WESTPORT, Conn. — There were few empty seats at Westport Library last week when Sybil Steinberg, contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, ran down her list of top summer reads.
From Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest novel to a nonfiction chronicling poet Byron’s incestuous affair with his half-sister, there was something for everyone in the crowd of about 50 book lovers.
Steinberg saved her highest praise for “When Breath Becomes Air,” Paul Kalanithi’s poignant memoir on his life as a 36-year-old neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“If you read only one book this year, this is the book you really must read,” the Westport resident told her noontime crowd. “It’s so honest and so wise.”
"Sybil's List," Steinberg’s list of her favorite recent publications, numbered 40 with most readily found in the fiction section or soon to be released. During her talk, a highlight of the Westport Library’s calendar, she offered some of her own Publishers Weekly reviews, as well as snippets from New York Times reviews.
Steinberg praised “The High Mountains of Portugal,” the latest novel by Yann Martel of “Life of Pi” fame. Calling the book “funny, sad and beguiling,” she said the novel is set over three decades in a tiny town in Portugal.
“I put down the book a couple of times because I was laughing so hard, I thought I would be sick,” she said.
C.E. Morgan’s “The Sport of Kings” is a “brilliant achievement” that touches on racial bigotry against the backdrop of thoroughbred horse racing, she said.
“I never cared beans about the Kentucky Derby,” Steinberg said. “Well, I’m hooked on horse racing from here on in.”
Steinberg predicts “The Girls” by Emma Cline will find an audience this summer. Written almost entirely in sentence fragments, the book is “a breathtakingly imaginative story in which a 14-year-old girl becomes involved with a Manson-like cult,” Sternberg said.
“This is this summer’s hot book,” she said.
Other picks on her hit list included Richard Russo’s “Everybody’s Fool,” Cathleen Schine’s “They May Not Mean To But They Do,” Jonathan Dee’s “High Dive,” Marie Jalowicz Simon’s “Underground in Berlin” and Julia Markus’ “Lady Byron and Her Daughters.”
Many left the talk clutching a printout of Sternberg’s picks, which is available, along with lists from 2015, on the Westport Library website .
“I hope you found a book somewhere in here that you will enjoy reading,” she told her audience.