Summer Reading: Books for now ... and then

Rushdie, Harris, Hitchens: the IoS's pick of the season
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The Independent Culture
HARDBACK FICTION

Be Cool by Elmore Leonard (Viking pounds 16.99). The triumphant Chili Palmer, sans gun or mobile telephone, has an idea for making it big in the music business. Brilliantly talky, fired up on energy, verve and wit.

Best place to read it: Los Angeles

The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif (Bloomsbury pounds 18.99). Vast, sweeping saga with parallel romantic plots, 100 years apart, beginning when a Victorian maiden falls for an Egyptian pasha.

Egypt, New York

Hannibal by Thomas Harris (Heinemann pounds 16.99). The return of the Damien Hirst of serial killers, lying low in Florence before Clarice Starling falls from grace.

Italy

Hens Dancing by Raffaella Barker (Review pounds 10). Eccentric mum brings up brood with wit, flair and very little money.

Norfolk

The Great Ideas by Suzanne Cleminshaw (Fourth Estate pounds 14.99). Thirteen- year-old Haddie solves the mystery of her sister's death from a fall, while perusing the `A' section of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

United States

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach (Heinemann pounds 14.99). A tale of lust and betrayal set at the height of tulipomania, when one coveted bulb could cost a working man's annual wages.

Amsterdam

The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie (Cape pounds 18). The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice transposed to the Top 10, with the love affair between an Indian musician, Ormus Cama, and Vina Apsara, an American rock goddess who is swallowed up by an earthquake. A pyrotechnic pleasure.

The World

Satan Wants Me by Robert Irwin (Dedalus pounds 14.99). London is swinging, and our hero Peter is pill-popping, grooving, researching his sociology doctorate and hanging out with the acolytes of Aleister Crowley. A prankish celebration of a time when the social, sexual, political and alchemical revolution seemed only a chord change away.

London

HARDBACK NON-FICTION

Waterlog by Roger Dakin (Chatto pounds 15.99). The author sets out to swim from his moated Suffolk farmhouse to the Scilly Isles, via streams, rivers, canals and lakes.

England

George's Ghosts: A New Life of W B Yeats by Brenda Maddox (Picador pounds 20). Dotty old poet meets younger, determined woman who enlists the spirit world to keep him potent.

Ireland

No One Left To Lie To by Christopher Hitchens (Verso pounds 12). Master polemicist skewers Clinton in alternately beguiling and irritating fashion.

Washington DC

Comrades: Portraits of the Spanish Civil War by Paul Preston (HarperCollins pounds 19.99). Nine characters in the conflict, from heroes and heroines (Dolores Ibrruri, aka La Pasionaria) to villains like Jose Milln Astray and the evil Franco. Brilliant and gripping.

Spain

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Comet of the Enlightenment by Isobel Grundy (Oxford pounds 30). Intrepid traveller, witty writer, poet, forceful character: this significant biography beats the overhyped Georgiana.

Turkey

Till the Sun Grows Cold: Searching for my Daughter, Emma by Maggie McCune (Headline pounds 16.99). The amazing, tragic story of a single-minded young woman who went to the Sudan as an aid worker and married a guerrilla warlord; by her mother.

Africa

Perch Hill: A New Life by Adam Nicolson (Robinson pounds 14.99). Eccentric idealist takes over run-down farm in Sussex and discovers that harvesting beauty is hard work.

England

The Lighthouse Stevensons by Bella Bathurst (HarperCollins pounds 15.99). The brilliant engineers who took a stand against Scottish wreckers and made the coast safe for mariners.

Scotland

Signs of the Heart: Love and Death in Languedoc by Christopher Hope (Macmillan, pounds 16.99). Hope finds in this southern region of France not a rural idyll but unemployment, disillusion and depopulation. A frank, honest approach to the question of human existence.

France

Frost on My Moustache by Tim Moore (Abacus pounds 10.99). Self-confessed wimp follows intrepid Victorian explorer to the icy wastes of Spitzbergen. Could have been Viz in the Arctic, but Moore's humour makes it more beguiling than that.

Iceland, Norway

Pushkin's Button by Serena Vitale (Fourth Estate pounds 16.99). In this bicentennial year, there are many books on the pre-eminent Russian poet. Begin with this one, which tells the irony-saturated story of the poet's death in a duel.

Russia

Another Round at the Pillars edited by David Harsent (Cargo Press pounds 20). Affectionate essays addressed to the poet, editor and critic Ian Hamilton from his coterie of (male) admirers.

Soho

Bruce Chatwin by Nicholas Shakespeare (Harvill pounds 20). This life outweighs Chatwin's slender, exquisite oeuvre by several pounds, but it's impossible to imagine anyone could do it better - or that there remains anything left to say.

Africa, South America, Wales

Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton (Hodder pounds 12.99). Nathaniel himself doesn't make much of an appearance, but the tale of the struggle to dominate the European trade in nutmeg is surprisingly gripping.

Indonesia

The Snakebite Survivor's Club: Travels among Serpents by Jeremy Seal (Picador pounds 16.99). To cure his phobia, Seal sets off around the world to learn snake lore, meet snake enthusiasts, get close to the world's most dangerous species and talk to those who have survived a bite. A series of digressions around a rather tenuous theme, but this is creepily, sharply observed, and wonderfully bizarre.

Australia, India, Africa

PAPERBACK FICTION

Model Behaviour by Jay McInerney, (Bloomsbury pounds 6.99). Cunning social satire about minor magazine journo with insecure supermodel girlfriend, though as ever McInerney is as much in love with, as scandalised by, what he satirises.

London

Georgiana's Closet by Dale Gunthorp (Virago pounds 9.99). She loves me, she loves me not; mix-and-match love affairs on the lesbian dinner party circuit.

Hampstead

A Recipe for Bees by Gail Anderson-Dargarz (Virago pounds 9.99). Another helping of life on the farm, complete with folksy rural wisdom and customs - like murder, bitterness, cruelty and child abuse. A kind of Canuck Cold Comfort Farm.

Canada

Another World by Pat Barker (Penguin pounds 6.99). Magnificently sinister family drama with troubled kids and overwhelmed adults, living in a creepy house where a murder was committed in Victorian times.

On the beach

Casanova by Andrew Miller (Sceptre pounds 6.99). The Impac prizewinner (for his debut, Ingenious Pain) follows the fortunes of the legendary lover in 18th-century England, where he meets Sam Johnson, helps to build a Thames bridge, and falls devastatingly in love with a disturbingly cold beauty.

England

Highland T'ing by Dirk Robertson (X-Press pounds 5.99). Funky crime novel about a young black man who discovers that one of his ancestors was a Scottish nobleman, framed and transported to the West Indies. Black London culture meets Scottish tribalism in a bitter dispute over a legacy.

Scotland

Indiana Gothic by Pope Brock (Review pounds 9.99). Fictionalised episode in the author's family history, a sex scandal hushed up more than 80 years ago. Extraordinary characters, brilliantly imagined.

United States

James Miranda Barry by Patricia Duncker (Serpent's Tail pounds 10.99). Was she or wasn't he? Picaresque tale in which a diminutive Victorian woman cross-dresses to become a celebrated army surgeon.

Shropshire, South Africa, Caribbean

Bad to the Bone by James Waddington (Dedalus pounds 7.99). A serial killer hits the Tour de France as drug use and lust for victory take their toll.

Any cycling holiday, especially in France

The Tesseract by Alex Garland (Penguin PB pounds 6.99). The lives of four individuals in Manila collide on one particular night with shocking consequences. All the darkness and latent violence of The Beach but with a fuller human perspective and a sharp sense of place.

Philippines

The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills (Flamingo, paperback, pounds 6.99). An unnamed English narrator has to supervise two itinerant, work-shy Scottish fence-builders in unfamiliar countryside. As soon as their paths cross with a local butcher family, strange and sinister things begin to happen.

Scotland, Hereford & Worcester

In Praise of Lies by Patricia Melo (Bloomsbury pounds 9.99). Classy thriller about a sinister Sao Paulo snake-wrangler who meets an author in search of a gruesome fictional death.

Brazil

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber pounds 10.99). Heart of Darkness in reverse as an American missionary family comes from Georgia, with their cake mixes, Band-Aids and rigid American faith, to the Belgian Congo. The locals are at first amused and then horrified.

Africa

Starcrossed by A A Gill (Doubleday pounds 9.99). Bookshop assistant has affair with dazzling Hollywood legend - now where have we heard that before? John Dart, a would-be poet, meets the incandescent Lee Montana after a book signing and lives the high life, until Lee's professional pretensions - she signs up to play Antigone in the West End - threaten the fairy tale.

South of France, London

Ladies' Man by John Ramster (Little, Brown pounds 9.99). Promising debut about a single, gay,

thirtysomething travel agent looking for love and finding it, rather unexpectedly, with a woman. Surprisingly convincing and pleasingly rude, it's as neurotic and self-obsessed as Woody Allen - but only about as funny as Kathy Lette.

Brighton

Everything You Know by Zoe Heller (Viking pounds 9.99). Repellent old screenwriter goes to pot while studying the diaries of his dead daughter: crackling dialogue, shifty plot, enjoyably unreliable narrator.

Los Angeles, Mexico, London

Underdogs by Rob Ryan (Headline pounds 9.99). Underneath Seattle is a subterranean city where the outlaws live. A holdup goes wrong and Hilton Badcock ends up with an eight-year-old hostage down in the sewers, now crowded with dope growers, fake cops, real cops, transsexuals and losers. A hard-boiled tour de force.

Seattle

The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox (Chatto pounds 10). A stubborn, taciturn French peasant meets an angel in his vineyard at midnight. Knox handles her supernatural devices with aplomb.

La France profonde

PAPERBACK

NON-FICTION

Liquid City by Marc Atkins and Iain Sinclair (Reaktion pounds 14.95). A further collaboration between the photographer and writer of Lights Out for the Territory; a moody, meandering meditation on the metropolis.

London

One Mykonos by James Davidson (Profile paperback pounds 4.99). A clever and concise account of the Greek island beloved of gay holidaymakers, delving back into ancient history.

Greece

High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess by Charles Fleming (Bloomsbury pounds 7.99). Badly written but utterly gripping Faustian tale of the fat, drug-taking monster responsible for Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop. His terrible, abusive behaviour - he left in his wake a string of bullied secretaries and girlfriends and abused prostitutes - was covered up by the system as long as he kept producing hits.

Los Angeles

The Rings of Saturn by W G Sebald (Harvill pounds 6.99). Brilliant, erudite memoir of the author's looping walk around the coast from Lowestoft to Southwold and Bungay, contemplating on the way Thomas Browne, Conrad and Swinburne. A journey worth taking, profoundly uplifting and thrillingly intense.

Suffolk

Memoir of a Fascist Childhood by Trevor Grundy (Arrow pounds 6.99). Gripping tale of the author's early life in the East End with two fanatical Mosley supporters for parents. Grundy happily baited Jewish classmates and became a star of the movement, its youngest public speaker and organiser of its youth wing. Then he recanted, and discovered his mother's strange secret....

London

Heshel's Kingdom by Dan Jacobson (Penguin pounds 7.99). The subject of the book is the author's grandfather, the only trace of whose existence (descendants apart) is a haunting photograph. Heshel's early death meant his penniless family had to up sticks to South Africa where Jacobson himself was born. A readable and touching family history.

Eastern Europe, South Africa

The Age of Kali by William Dalrymple (Flamingo pounds 6.99). A collection of 19 journalistic essays on the Subcontinent by the dazzling meteor of travel writing. Wide-ranging, eye-opening and deeply knowledgeable, if not as satisfying as his earlier City of Djinns.

India

The Spiritual Tourist by Mick Brown (Bloomsbury pounds 6.99). Colour-supplement journo goes in search of spiritual enlightenment in vague but amiable fashion.

India

Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and La Cosa Nostra by Peter Robb (Harvill pounds 6.99). An authoritative exploration of the troubled island, mixing passages of social history and personal readings of literary classics. He re-creates the anarchic bustle of Palermo street life with sumptuous ease.

Sicily

SHORT STORIES

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander (Faber pounds 9.99). An arrestingly inventive debut collection by an author who tackles strong themes - the fate of Jews at the hands of Nazis and Stalin, life in Jerusalem under the threat of terrorism - with great compassion.

Israel

Fortune Hotel edited by Sarah Champion (Hamish Hamilton pounds 9.99). Alternative travel stories from Toby Litt, Emily Perkins, Will Self, Geoff Dyer, Esther Freud, Douglas Coupland and others.

Chile, Spain, Kathmandu, Mexico

The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories edited by Stewart Brown and John Wickham (Oxford pounds 12.99). A vast, cruiseliner of an anthology which picks up writers from literary ports as diverse as Florida, Puerto Rico and Holland. Its historical sweep and suggestions for wider reading make it an useful primer for students of West Indian literature.

Caribbean

Five Pubs, Two Bars and a Nightclub by John Williams (Bloomsbury pounds 9.99). Eight interconnected, enjoyably bizarre stories set round Cardiff's multiracial Butetown. A surprisingly genial affair, despite being littered with small- time gangsters, drug dealers, bent local government officers and prostitutes on Awaydays from the Valleys.

Wales

Uncut: 21 Short Stories by Christopher Fowler (Warner pounds 7.99). A selection of old and new twisted tales from this stylish, mordant horror satirist. "Last call for Passenger Paul" makes perfect departure lounge reading.

Airports, London

A Vaudeville of Devils by Robert Giradi (Sceptre pounds 10). Seven moral tales, veering towards the uncanny and criss-crossing time and space with aplomb, from an author whose novel Vaporetto 13 is recommended for anyone visiting Venice. The opening story, where an art critic becomes an SS officer and is charged with dispatching the venerable "degenerate" artist James Ensor, is particularly fine.

Seattle, Belgium, Aden, Naples

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore (Faber pounds 6.99). Short stories with long and surprisingly satisfying titles such as "Which is More Than I Can Say About Some People" which delve into the crises that can set life off its course. Her light touch and fiercely intelligent wit counterbalance the emotional depth of her writing.

USA

The Ugliest House in the World by Peter Ho Davies (Granta pounds 9.99). This debut collection from a Welsh-Chinese man who grew up in Coventry and now lives in the US won the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys prize. The stories are unpredictable, playful and observant, the perspective sometimes ambiguous. One plucks a narrative thread from Bruce Chatwin; another examines Welsh working-class life at the turn of the century.

South Africa, Patagonia, Wales

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