Like so many, I adore summer – the lazy days, the dinners outside, the countless hours by the water. There's the sense that time is unlimited, and the summer reading list (of our choice) is within reach.
Work-wise, summer is my busiest time, but that precious sense of carefree summer energy still lingers in my memory, and reading, for me, has always been the quickest way to bring those good vibes back. Here are a few top picks to kickstart the season!
1. There There by Tommy Orange
This is my absolute must-read. Tommy Orange’s debut novel grips from the first sentence and does not let go. Orange tell the stories of twelve characters who, all for different reasons, are headed to the Big Oakland Powwow. At the same time, Orange threads through the narrative fabric a reminder about the very real atrocities committed upon our country’s native people. Orange writes with an energy that is palpable, practically beating off the page, yet couples this with such a sense of humanity and character, and the balance is remarkable. This is an utterly rich and vibrant read.
2. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
As I was looking at my list, I realized I didn’t pick the lightest reads for summer, but what they lack in froth, they make up for in terms of their all-consuming storylines. I was a big fan of Kushner’s book The Flamethrowers a few years ago, and so I couldn’t wait for her latest. I eagerly curled up with The Mars Room and read it – or perhaps "consumed" is a better word – over the space of a weekend. The story centers on Romy Hall, a young mother sentenced to two life sentences (plus six years) in prison, and flips between her present days in jail and flashbacks from her past. Kushner handles this structure easily, and as a reader, the narrative never feels jumbled or anachronistic – it just works. Kushner writes with such an intensity that the story will stay in your head and color your day – it is hard to shake, and that is what makes it so very good.
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3. The Ensemble by Aja Gabel
Here is the perfect summer read – light and engaging, with depth and fully realized characters, Gabel’s debut novel tells the story of four members of a string quartet and their relationship over the course of 18 years. A few plot points are predictable – the affairs, the breakups, the heartache – but the music that drives the narrative keeps the point of view delightfully fresh. Take this one to the beach, or to the hammock, with a glass of Rose and a bit of Bach playing in the background.
4. The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives by Viet Thanh Nguyen
This collection of short stories is one to be savored, and it's well worth the addition to anyone's bookshelf, especially given our current political and cultural climate. Viet Than Nguyen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer, gathered seventeen fellow refugee writers from across the globe to reflect on their experiences, the culmination being a set of distinct works that are so utterly powerful when combined. Proceeds from this book support the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Each essay portrays moments of profound doubt, resilience and re-imagined identities, revealing what it means to leave home in search of a place of refuge.
5. Polishing the Mirror by Ram Dass
When the world seems to spin and the chaos seems to reach a fever pitch, as it did last week with the devastating losses of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I tend to go back to the bookshelves in search of spiritual texts, for they always ground me and staunch the feelings of hopelessness that sadness and confusion often carry with them like an echo. And, all cards on the table, I probably chose this latest from Ram Dass since he was top of my mind after finishing Michael Pollan's How to Change Your Mind where I revisited Dass' and Timothy Leary's Cambridge days. It's a good choice and a very good book, and if, like me, you feel that the world seems to be spinning a bit more these days, Ram Dass's Polishing the Mirror is a worthy and compassionate antidote.