The Lost Upland
by W.S. Merwin
(Henry Holt, paperback, 307p, $14.95)

Mikki Halpin's summer reading:

I have this obsession with a certain group of British male writers. Specifically, I have an obsession with Stephen Spender, Christopher Isherwood, Cecil Day Lewis, W. H. Auden and W.S. Merwin. I consume their poetry and fiction, their collected letters and various memoirs as if I were paparazzi and they were hanging out at Studio 54. There's something utterly compelling about all of these fabulously talented guys hanging out and heatedly discussing Marx and T.S. Eliot that makes me all misty.

The Lost Upland is Merwin's fictional documentary of southwestern France, which mercifully lacks both the Yuppie-ism of Peter Mayles and the cornball comedy of James Herriott. Merwin's sharp-eyed prose gives a gentle, evocative look at a culture that is ancient, petty, wise, elegant, greedy, jovial and mistrustful all at the same time. Read it this summer and pretend you're there.