I’ve always read a lot, but lately I’ve been reading even more than I normally do. Now that I’m done all of my assigned readings for my master’s degree, and all of my reading diaries for the course are finished, I feel like I can just read whatever I’d like. Although I absolutely loved reading all of the memoirs and non-fiction and travelogues required for the course, ideally I love to mix it up as much as possible.
The phrase “summer reads” gets thrown around a lot – I guess because summer implies sitting around in a garden sipping lemonade with a good book. Or sitting on the beach sipping a margarita with a great book (much better scenario, really). And while summer has already started long ago, it’s never too late to delve into a big old pile of books… right? Here are a few books I’ve read lately and can recommend, along with some books I’m eager to read this summer.
1. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey. I just finished this book, and it was one of those “I can’t put it down” reads. The main character, Maud, has trouble remembering things due to dementia. She’s quite certain of one thing, however – that Elizabeth is missing. It’s a beautifully-written mystery.
2. Spinster by Kate Bolick. This book is just fantastic. It’s not available in the UK until next month – I had to get my mum to bring it over to me from Canada – but I recommend that you put it on your reading list. Kate Bolick does a great job of blending her personal story with the stories of women such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, and Neith Boyce (to name a few). I connected with it on so many levels – as a feminist, as a woman, as a writer, and as someone who is quite all right with calling myself a spinster.
3. The Moth edited by Catherine Burns. I stupidly lent this book out to someone (when will I learn?!) and it looks like I’ll be buying another copy, because I know I will want to read it again and again. For those who don’t know, The Moth is a storytelling organisation, inspired by the tales that people used to tell on their porches in the South. This collection is comprised of fifty of the best of them, and the stories range from everything from surviving cancer, to falling in love, to dealing with the death of a parent, to following one’s dream. I laughed out loud and I cried a lot, all the while basking in the ability to feel completely connected to someone within the span of a few pages.
4. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. What can I say about Joan Didion that hasn’t been said before? She’s a queen, a badass, an idol, a dream. This collection of essays captures what it was like in 1960s America. Not only is it informative, it’s gorgeously written.
5. The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. This is one of those books that I read all through the night. It is brave and heartbreaking and eloquent and just about everything you could possibly want from a book. The book follows one man’s descent into mental illness, and it is done in such a way that you are locked into the story from the very beginning. On top of that, the author, Nathan Filer, is an extraordinarily lovely person – I tweeted him and he immediately tweeted back, with even a few emails back and forth to one another.
6. Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. I grew up on Saturday Night Live, and was lucky enough to be of the generation that got to follow the rise of amazing women like Tiny Fey, Maya Rudolph, and Amy Poehler. Is it just me, or do you already feel like you’re best friends with these women? Reading Yes, Please will only make the situation worse, trust me. Funny and witty and wise – just like its author – I devoured this book in one day. Also check out Bossypants by Tiny Fey and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling.
7. On Writing by Stephen King. I admit that I haven’t read many of King’s books, but there is no denying his influence on popular culture. I read On Writing as a supplementary text during my master’s degree, and I loved it. The first section is his memoir, which is a hilarious and often touching account of his childhood and first forays into writing. The second section is about the act of writing, and I found his advice to be invaluable – often harsh, but invaluable. Whether you’re writing a book, an essay, or a blog post, I recommend it.
8. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. Another book I really enjoyed recently, and one I don’t want to say too much about. I am thankful that I didn’t read any reviews online, because I was unaware of the twist that occurs about seventy-five pages in. If you haven’t read this yet, please don’t read anything about it first. It’s an interesting account of a family in America, trying to deal with the ups and downs of life together… with one very large exception to the average family. I loved it.
9. I Feel Bad About my Neck by Nora Ephron. Another intelligent, strong, successful woman on this list, Nora Ephron wrote a few collections of essays/memoir in her (much too short) lifetime. I laughed out loud at this one, too, and found myself nodding along to so many of her stories.
10. The Italian Affair by Laura Fraser. I read this book because I wanted to read something kind of similar to what I am writing myself, which is a book in the second-person. Fraser’s account of her post-divorce travels through Italy is beautiful and descriptive, and it will make you want to get on an airplane to Italy immediately. The style of the book is indeed unique, and I found it to be a really fascinating read.
11. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. Ugh, this book is just so sad and so beautiful and I am amazed I hadn’t read it before. You may have seen the movie (starring a young Leonardo DiCaprio) but even if you have, I recommend reading Wolff’s memoir of his childhood. It is a magnificent (and often extremely difficult to swallow) account of Wolff’s struggle to find his identity all the while being emotionally tortured by his stepfather.
12. The Devil On Her Tongue by Linda Holeman. No, I could not complete a list like this without one of my mother’s books. What can I say? She’s a marvellous writer, and if I ever write even half as good as she does I’ll be pretty damn happy. Her latest book is set on Porto Santo and Madeira (islands off the coast of Portugal) in the 18th century, and focuses on a young woman who wants to forge a different path for herself other than ‘wife’ or ‘nun’. My mum specialises in historical fiction, and I am always amazed at the level of detail she so seamlessly blends into her work. My only complaint is that there are a few sex scenes, because, EW GROSS MUM, I don’t want to read that.
And what I’m looking forward to reading?
1. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume – because it’s Judy Blume.
2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – because everyone else has read it.
3. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee – because my dear friend Claire gave it to me for my birthday, and I really do need to be more familiar with travel writing from other periods.
4. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – because this book was recommended to me time and time again throughout my master’s degree.
5. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – because I really liked (and recommend) Life After Life, and I’m eager to see what she does with this book.
6. White Teeth by Zadie Smith – because I’ve never read it, and that’s just embarrassing.
7. H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald – because it’s another one that keeps getting recommended to me.
8. Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller – because it’s about Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon, and that’s all you really need to know to want to read it.
For more of what I love to read, check out my post on Best Travel Books and What I Read On the Road. Also, because I apparently still live in 2008, I still use Shelfari, where you can check out other books I’m reading, want to read, and recommend.
What have you been reading lately, or what are you looking forward to reading? Have you read any of the books on this list?