Summer Guide: Don't Shrug This Atlas--The Real State of America Atlas, That Is

Yes, charts can be beach reading. Plus, summer books picks.

The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting
By Rachel Shteir
Shteir, whose previous book, Striptease, exposed burlesque, sets out to capture the history of what some call “social banditry” and others call a crime. Along the way, she encounters Freegans, Abbie Hoffman–ites, and a troupe of Barcelonese performance artists who stage elaborate rituals in shopping malls that include “liberating” merchandise. She introduces us to “refund fraud,” “price switching,” and “grazing” (excessive tasting at supermarkets). We discover that while more men steal from stores, more women do so habitually, and that not even movie stars or senior Bush administration advisers can stop themselves from helping themselves. Penguin Press, 272 pp., $25.95 June

The Kid
By Sapphire
Precious, of based-on-the-novel-Push-by-Sapphire fame, is dead. “The Kid” is her son, Abdul. Yes, the one whose father is also his grandpa. Nine years have passed since the end of his mother’s literacy narrative, and literacy has evidently not done much to improve her lot in life. Sapphire changes the approach of Push very little for this latest effort, cloaking herself in another first-person Afrochild voice whose innocence she juxtaposes with the brutal and complex world into which he’s thrown. Why change up a good thing? Precious herself, who must have changed considerably in the years between Sapphire’s books, appears in Abdul’s flashback memories, providing the kind of guidance she became famous for missing in her own life. The Penguin Press HC, 384 pp., $25.95 JULY

The Submission
By Amy Waldman
Claire, a 9/11 widow who represents the interests of the families on a committee to anonymously choose a memorial, fixates on “The Garden,” an entry that includes a green space where people might “stumble on joy.” Little does she know that this submission was the creation of Mohammad Khan, an apolitical, non-religious Muslim architect who’s sort of a douche. When “The Garden” wins the competition, a public-relations nightmare ensues, inflaming city politics and anti-Muslim racism in this brisk and surprisingly still-topical novel. FSG, 528 pp., $27 AUGUST

True Confessions: Feminist Professors Tell Stories Out of School
Edited by Susan Gubar
What do feminist academics write about when they’re not being feminist academics? Apparently, their father’s penises, their hatred and fear of their mothers, bulimia, being accused of sexual harassment, and the real or perceived changes in the landscape of women’s studies over the last few decades. While the first half, “Personal Views,” is juicier than the second, “Professional Vistas,” these smart, occasionally bawdy stories of intelligent women grappling with substantial life issues and historical conundrums are a great antidote to the maddening, reactionary tone of our wedding-centric babyocracy. W.W. Norton, 400 pp., $29.95 AUGUST

By Wayne Koestenbaum
Picador’s Big Ideas/Small Books series has paired provocative thinkers with exciting subjects, for example, getting Slavoj Zizek to write a short book called Violence. For this newest in the series, queer public intellectual Koestenbaum offers a swarm of exquisite, Barthesian paragraphs on the subject of humiliation. We find him alighting on the theme as it relates to cyberbullying, Larry Craig, Abu Ghraib, and Elliot Spitzer’s supposedly phallic cranium, plus the work of modern artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Glenn Ligon. Koestenbaum also submits to the humiliation of releasing a book during a month when everyone in publishing is on vacationPicador, 192 pp., $14 AUGUST

What Language Is
By John McWhorter
In 2009’s captivating Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, Columbia prof and linguist-to-the-layman McWhorter made a case for the way the English language may have mated with and been morphed by Celtic. Now chasing larger linguistic game, he argues that his colleagues have disrespected some “dialects” out of discrimination, and, similarly, that the structure of slang is, in certain cases, complicated enough to demand our respect. During the ride, he explains why insular languages are more complex and why Navajo code talkers hardly needed to speak in code—their Byzantine grammar contains no regular verbs. “Languages,” McWhorter says, “have messy hair.” Gotham Books, 272 pp., $26 August

Summer Bonus: Dumb Dog Books

The Bedtime Book for Dogs
By Bruce Littlefield
Grand Central, 32 pp., $15.99 JUNE

Pug Hill
By Alison Pace
Berkley, 320 pp., $14 JUNE

Chihuahua of the Baskervilles
By Esri Albritten
Minotaur Books, 288 pp., $23.99 JULY

Hipster Puppies
By Christopher R. Weingarten
NAL Trade, 144 pp., $14 JULY

Stereotypically, people consider summertime the moment for superficial reads, so if you’re craving mindless fluff, direct yourself to the season’s bevy of ludicrous canine fare. If you don’t find hipsters or puppies annoying enough, try Hipster Puppies, a coffee-table photobook of dogs decked out in thrift-store chic. PBR in a feed dish? Probably. Chihuahua of the Baskervilles claims to be the first novel in a moronic series about a ghost pup, and the schmaltzy novel Pug Hill can’t hide its real mission—to serve as über-cute female demographic–chow. Garage Sale America lifestyle guru Littlefield has peppered his picture book, The Bedtime Book for Dogs, with doggie English—“Lie down,” “Good dog”—so you can read it to her and indulge the idiotic pastime of treating your pooch like an actual child.

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