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Heady, Not Heavy: 5 Smart, Playful Summer Books

Shakespeare reading
Chris Silas Neal
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For readers who like to fire up not just the barbecue but also their brains — and have fun in the bargain — there are some good options this summer. I'm always on the lookout for heirs to Vladimir Nabokov or the literary equivalent of Tom Stoppard's plays or Woody Allen's films — smart, playful, witty narratives with ideas to bounce around the cerebral cortex, as if on mental trampolines. This year, I've taken to three clever novels that offer modern twists on Shakespeare and Aristophanes, plus a wry, gory page-turner narrated by a philosophical werewolf, of all things. For those who like their linguistic hijinks undiluted by fiction, there's a fresh, offbeat glossary here, too. It's all heady but not heavy.

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Heller McAlpin is a New York-based critic who reviews books regularly for NPR.org, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications.