I really thought this would be easier. Between all the bookstagrams I follow, literary newsletters I’m subscribed to, and book clubs I try to participate in, I didn’t think to make a list of books I want to read would be challenging at all.
But I realized that my recent book picks have been super spontaneous—and I’ve liked it that way. At the moment, I’m not huge on planning what I’m going to read in advance, preferring instead to cave to my impulses when a bright cover or particular author catches my eye in a bookstore.
However, there are a few books I have been meaning to read over the next few months—ones that I’m really excited about, and am actually on track to finish! The rest of my summer reading list, however, I’m happy to leave up to chance.
Calypso, David Sedaris
Synopsis: With Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: these stories are very, very funny–it’s a book that can make you laugh ’til you snort, the way only family can. Sedaris’s powers of observation have never been sharper, and his ability to shock readers into laughter unparalleled. But much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when your own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future.
Thoughts: I’ve been a die-hard David Sedaris fan for the past decade, and my life came full circle when I went to a reading at Books are Magic and got my hardcover copy of Calypso signed by Sedaris himself. It was one of the best days of my life, and I simultaneously want to tear through his latest collection of essays at light speed—and savor them slowly, so they never end.
An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
Synopsis: Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
Thoughts: I’m currently attending a book publishing program, and we were lucky enough to have Tayari Jones as a keynote speaker. She spoke about the road to getting An American Marriage published, from her research at Harvard on mass incarceration to her six years of rewrites to finally getting a fateful phone call from Oprah (to tell her American Marriage had been selected as a book club pick). As one might expect, Jones was a completely brilliant, funny, and inspiring speaker, and I couldn’t buy her bestselling novel fast enough.
There There, Tommy Orange
Synopsis: There There is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.
Thoughts: I don’t know much about There There, but I’ve heard it’s an absolutely stunning debut by an important new voice. And to be honest, I don’t want to know more until I open it up—I’m looking forward to being completely surprised and swept away by this novel.
When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead
Synopsis: Winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal. Miranda is an ordinary sixth grader, until she starts receiving mysterious messages from somebody who knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.
Thoughts: Confession: I haven’t read a YA novel since I was maybe 14 or 15 years old. At that age, I was happy to graduate to more “serious” literature and to (irrationally) turn my nose up at books that fell under the YA umbrella. But recently I was reminded of how important “middle grade” fiction was in shaping me as a reader. This book came highly recommended by someone I trust—and full disclosure, I got a free copy, so I have no excuse not to read it. I’m really looking forward getting reacquainted with YA again, and to lose myself in the setting of the Upper West Side of the 1970s.
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bourdain
Synopsis: New York Chef Anthony Bourdain gives away secrets of the trade in his wickedly funny, inspiring memoir/expose. Kitchen Confidential reveals what Bourdain calls “twenty-five years of sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine.”
Thoughts: Like so many others, I was quietly devastated by the news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide last month. Until his passing, I hadn’t fully realized how his curious, open, and respectful approach to the world and its many cuisines impacted me, and how much I treasured his singular voice. I’ve been watching his CNN series Parts Unknown on Netflix every night, and after reading his original New Yorker piece that led to Kitchen Confidential, I felt strongly that I needed to go back and read his seminal book (if I can get my hands on it, that is—every bookstore I’ve gone to so far has been sold out).
The Terrible, Yrsa Daley-Ward
The Terrible, Yrsa Daley-Ward’s brave, raw, lyrical memoir that captures the surreal magic and incredible discomfort of adolescence, burgeoning sexuality, rootlessness, and connection. Through emotional snapshots that span from her adolescence through her early twenties, each brought to life in Yrsa’s signature style of open white spaces and stirring, singular lines, The Terrible evokes the pain and thrill of girlhood, as well as what it means to discover the fear and power that come with being a woman. With a sharp eye and a rare talent for mining the beauty and the sorrow in the everyday, Yrsa recounts her remarkable life: growing up as one of the only black children in a poor, white, working-class town; navigating the extreme Christianity of her family; inquiring after her paternity; moving through phases of addiction and sexual encounters; and ultimately finding her place in her family and in life.
Thoughts: This is really bad, but this was the June book club pick for Girls at Library, another awesome website I contribute to—and I haven’t read it yet. I know, I know. But I heard wonderful things about the book, and Yrsa Daley-Ward herself, who participated in a Q&A with the founders of Girls at Library. So now I’m playing catchup, and I need to read quickly before GAL’s July book club pick is announced!
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Thoughts: As mentioned above, Girls at Library will be announcing their July book club pick on July 5, and their August pick on August 5 — so whatever those books are, they will definitely be on my list!