That Summertime Sound

Former film executive Matthew Specktor makes his fiction debut with this gossamer yet feverish coming-of-age novel about a nameless 19-year-old lost boy who spends the summer of 1987 slinking around Columbus, Ohio, where "[y]ou could stay up all night and sleep all day and dig the pennies out of your pocket for drink tickets, chocolate bars, mix-tapes and beer." For this California native (described by his girlfriend as "the thinkiest person" she's ever met), the town's gravitational attraction is punk band Lords of Oblivion, headed by weedy Nic Devine, who turns out to be a kind of savior and sinner both. The outcast social circle of bourgeois depressives (one torn, for instance, between Yale and England) is disrupted by dramas of urban Greek-tragedy proportions: rape, AIDS, a childhood home burning to the ground. Apart from heavy-handedness, the story bottles truisms about hangdog music lovers marching to the beat of their own college-rock soundtracks. "Bassists are no good," grumbles one oblivious Lord. "They just hog all the girls and make it tougher for the rest of us. Nothing good ever came out of a bassist." Laughing, I read this line to a bass player friend, who responded, "Sounds like a drummer, if they could write." But how did he deduce that it was a drummer? "Singers don't think about anyone but themselves, and guitar players have no trouble getting girls in the first place." With pitch-perfect dialogue and uncut desires, Specktor's book sings of an eternal rock 'n' roll youth stamped, from the outset, with a blurry date of expiration.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.