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Summer Reading 

New books for the beach, the porch and the kids.

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SCIENCE

The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code, by Sam Kean (released July 17)

The packed crowd at Sam Kean’s reading at last year’s Get Lit! festival was proof of his uncommon talent. In his best-selling book The Disappearing Spoon, Kean managed to combine vivid storytelling with dry science by uncovering compelling anecdotes for the first 112 elements of the periodic table. He retains his soft spot for science in The Violinist’s Thumb, but his focus falls on genetics. Kean explains in his typically engaging fashion how DNA accounts for our most unusual traits: from a violin prodigy’s skill to some people’s resistance to radiation.

MAINSTREAM FICTION

Fifty Shades Trilogy, by E.L. James (June 11)

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To file E.L. James’ wildly popular Fifty Shades trilogy under the mainstream category shows how broad-minded (or oversexed) the mainstream can be. Critics have dubbed it “mommy porn” on account of its unabashed erotica and bondage-and-submission scenes. Whatever its classification, though, the runaway success of Fifty Shades is undeniable. This boxed set, now with the publishing clout of Knopf behind it, gives readers without Kindles the chance to follow the impassioned relationship between young Anastasia Steele and mysterious entrepreneur Christian Grey.

BIOGRAPHY

Barack Obama: The Story, by David Maraniss (June 19)

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Another year, another biography you can’t escape. Last year, it was Walter Isaacson’s ubiquitous Steve Jobs that seemed to greet you at every turn. This year — with a nail-biting election fast approaching — the fodder for sensational print headlines and TV’s endless chatter will be David Maraniss’ biography of President Obama. If the advance press and Maraniss’ acclaimed 1996 biography of Bill Clinton are anything to go by, this won’t be a groveling lovefest by any means.

TRAVEL

Lake Chelan: The Greatest Lake in the World, by John Fahey (May 1)

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Published by Spokane’s own Gray Dog Press, John Fahey’s ode to Lake Chelan recounts the author’s intercontinental attempt to prove the superiority of the lake he’s been exploring since childhood. His blend of travelogue and memoir promises engaging lessons in history, geography, and geology — not to mention tales of the weird (leeches, strange Mexican illnesses) and near-death experiences (paragliding mishaps, brushes with a speed-boat propeller).

FOREIGN FICTION

Near to the Wild Heart, A Breath of Life, Água Viva, and The Passion According to G.H., by Clarice Lispector (June 13)

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Clarice Lispector was one day shy of 57 when she died of ovarian cancer in 1977. These new translations of her four most popular novels — each rendered into English from Portuguese by a different hand — are edited by Benjamin Moser, whose 2009 biography of Lispector (also worth picking up) helped rescue her from oblivion outside of her adopted homeland of Brazil, the country where her name continues to carry an almost heroic status. The books span the entirety of her distinguished career, ranging from her “revolutionary” breakthrough novel, Near to the Wild Heart, to the posthumous A Breath of Life.

HISTORICAL FICTION

Little Century, by Anna Keesey (June 12)

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This debut novel by Oregon native Anna Keesey has been picking up recommendations from literary heavyweights like the Christian Science Monitor and Kirkus Reviews as well as indie authorities like Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore. Set in Oregon’s sagebrush desert plateau between the Cascade Mountains and the Owyhee River, its story centers on recently orphaned Esther Chamber, an 18-year-old who ventures to a dangerous frontier town to homestead a property called Half-a-Mind.

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