The uninitiated might accuse Artis—Naples book reviewer Elaine Newton of judging her books by their covers. Her summer reading list for 2022 is packed with wanna-get-to-know-you titles.
Among them: “The Candy House,” “Intimacies,” “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” and “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.”
Their indictments would be dead wrong. Newton knows these books down to which one you should experience on audio (“The Swimmers”). She’s an indefatigable reader and filmgoer who is the moderator for both the Critic’s Choice Series book lectures and the “Four O’Clock at the Movies” screenings/discussions at Artis—Naples.
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She even knows one of the authors as a previous lecture guest: Ann Patchett, whose “These Precious Days,” a book of her essays. Patchett is returning for an evening with Newton at 8 p.m. March 3 in Hayes Hall. It’s a separate appearance from the Critic’s Choice Series and Patchett is the first fiction author to receive what is considered prime time at Artis—Naples, a Friday evening.
Patchett’s books, which include the bestsellers “Bel Canto,” “Commonwealth, “State of Wonder,” have brought her here a number of times for a fan base that just keeps growing. Her last appearance was for Friends of the Library of Collier County, to speak on her 2019 bestseller, “The Dutch House,” for its Nick Linn Series.
Attention, Ann: Newton intends to turn the agenda over to you.
“I think they need to understand the kind of person she is. They have to see her sense of life. She’s a remarkable woman,” Newton declared. “I want her to talk about the book, of course. But I don’t want her to talk about anything that I want her to talk about. I want her to talk about things she wants to talk about.”
“We’ve actually studied four of her novels very closely already,” she said. “She’s like Ian McEwen. If she writes it, I’ll review it.”
McEwen’s name also pops up on the list for his latest, “Lessons,” the story of one man’s unmoored existence and how, in dramatic fits and starts, he learns to master it.
Newton has lamented that both her summer reading list and her Critic’s Choice series fall between publishers’ major release pushes for books: September, for the holiday season, and January, for winter reading. This year she’s offered lagniappe, a title that came out after her series last season was set, but is a book she feels is great reading:
“The Promise,” by Damon Galgut. It unfolds the malaise of a South African family fighting its legacy — denying the home promised to the Black woman who cared for their household over decades.
Newton’s list may be found here or accessed on the website of Artis—Naples.
Summer reading list 2022
“Black Cake”: by Charmaine Wilkerson. This debut work gives two distant siblings a reason to come together over a deathbed revelation that could change their entire understanding of who their family is. “It is really about how much the past weighs on our lives,” Newton observed.
“Book Lovers”: by Emily Henry. A tough-as-nails literary agent and a book-ish editor find themselves in a relationship that does not start with admiration. Identifies as a rom-com with teeth.
“The Books of Jacob”: by Olga Tokarczuk. The Nobel Prize winner in literature lays out a 900-plus page sweeping story of a messianic Jewish leader, Jacob Frank, and the fates that befall him and his followers.
“The Candy House”: by Jennifer Egan. The development of an experimental technology allows people to upload a life’s worth of memories — even long-forgotten ones — share them in a collective archive and access others. Will that much communication help us understand each other better? Or despise each other?
“The Diamond Eye”: by Kate Quinn. Based on the true story of Kyiv-born Mila Pavlichenkom, World War II female sniper so precise she was known as “Lady Death.” “The afterword is very interesting. She explains what she used where she found out about it, why she wrote about. It’s a whole different kind of book,” Newton offered.
“Don’t Cry for Me”: by Daniel Black. A series of letters between an estranged Black father and the gay son he held at arm’s length open up the stories of their lives, their influences, their fears and dreams for each other.
“The Family Chao”: by Lan Samantha Chang. When the family patriarch of Fine Chao Chinese restaurant is found dead, presumed murdered, all the goodwill toward the immigrants who have made a Wisconsin town their home begins to evaporate under suspicions. Past grievances emerge, and all three sons become suspects.
“Forbidden City”: by Vanessa Hua. The ambitious Mei is willing to work her way up serving as a dance partner — and more — for Mao Zedong. Her hope to become a revolutionary leader is sidelined while she fends off challenges from her fellow dance partners and schemes from Mao’s own angry wife. When she does get her chance for a political mission, its revelations are devastating.
“The Foundling”: by Ann Leary. Two girls befriend each other in the orphanage where they grow up, only to have that friendship tested as adults when they meet again, one as an employee, the other as an inmate in a questionable institution.
“French Braid”: by Anne Tyler. A restive family whose radars are focused in opposite directions are introduced to the readers in their single vacation, a 1959 trip away from their Baltimore home. From there they progress into lives that somehow —not always intentionally — pick up the waves of those disparate signals.
“Horse”: by Geraldine Brooks. The story of an extraordinary horse named Lexington, the Black people who groomed and cared for it and the white people who made money from it, the strange end it came to and the rescued painting that immortalized it.
“How Beautiful We Were”: by Imbolo Mbue. It’s a tale that replays around the world. But Mbue bluntly lays open the exploitation by oil companies and the frustrating, dead-end attempts of the neighborhoods around their wells to stop the slow poisoning of their people.
“Intimacies”: by Katie Kitamura. A young translator working in the court of war crimes in The Hague finds herself in the thrall of an unrepetant war criminal whose belief in ethnic cleansing has murdered thousands of his own country. At the same time, she gets a chilling look at the racial and financial disparities in the dispensing of justice.
“Joan”: by Katherine J. Chen. Even if you’ve read Shakespeare’s and Shaw’s take, you’ll still get a lively new portrait of Joan of Arc, one of the most storied heroines in the world. It begins with her childhood, a battle strategist at age 10, and depicts some of her more macho feats, such as pulling an arrow out of her own neck.
“The Kingdom of Sand”: by Andrew Holleran. The central character watches his parents and his friends die, and looks for an escape route from omnipresent death. At the same time he is being forced to come to terms with its inevitability for a single gay man.
“Lessons”: by Ian McEwen In a story that spans a lifetime, McEwen follows the life of Roland Baines beginning with the excessive familiarity of his piano teacher in a boarding school where he knows no one. At one point, his marriage evaporates with his wife’s departure, with a young son left as a consolation prize. And the world keeps turning, as he lives in the orbit of historical events yet can’t seem to get a firm grasp on life.
“Love Marriage”: by Monica Ali. When a British and Indian doctor fall in love, there are families to deal with. And their union of two different cultures promises to bring out their contrasts in the most unusual ways.
“The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois”: by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Jeffers is a prize-winning poet, and her skill with words pulls an richly detailed story from the generations of a Black family that is a mix of free and slave, upper-class and poor. In scenarios introduced by W.E.B. Du Bois reflections, we meet the historical family and the 21st-century narrator, Ailey, a young woman determined to radiate joy from her articulate orbit.
“The Man Who Saw Everything”: by Deborah Levy. Levy makes the old Robert Burns adage — the wish for the gift to see ourselves as others see us — as the driving premise to trail Saul, a man unable to get outside himself. There’s analogy and symbolism at work in this thematically sophisticated book.
“Mercy Street”: by Jennifer Haigh. This detailed look contrasts the desperation of the people coming into a fictitious abortion clinic with religious fervor of those picketing outside. The longtime clinic worker, whose gaze is the lens for this story, watches as needs and beliefs begin to clash ever more dangerously.
“Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter”: by Lizzie Pook. When Eliza Brightwell’s father doesn’t return with his pearling ship, Eliza determines to find out what happened — a nearly unthinkable feat for a young woman in the 19th century facing down an industry she quickly learns is rife with lawlessness.
“The Netanyahus”: by Joshua Cohen. Pulitzer prize winner. When the man whose son is destined to become prime minister of Israel comes to his university seeking a job, Ruben Blum, the only Jewish professor on the faculty, has the task of hospitality for Benzion Netanyahu and his family. It becomes a wild weekend with Jewish identity, Jewish-American identity and Zionism all getting examined and evoked in what Newton calls “a brilliant, scathing sendup of cloistered academe.”
“No One Is Talking About This”: by Patricia Lockwood. A tale that explores the ether of social media and its ability to become poison gas, as seen through one of its stars. The story’s unnamed central character begins to see its potent abilities to fragment as well as unite just as a call from the real world — her mother — comes in to break up her tour and redirect her life.
“Portrait of a Thief”: by Grace D. Li. An ensemble of five specially skilled students set out to rob museums of artifacts a Chinese corporation wants to bring back to its homeland. It’s a cool $10 million each if they succeed. But if they don’t, they go to prison alone.
“The Return of Faraz Ali”: by Aamina Ahmad. When you owe your success to the parent who kidnapped you to raise you for respectability, do you follow his orders out of gratitude — even when they’re criminal? Faraz Ali finds himself at that juncture in Lahore, Pakistan, where he is expected to do his father’s bidding.
“The School for Good Mothers”: by Jessamine Chan. When Frida loses custody of her daughter, Harriet, to an ex-husband and his girlfriend over an infraction, she is also sentenced to a rehabilitation center with the goal of winning her child back. But the rules are capricious, stringent and terrifying, and the truth is Its inmates are doomed to failure. Reviewers routinely called the book haunting.
“Sea of Tranquility”: by Emily St. John Mandel. Time travel figures into this evocatively detailed look at different eras and the man who is traveling through them, Gaspery Roberts, to try to make a difference. But can his efforts to repair the past doom the future?
“The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo”: by Taylor Jenkins Reid. When a down-on-her-luck writer gets the call to write the definitive profiled of starlet Monique Grant, she’s rewarded with a biography beyond belief, and a connection to Monique she had never envisioned.
“The Swimmers”: by Julie Otsuka. This poignant story is told, by turns, in different personae — first person plural, a daughter, a supervisor in the home where the daughter’s mother is “beginning, little by little, to disappear.”
“These Precious Days: Essays”: by Ann Patchett. The author of “The Dutch House” and “Bel Canto” shares frank, touching essays about friendship, cancer, discarding old writings, her husband’s flying and more.
“Tracy Flick Can’t Win”: by Tom Perrotta. She’s back — the high school overachiever who outdistanced a school jock— and his accomplice social studies teacher — in a wild, funny, pathetic race to the student body presidency. We revisit her much later, when she has aspirations to move from vice principal to the newly open numero uno spot. As they say, what could go wrong?
“Trust”: by Hernan Diaz. Those who tire of hearing about moneyed men may be advised to bypass this story of the pursuit of wealth as a sort — pardon the expression — cash crop. But potential hubris comes when the quadrillionaire decides that with all this money he can control exactly how people remember him.
“The Violin Conspiracy”: by Brendan Slocumb. Written by someone who should know the territory, a Black violinist, this tale follows young star Ray McMillian as he works to get respect among classical music faculty and even from his own mother. Thank goodness for his appreciative grandmother, who presents him with an old violin of grandpa’s. That it turns out to be a Stradivarius is a stretch for some of us, but what happens next isn’t. Ray’s family claims it; the white family for whom his grandfather was a slave claims it; and thieves get it, demanding a $5 million ransom.
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.