I write this coming back from a day of laying out by the pool and sweating through the last few chapters of my latest summer read. As a waitress this summer, for the first time in years, I have free time during the day — something I often don’t know what to do with.
One of the pieces of advice I’ve read in interview after interview with authors I admire is to read, read, read. Yet for me, this often gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list, and somehow binge watching reality TV shows will occupy my night. I can admit that when I’m reading though, I’m a better writer. Watching the literary world move through work by authors old and new helps me to think differently about my own style and pushes me to try new things.
And so, this summer of daytime freedom has lead me into many book stores to load up on a reading list that, for once, won’t gather dust on my nightstand. Summer is the perfect time to lose yourself in a good book. Whether you’re playing catch up like me or looking for something to bring along to the cabin, I thought I’d share a few personal recommendations. Most of these have been read on a beach, in heat waves, riding trains, or killing time between shifts in the summer months. Anyone else with me?
And hey, if you’re in the Minneapolis or Iowa City area, I’m happy to provide a copy of anything listed below! Emma In Print, open for business. 😉
1. A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Okay, I’ll admit it, I haven’t actually read this one yet…at least not fully. Fatima was the instructor in my first ever creative writing class at the University of Iowa, and wow did her perspective on writing change my life. In fact, a few of the selections on this list were either recommended or influenced by her. Back in 2014 when we wrapped up the class, we all begged her to bring in samples of her work for us to read. After reading only a few early pages of A Place For Us, I knew when it eventually came out I would be one of the first to purchase it. Four years later, the novel is one of the first to be published by Sarah Jessica Parker’s branch of Penguin Random House. I already know it will be great.
2. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
For all of my readers in the service industry — this is for you. I read this book last summer in between spending long afternoons making drinks in the food truck park I worked in, and I found so much of this to be intensely accurate and satisfying to read. Follow the 22 year-old main character as she acclimates to working in a five-star restaurant in New York City, navigating the world of fine wine and deep secrets of her coworkers’ pasts. Bonus: it was recently turned into a Starz series!
3. The Girls by Emma Cline
Is it just me, or is anyone else creepily fascinated by cults? Emma Cline brilliantly reimagines what it would have been like to be a female follower of Charles Manson in the height of his power. Reading this novel while living in San Francisco on their 50th Anniversary of the Summer Of Love felt eerie and exciting, and I can’t speak highly enough of this well-written story. Be warned: you won’t put this one down.
4. The Mothers by Brit Bennett
A first love imprints on us all, and Brit Bennett shows how a few passion-crazed decisions can echo through an entire life. I just finished this one on a beach in South Carolina, and I think I talked about it so much that my boyfriend thought I was bordering on obsession. Follow the lives of two best friends and their troublesome love interest in beachy Oceanside, California. The Mothers is full of heart wrenching lines worth underlining, and you’ll end this book with a deep appreciation for those aching teenage years…and maybe feel like giving your mom a call?!
5. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
Looking for something you can read on a bike at the gym or a bus ride to work? Meet the quirky short stories of Miranda July. There is so much feeling infused into each of these oddly lovable and lonely characters, and you’ll meet each story not knowing what to expect. I read the story, “Something That Needs Nothing” in Fatima’s creative writing class and knew I needed to buy the entire book. If you want to read something unlike anything else you’ve picked up, choose this one!
6. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Okay, I’m going to say it: this is the best love story I’ve ever read. It’s hard for me to keep a discussion of this book to only a few sentences because I admire it so deeply — often returning to certain passages when I feel stuck in my own work. Groff writes so profoundly of Lotto and Mathilde, a couple that sparks a lifetime of love in a frat party’s basement. Separated in half by both of their perspectives, we see the secrets they hold and the subtle (and not so subtle) ways they stop everything to support each other.
7. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Is it really a summer reading list without a story that begins at a summer camp? While lengthy, this novel follows six awkward teenagers through their lives, examining how they interact with each others’ successes, failures, and life choices. Starting in the summer of 1974, The Interestings has an Americana feel that we can all relate to. Adding depth, the novel channels the curiousity that comes with being young, showing what a life looks like when dreams are realized, and also when they’re ignored.
8. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
It’s about time I included a book that takes place in Iowa! This may not be a light beach read, but it’s one that you’ll devote quiet afternoons to studying with the many layered passages in this novel. A simple pastor from Gilead, Iowa reflects on his life that will end soon, and does so in letters to his young son. God, love, happiness, and a few profound thoughts on a beautiful life meet in this novel by Marilynne Robinson (one of Barack Obama’s favorite authors and a Writers’ Workshop professor!) that you’ll tear up while reading.
9. The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Everyone needs a good satire on their reading list. Meet this quick and clever novel by Paul Beatty that examines race and America, doing it all with a humor so sly that you’ll reread often. The narrator works to understand a relationship with his dead father who often used him in odd experiments while also living in a unique neighborhood outside Los Angeles. As a reviewer on Goodreads put it, “If Kurt Vonnegut and Dave Chappelle had a baby and really messed with its head, it would write this novel.”
10. A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Calling all music lovers! This book sits on my shelf quite battered because I’ve reread it so many times. While Jennifer Egan breaks this novel into many unique short stories, they tie together to (similar to The Interestings) show the excitements and adventures of young characters ripple across their middle aged years. The feeling infused through each chapter is raw and poignant, and I recommend it to any reader looking for a blend of music and nostalgia.
What will be next on your reading list? Comment below!