Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer reading list

Instead of the regularly-scheduled review I would normally run, today is going to be all about summer reading. If this seems like a cop-out, well, it is and it isn't. Besides being a place where I get to think and write about books every week, this blog is where I point people who ask me what I've been reading lately and ask what they should read next. Never do I have this conversation more than in the summer, when people want to know what to bring with them to the beach or the cottage, or just what they should be reading on the weekends. It seems that, even when people aren't on vacation, summer is their designated time to read for pleasure, whether that means it's filled with guilty-pleasure books of just time to read, period. 

So, in the spirit of summer, I thought I'd do what I did last year and recommend some great summer reads, and also come clean about what I'm planning to read (I mean, you'd find out soon enough, but I guess this way you can track my success, or read along with me). I did this last year as well and people seemed to like it, so I thought I'd try it again.

Six books you might want to read this summer:
The Antagonist by Lynn Coady – Suitably set in the summer, The Antagonist is a one-sided epistolary novel about Rank, a one-time enforcer, who is trying to set the record of his life straight. It's funny, it's heartfelt, and Rank is so fully-realized you'll almost think you've stumbled across a trove of someone's private correspondence. It's riveting.
Irma Voth by Miriam Toews – The story of Irma, a mennonite living in Mexico, has a lot of elements that, now that I'm thinking about it, hearken back to the summer books I loved as a kid. It's a kind of coming-of-age story – certainly it's about discovering who you are and what you're capable of – and it's filled with Toews' signature humour and insight. It's exactly the kind of book that offers up equal parts excellent writing and entertainment, and it is not to be missed.
Touch by Alexi Zentner – If you are not such a fan of the heat, perhaps you can take vicarious comfort in the dark and freezing winters Zentner evokes in his haunting, beautiful, and magical story about family legends and how thin the line between folklore and reality becomes in the dark, empty woods. It's a masterful story, beautifully told, and offers a little something different if you're a fan of the mysterious but tired of detective fiction.
Up Up Up by Julie Booker – Summer reading is often done either in long leisurely chunks, or in short breaks in between lots of activities, and a short story collection is an excellent way to bridge the two. Booker's stories are especially suited to summer because many of them have to do with travel, as well as how to fill the boredom that can set in when our regular schedules are suddenly altered. It's great reading, perhaps even better because it gives you the space to pick it up and put it down guilt-free.
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright – Romance is traditional summer fare, but Enright turns things around a little by writing about a relationship that began as an affair, told from the perspective of Gina, one of the lovers. I've written quite a lot about it already, but suffice to say, it is a gorgeously constructed novel and will more than hold your attention wherever you engage in your summer reading.
The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock – Non-fiction doesn't make everyone's summer reading list, but it almost always makes mine. This is an alternate to the juicy celebrity memoir, telling instead the story of an 18th century woman who invented her own art form. Truly, Mary Delaney's life story is absorbing and juicy enough to stand up on its own, that she managed to become such an incredible artist is the icing on the cake. I'm tempted to point this book toward gardeners especially, since Delaney's art was the immaculate recreation of flowers out of paper, but really it's the kind of intricate and inspiring story that would capture the attention and imagination of almost any reader.

Five books I'll be reading:
Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
The Water Rat of Wanchai by Ian Hamilton
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
(Obviously I will be reading more books than this, but these are at the top of my list.)

So, there you go. What would you recommend people read this summer? What do you plan to read? And, perhaps most importantly, where do you plan to read your books and does that affect what they are? (For example, I try not to take hardcovers to the beach so I don't get sand in the spine, but maybe that's just me?)


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