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Unconventional books for the beach

By Dannye Romine Powell
dpowell@charlotteobserver.com
Dannye Romine Powell
Dannye Romine Powell has published three collections of poetry (University of Arkansas Press) and a non-fiction book, "Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers" (John Blair).
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    PAUL ROGERS - NYT
    Summer time offers a plethora of page-turners -- and the opportunity to read them. (Paul Rogers/The New York Times)
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    Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, “The Signature of All Things.”
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    “A House of Sky” by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett.
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    Meryl Gordon’s “The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark.”

Two words I hate: Beach Book. They conjure someone emptying his or her brain into a bucket, running mindlessly toward the ocean, towel and “lite read” in hand, as if sun and sand somehow rob us of our sense.

If you want “light,” make it light in weight, as in these new paperback releases of 2013 hardcover books:

“A House of Sky” (Scribner, $16), by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett, is the true story of Lindhout’s capture in Somalia by masked men who hold her hostage for 460 days. She survives on memory, pluck and hope. “Beautiful, devastating and heroic,” writes Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love.”).

And speaking of Gilbert, her novel, “The Signature of All Things” (Penguin, $17), is the 19th-century tale of Alma Whitaker, who is deep into the mysteries of evolution, when she falls in love with a man who draws her in the opposite direction – toward the spiritual and magical. “A hot-blooded book,” says the New York Times.

Set in Mississippi in 1927, “The Tilted World” (Morrow, $14.99), is a novel by husband and wife duo Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin. Franklin is an award-winning mystery writer, and Fennelly, a poet, heads the MFA program at Ole Miss in Oxford. You’ll find moonshine, mayhem, mystery and a baby abandoned in the middle of a crime scene.

Now for two hefty hardbacks:

Meryl Gordon’s “The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark” (Grand Center, $28) unlocks the mystery of why this extraordinarily wealthy woman spent her twilight years secluded, eating sardines from a can and watching reruns of “The Flintstones.”

Helen Rappaport’s “The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra” (St. Martin’s, $27.99), which Kirkus Review calls “an absorbing account of the making of a queen through her awful, protracted grief.”

A few of my old favorites:

“Poets in Their Youth: A Memoir,” by Eileen Simpson. Ex-wife of John Berryman, Simpson captures the promise and excitement of such poets as Berryman, Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, Delmore Schwartz, Jean Stafford, Dylan Thomas.

“Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir,” by Beverly Lowry. In the sad aftermath of her teenage son’s 1985 death, Lowry befriends convicted murderer Karla Faye Tucker. A fascinating look at a young woman Lowry found easy to love.

“On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life,” by Adam Phillips. The chapter, “Worrying and Its Discontents,” gives the 1755 definition of “worry” – “To tear or mangle as a beast tears its prey.”

Powell: dpowell@charlotteobserver.com
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