9 books to read this summer
Books are just about the only part of our culture chugging on more or less as normal. And thank goodness for that.
Books are just about the only part of our culture right now that is chugging on, more or less as normal. And thank goodness for that, because summer reading is going to be excellent this year (and not just because we're potentially going to be spending most of it still in quarantine). From books about outbreaks to books that offer complete escape, here's what you'll want to have on your nightstand for those warm summer nights.
And if all else fails, there's always Midnight Sun.
1. The Brothers York, by Thomas Penn (June 16)
I have a vast, sad void in my life now that I've finished Hilary Mantel's trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, and I can't wait to fill it with this War of the Roses biography about the house of York. Already out in the U.K. — where it was named one of the best books of 2019 by The Guardian and the Telegraph — The Brothers York also earned an endorsement from Mantel herself, who writes that "with insight and skill, [author Thomas] Penn cuts through the thickets of history to find the heart of these heartless decades." One might recognize the biography's central trio of brothers — Edward IV; George, Duke of Clarence; and Richard III — from the works of Shakespeare, yet the history behind the plays is well worth your time; Lit Hub calls it a "juicy, impeccably researched work."
2. Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (June 30)
This is maybe less of a "beach read" than it is a great book to take camping, if only because its spooky Bram Stoker-esque atmosphere is way better for reading by the light of a campfire. (For a quarantine-appropriate alternative, try reading it under the covers with a flashlight). The book begins in Mexico City in the 1950s, when the beautiful bachelorette Noemí is summoned home from a party by her father due to his receiving a concerning letter from Noemí's cousin, Catalina. Though it is rambling and strange, Catalina claims in the note that her new husband is trying to poison her and that their grand home in a remote mountain village is "sick with rot, stinks of decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment." Off Noemí goes to find out what's happening, only to be pulled deeper into the nightmare.
3. The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones (July 1)
The Only Good Indians earned the rare triple crown of starred reviews from the trades, and its author, Stephen Graham Jones, has been described as "the Jordan Peele of horror literature." But if that weren't enough to get you hyped, the novel follows the supernatural events that unfold after four young Blackfoot men kill a pregnant elk on forbidden tribal land. Years later, a demonic force comes to take revenge for the bloodshed in this story that, in the words of Publishers Weekly's starred review, "works both as a terrifying chiller and as biting commentary on the existential crisis of indigenous peoples adapting to a culture that is bent on eradicating theirs."
4. Utopia Avenue, by David Mitchell (July 14)
Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell has made us wait five years for his next novel, but at a chunky 600 pages, Utopia Avenue sounds like it's going to be worth it. The book presents itself as the "unexpurgated story" of a British psychedelic rock band that "released only two LPs during its brief and blazing journey from the clubs of Soho and draughty ballrooms, to Top of the Pops and the cusp of chart success, to glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome, and a fateful American fortnight in the autumn of 1968." Each chapter title is apparently taken from the name of one of the band's songs, and focuses on one of its four members. Addressing the ambitious undertaking, Mitchell has said, "Can a novel made of words (and not fitted with built-in speakers or Bluetooth) explore the word-less mysteries of music, and music's impact on people and the world? How? … Utopia Avenue is my rather hefty stab at an answer."
5. The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue (July 21)
Emma Donoghue's novel about the 1918 influenza had its publication date bumped up to this summer — because, well, duh. "Back in October 2018, the centenary of the Great Flu prompted me to start The Pull of the Stars, set in a Dublin maternity ward at the height of the misery in 1918," the Room author told the Irish Times. "Two days after I delivered my final draft, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic." Admittedly, the misery of disease might be the last thing you want to read about right now, but Donoghue's book — which centers on health-care workers in a city hospital under quarantine — is described as "deeply involving and profoundly moving." Read if you're an enthusiastic 7 p.m. applauder (and if you're looking for more coronavirus-adjacent literature, start here).
6. The Queen of Tuesday, by Darin Strauss (August 18)
Publishers solicit blurbs in order to sell books — the quotes are essentially advertising material — but when two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Colson Whitehead gets behind a novel, you sit up and listen. His endorsement of the "gorgeous, Technicolor take on America" sits on the cover of Darin Strauss' forthcoming Queen of Tuesday, which weaves together memoir and fiction as it circles around its central character, actress and I Love Lucy star Lucille Ball. Strauss' grandfather was at a party with Ball (hosted by Fred Trump!) in New York in 1949, and the novel imagines an affair between the two. While fictionalizing a real person in such a way can be fraught, Strauss is the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award (for Half a Life) and I trust that Lucy is in good hands.
7. Sisters, by Daisy Johnson (August 25)
If you're not aboard the Daisy Johnson train yet, well, where have you been? Johnson became the youngest author to ever be shortlisted for the hyper-prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2018 at the age of 27 for her debut novel, Everything Under, and she follows it up with Sisters, a story about teenagers July and September who move to a remote family home on the seaside with their single mother. While we don't have too many details about the book yet this far out, her publisher calls it "alive, original, and surprising" as well as a "seriously smart and compulsively readable novel about a young woman attempting to find her own agency within an all-consuming relationship." The Guardian hails Johnson as being "the next generation," writing that Sisters is a "short, sharp explosion of a gothic thriller whose tension ratchets up and up to an ending of extraordinary lyricism and virtuosity." Sold.
8. Migrations, by Charlotte McConaghy (August 25)
Don't judge a book by it's cover, although if you must, it might as well be the gorgeous Migrations, the U.S. debut of Charlotte McConaghy. Franny Stone arrives in Greenland with the goal of finding the world's last flock of Arctic terns as they make their final migration, and convinces the captain of the Saghani to ferry her in the pursuit. (There is, as you might expect, more to Franny than she initially lets on to the captain). Early descriptions make it sound like a novel with a topical climate change theme and a plot that examines the slippery brink of extinction. Shelf Awareness praised it as "brimming with stunning imagery and raw emotion" and "the incredible story of personal redemption, self-forgiveness, and hope for the future in the face of a world on the brink of collapse." Bonus: In the sweltering days of August, its descriptions of the frozen Arctic can cool you down.
9. This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire, by Nick Flynn (August 25)
Another Bullshit Night in Suck City author Nick Flynn is publishing yet another memoir with a fantastic title, this one called This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire. The book appears to reference the fire set by his mother in their house when he was seven years old, a story he revisits now that he is a parent himself. The book also deals with him excavating the emotions around his mother's suicide when he was 22, and cheating on his wife. Flynn is never not terrific — I sometimes can't make up my mind if I prefer his prose or poetry more — and This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire is already garnering early praise that reflects that fact. "Readers will devour this powerful memoir of letting go," Publishers Weekly promises in its starred review.