It's so engrossing, beautifully written and lengthy — so you have time for it over the summer," Yamane said.

Tierney Nolen, a 23-year-old Bed-Stuy resident who has worked at Strand for a year, recommended "anything by David Sedaris." She particularly enjoyed Sedaris' "Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls," which was the top-selling nonfiction book at Strand the last week of June.

Other Strand bestsellers recently ranged from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic "The Great Gatsby" to Neil Gaiman’s "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," which was published just two weeks ago.

The idea of reading during the summer for fun got its start in the 19th century, as publishers used the middle class's growing interest in travel and summer resorts as a marketing tool to help sell books, said Donna Harrington-Lueker, a professor in the English department at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, who is writing a book on the phenomenon.

“So there comes the rise of a book marketed specifically as summer reading,” Harrington-Lueker said.

The tradition has held up over the years, with Barnes & Noble offering a free book to kids who read more than eight books this summer. And the New York Public Library has its Summer Reading Program, complete with an annual ceremony for the city’s most avid young readers at Yankee Stadium in August.

Nolen said summer reading is something she associates with childhood, especially since she's now working year-round.

“But there’s still the sense of ‘It’s summer now, gotta pick out books to read on the beach,’” Nolen said. “It’s still in you, that seed of summer reading.”