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Thursday, June 2, 2005 01:38 pm

Summer books

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Aloft
By Chang-rae Lee (Riverhead Trade, 384 pages, paperback edition, 2005, $14)
At one point in his life Jerry Battle may have been a daring young man in his flying machine, but now he’s run smack into that cloud called middle age. A dead wife, an estranged girlfriend, two problem kids, and an ailing father make Jerry’s life as a pilot problematic — until he discovers that flying solo isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Bleedout
By Joan Brady (Touchstone, 384 pages, hardcover, 2005, $24.95)
We’ve got trouble, right here in the capital city. Author of the acclaimed Theory of War, Brady lives in Oxford, England, but you’d never know it when she describes with ease such Springfield haunts as Norb Andy’s. This thriller about the murder of a prominent blind attorney will satisfy your appetite for mystery and local color.

Bird
By Angela Johnson (Dial Books, 133 pages, hardcover, 2004, $15.99)
Thirteen-year-old Bird travels from Cleveland to Acorn, Ala., to find the stepfather who abandoned her. A modern-day Goldilocks, she hides out behind a farmhouse whose inhabitants eventually teach her the real meaning of family. Winner of the Coretta Scott King Award.

The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank
By Ellen Feldman (W.W. Norton & Co., 264 pages, hardcover, 2005, $23.95)
In what is arguably the most famous diary of all time, Anne Frank confided her love for Peter, the boy who shared her family’s hiding place from the Nazis during World War II. Peter tells Anne that if he survives, he will completely reinvent himself. Feldman does that for him in a novel that questions whether we can ever really hide from ourselves.

Had a Good Time! Stories From American Postcards
By Robert Olen Butler (Grove Press, 267 pages, paperback edition due out in July, $13)
Butler, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, has collected old postcards for several years. His hobby has inspired 16 stories that take the reader on a trek across the America of a bygone era. Reading them, you’ll find yourself wishing you were there.

A Certain Dignity
By Ken Sibley (Sibley/Gray Press, Box 566, Rochester, IL 62563. Trade paperback, $10)
At age 83, Ken Sibley continues to live a rich life, documented in his book. Retiring from a long career of teaching, Ken returned to school himself to earn a master’s degree in English at Sangamon State University. This compilation of short prose vignettes and poetry, personal ruminations on people and places, has universal appeal but will be of special interest to those who share his Midwestern roots.

The Poetry of Zen
Translated and edited by Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton (Shambhala Press, 160 pages, hardcover, 2004, $16.95)
This small volume is the perfect hammock companion. Poetry is essential to the practice of Zen Buddhism, and this overview from China and Japan spans 16 centuries. Includes short biographies of the poets.

Lighting Up: How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking and Everything Else I Loved in Life Except Sex
By Susan Shapiro (Delacorte Press, 320 pages, hardcover, 2004, $22)
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about substance abuse. For 27 years Shapiro had a two-pack-a-day habit. Breaking it was described by her doctor as “the worst nicotine withdrawal in the history of the world.” Perhaps. But it made for a wickedly funny memoir of how we love our addictions and how difficult it is to bid them adieu.

The Moon in Our Hands
By Thomas Dyja (Carroll & Graf, 320 pages, hardcover, 2005, $25)
Walter White had blond hair, blue eyes, and a secret. He was a Negro. In 1918 he went to work for the NAACP to help stem the tide of violence against blacks in the South. In this fictional account of White’s work, Dyja sends him to an imaginary town in rural Tennessee. What he finds there changes him, and the town, forever.

The Time of New Weather
By Sean Murphy (Delta, 336 pages, paperback, 2004, $13)
Funny and farcical, this book reminds me a bit of Terry Pratchett. This love story with a twist stars Buddy LeBlanc, a boy with special gifts. He needs them in this world run by a business conglomerate where consumers’ favorite credit card is “American Excess.” In a universe where even time and gravity aren’t predictable, one thing is: the many laughable scenes in this novel.

Prep
By Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House, 416 pages, hardcover, 2005, $21.95)
Take one observant, insecure scholarship student from South Bend, Ind., and mix with several jaded prep-schoolers who summer on Nantucket. The result is a poignant look at just how painful adolescence can be and how nasty adolescents can be to one another.