June 3, 2019
Summer Reading 2019
We asked a few local literary luminaries for their summer reading recommendations. Here’s what they said:
Tayla Burney’s Picks
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Set largely in D.C. (the political part, but still!) this romance is a fun romp about what happens when the son of America’s first woman President falls for a prince who is one of the British heirs to the throne. I’m an unapologetic Anglophile and royals follower – much to Kojo’s dismay – and this is delightful. (I also will never stop recommending The Royal We by Jessica Morgan and Heather Cocks who have a follow-up to that due out next year).
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Rooney’s Normal People has everyone abuzz, but after a lengthy conversation with the team at East City Books on Indie Bookstore Day, we decided this previous novel of hers would be my cup of tea.
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
A Northern Virginia resident, Kim’s debut novel – an atypical courtroom drama – is earning raves and I cannot wait to read it.
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was such a great read and I’ve been saving her follow-up – about a legendary 1960s era rock band – for the summer.
The Guest Book by Sarah Blake
Blake lives in D.C., but writes sprawling family dramas set in New England, which is my exact favorite type of novel. They’re especially well-suited for summer when they’re set in Maine, which this one is.
Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman
This is a slim novel you can read in a day and have stick with you for a long, long time. The account the life of a man who has the dubious distinction of being the most terribly wounded person to survive a combat injury, it’s a story less about war and more about love and loyalty.
It took me WAY longer than it should have to start these books after several people recommended them to me and I’ve become an evangelist for them since I finally did. The 15th in the series – A Better Man – comes out in late August. In late June the 14th, Kingdom of the Blind, comes out in paperback.
Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide by Tony Horwitz
Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic was a fascinating read for so many, including me when I found myself living in the South where my Yankee self didn’t at all understand why the Civil War was so visceral for people. This new book traces the footsteps of Frederick Law Olmstead who spent time traveling the south as a Yankee in the 1850s. After his sudden death, Horwitz’s brilliance as a journalist, historian, and thoughtful observer of our society will be sorely missed.
Too few of us know and appreciate the stories of the women whose husbands were POW/MIA during the Vietnam War. They negotiated an incredibly challenging political and cultural landscape while coping with tremendously stressful personal crises.
The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Wang
This collection of essays details Wang’s experience getting – ultimately – a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. It’s harrowing, illuminating, and, in many ways, very relatable. It’s also an all too rare account of what it is like to navigate the world with a mental health diagnosis that makes people nervous. Even as diagnoses like anxiety and depression become more talked about, there’s plenty that’s still taboo and Wang tackles that with aplomb.
The Five: The Untold Lives of Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
A comprehensive account of the lives of the five victims of Jack the Ripper is long overdue and Rubenhold delivers. She also puts into stark relief the ways in which living on the margins of society hasn’t really changed much at all since the Victorian era. Alarming and eye-opening indeed.
Ron Charles’ Picks
The City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
One of the biggest books this summer is definitely going to be Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel. Gilbert, of course, is the author of the bestselling memoir, Eat Pray Love that has sold more than 10 million copies. In this book, she comes back to her roots as a fiction writer. City of Girls is a big historical novel about a sheltered young woman who moves to New York City in the 1940s to work at her aunt’s theater.
Strangers and Cousins by Leah Hager Cohen
My favorite novel this year. It’s a very thoughtful romantic comedy about a quirky family getting ready for the eldest child’s wedding. An ancient aunt shows up, troubled by very old memories, and a controversy involving a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews causes the family to reconsider their liberal values.
The Apology by Eve Ensler
By the author of “The Vagina Monologues.” This book is presented as letter to her late father, who abused her for years. This is the statement of contrition she always needed to hear from him – and never did. So as part of her own therapeutic process, she decided to write it herself. It’s bracing and difficult.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Autobiographical novel by a young poet. It’s called On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, and let me tell you, it’s really gorgeous. It’s presented as a letter to his once abusive mother, in which he tries to understand her own past and his grandmother’s suffering back in Vietnam — and then it moves forward to show his first relationship with a wild, redneck teenage boy whom he eventually loses to drugs. It’s heartbreaking and stunningly beautiful.
How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir by Kate Mulgrew
Most people probably know Mulgrew from her work on Orange Is the New Black and Star Trek Voyage, but she’s also a great memoirist. She’s got a new book out now and it’s a really moving story about how she cared for her parents when they became ill.
Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell
Sometimes, when you don’t have time to commit to a whole book, a great collection of short stories is just the thing. So we recommend Orange World and Other Stories, by Karen Russell, who wrote a great novel a few years ago called Swamplandia! This new book contains eight strange, sometimes scary, and often weirdly witty stories.
Finally, I want to recommend an audiobook: Even if you can’t get away to Florida, you can bring the Sunshine State to you with A Florida State of Mind: An Unnatural History of Our Weirdest State. It’s a thoroughly entertaining tour of all the bizarre and strange and wonderful things about Florida — from the Burmese pythons that have taken over the rivers to the Midwesterners who have taken over the cities. It’s about nine hours long, but it’ll make the time fly by.
Coming up in July: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, Doubleday. This is a follow-up to his fantastic novel, “The Underground Railroad,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2016. This time, the story is set in the 1960s. It’s about an African American boy whose plans for college are thwarted when he’s sent to a juvenile reformatory.
Aminatta Forna’s Picks
The Shape of Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
I adored his IMPAC award winning The Sound of Things Falling, which reminds me in mood of one of my eternally favorite books, Javier Marias’ A Heart So White. I’m looking forward to reading his latest, political mystery set in Colombia and based on two real life political murders.
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
I thoroughly recommend this latest from Lalami. Totally different in tone from The Moor’s Account, it is an intimate look at the impact of war on a small town in California.
A Particular Kind of Black Man by Top Folarin
He has been named as a writer to watch by the New York Times. Winner of the Caine Prize some years back. This is his debut novel and tells the story of a Nigerian boy who grows up in rural Utah under the care of a hopelessly unrealistic father. A new take on the American Dream.
Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit
I’m a huge fan of Rebecca Solnit, in particular her essay collection Men Explain Things to Me and her travel memoir Wanderlust. Her range is extraordinary. She doesn’t think within the box or write in it either. Looking forward to her new Cinderella Liberator, retelling of the fairy story. Plan to read with my son (age 8), who thoroughly enjoyed Jessie Burton’s The Restless Girls, a reworking of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Funny thing is that he has never read the originals, so his response is entirely fresh.
Leading Men by Christopher Castellani
This book – based on the relationship between Tennessee Williams and his lover Frank Merlo – has been getting rave reviews. It’s a love affair but also a look at the male muse who could never be celebrated in the world in which they live.
What You Have Heard is True by Carolyn Forche
Carolyn Forche’s long awaited memoir about the making of a poet is mesmerising. It’s both a political memoir and a really fascinating examination of the creative mind.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee
I’m half way through this collection of essays, at once hilarious and touching. His scenes on working as a waiter in NYC’s private homes are unsurpassable in their wit and revelation. Looking forward to finishing it on the beach in Spain with a margarita in my hand.
I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You by David Chariandy
..is a letter to his daughter of 13 years, reminiscent of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. A slim volume you’ll read in a morning and spend the rest of the year thinking about.
On Immunity by Eula Biss
I loved Notes from No Man’s Land and have read various of the essays contained therein several times over. On Immunity – a full-length work examining the history of vaccines and emotional response to them, in particular that of the anti-vax movement – which is very hard to understand by anyone who was – like me – raised in the developing world and survived a measles epidemic. I haven’t read it yet, and look forward to so doing.
I love both to read and write about the nature. I’ll probably dip in and out of Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk, which I do regularly. Or I might embark on Barry Lopez opus Horizon. I loved Of Men and Wolves and Arctic Dreams. The two writers are in many ways the opposite of each other – she’s a miniaturist and he paints on a huge canvas, but they both have the same unflinching view of the natural world and our place in it.