Read a book 

Summer recommendations from a few voracious readers.

Robin Wright says the Trump administration is stealing all the good ideas for "House of Cards." "Orange Is the New Black" has little chance of being any more bizarro than its "Sesame Street" parody, "Orange Is the New Snack." And "American Gods" is closing in on its season finale. So now what? Read a book, we say. It'll center you from the onslaught of words like "unprecedented" in the news cycle, stimulate your imagination and your sense of empathy, give you reason to hang out in the air conditioning. Plus, you'll earn mad karmic points with Fred Rogers and Maya Angelou, who we presume are always watching from on high. But then, maybe you don't need any of these reasons to pick up a book or 10 this summer. A good book is its own reward, according to English poet and journalist rabble-rouser John Alfred Langford, who said, "The love of books is a love which requires neither justification, apology nor defense." Here's to that, and to these picks from a few highly trusted bookworms.

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For an avid reader, there's nothing more exciting than when an author you have long admired knocks one out of the park. Science-fiction writer Jeff VanderMeer published his first book in 1989, but he reached his widest audience yet in 2014 with the Southern Reach Trilogy, the first volume of which, "Annihilation," is being adapted for the screen by Alex Garland. VanderMeer is a champion of what he calls "the New Weird," and his work has often been a model for how far science fiction and fantasy can depart from the norms of narrative presentation without shedding its audience. His latest novel, though — "Borne" — is more traditionally composed, and also his best yet. A sequel of sorts to his short story "The Situation," "Borne" is probably best described as a novel about parenting and the apocalypse and the parenting of an apocalypse. It's the highlight of VanderMeer's already impressive body of work, and one of the strangest and most moving books of the year.

Kevin Brockmeier, author of "A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade" and "The Brief History of the Dead"

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This fantastical retelling of Joan of Arc is not your mother's post-apocalyptic lit. Set in the near future, Lidia Yuknavitch's "The Book of Joan" is a slender page-turner that practically begs to be read in one sitting. It boasts a deceptively simple structure, two narratives told by women navigating a world in which humans have evolved into sexless, nearly cyborg creatures. One of the women, Christine, is a captive of CIEL, a sci-fi habitat floating above a radioactive Earth ravaged by war that cult leader Jean de Men has turned into a quasi-corporate police state. He's infatuated with destroying rebel leader Joan, who has an inner mysterious force, manifested as a blue glow. Joan inherits the metaphysical power after a long swim along a beach during a family vacation. Although her father attempts to dismiss the inexplicable glow as bioluminescence, the light never dims. Her parents eventually seek answers from experts. The word "crazy" is uttered. Christine and Joan's worlds do not collide until the final moments of this novel, but their accounts are presented as parallels, interwoven as each of them battles evil and explores the loves of their lives. A hundred pages in, Christine asks, "What if, for once in history, a woman's story could be untethered from what we need it to be in order to feel better about ourselves?" Each sentence burns with urgency. Concepts that could easily become heady and abstract unfold in direct, straightforward prose, at once precise and poetic. Christine answers herself right away. "I will write it. I will tell the truth. Be the opposite of a disciple. Words and my body the site of resistance." In "The Book of Joan," Yuknavitch eviscerates the binary to explore power, sex, love, art and — ultimately — what it means to be human.

— Katy Henriksen, KUAF-FM 91.3's arts director and host of "Of Note"

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Teenage love often runs the risk of melodrama, but Nicholas Mainieri's "The Infinite" places the love between Luz and Jonah into a perspective that extends far beyond the scope of its young characters. Mainieri juxtaposes the authentic beauty of a post-Katrina New Orleans and its complicated dynamic of different populations with a vast and dusty swath of Mexico ruled by drug lords — each a landscape of self-destruction that yearns for forgiveness and hope. Like most teenagers, Luz and Jonah are eager to come to terms with the events of their lives they had no control over while also attempting to navigate the dodgy waters of young adulthood. "The Infinite" captures that time for its characters in a way that is somehow both believable and astounding in its suspense, but above all, in a way that is sincere.

— Guy Choate, director of the Argenta Reading Series

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One does not typically expect to see Arkansas mentioned in an academic book on the Third Reich, but sure enough, you'll find the state on page 114 of "Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law" by James Q. Whitman. Whitman's book illustrates how the Nazis based a great deal of their racial legislation upon American examples, specifically immigration and anti-miscegenation laws. One of the foremost Nazi legal theorists, whose work was referenced extensively in the development of the notorious Nuremberg Laws, was Heinrich Krieger, who spent two semesters at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville in 1933-34, where he researched American racial codes. That's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to connections between the Third Reich and a racist United States that served as its model, all explored in Whitman's brief but revealing book. Readers interested in history and justice should certainly engage with this volume, which illustrates how America's history of injustice inspired some of the worst atrocities imaginable.

— Guy Lancaster, editor of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas




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