I don’t know about you, but I’m an Indoor Kid. Always was, always will be. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a summer day in the park, a good poolside lay-about, staying a few steps ahead of a creeping vitamin D deficiency. But nowhere am I more blissed-out than in a nook, curled towards a humming AC unit, some sly, stirring prose betwixt my paws.
There’s just nothing like a new book, firm and velvety, or a loved paperback, pages flaking off like croissant skin, to pass a summer day.
I imagine some of you feel the same way. And perhaps you’d liked to be nudged in the right direction? Perhaps you’re nostalgic for the summer reading lists of your childhood, those stapled packets of titles—hundreds, it seemed!—your teachers compiled to prepare you for fourth grade, as if to say: Read Walk Too Moons. The Witches. The Island of Blue Dolphins. Learn some shit about the world. And you did, and you did.
I wanted to recreate the summer reading list—the Magna Carter of Indoor Kids—for Staunchly, so I reached out to some of my bookish friends with infallible taste for recommendations. As you will see, they delivered. My request? A book (or two, or three) they would recommend to someone today. A “summer read” in the loosest sense: something to read this summer (Also because I have been known to drag very mighty and twisted tomes up and down the shaky beach steps of El Matador).
Behold: the inaugural Staunchly Midsummer Reading List, separated into 15 categories for every estival, literary kink. What a joy this was to create, and what a fabulous reminder that I have the smartest, most shimmery friends.
Happy Reading :)
By Christine Mangan
Want a book to distract yourself from the destruction of our country? Tangerine is the perfect book to immerse yourself in for a day. Set in Morocco in the ’50s, Tangerine is delightfully hokey with echoes of The Talented Mr. Ripley and film noir.
- Miriam, owner of the Lev bookstore (donate to her crowdfunding campaign here)
Crazy Rich Asians
By Kevin Kwan
Nothing screams summer fun more than rich people doing rich things on yachts and on islands and on private planes, and just in time for the August movie premiere featuring a full Asian and Asian-American cast. This is the story of Nick and Rachel, two young-and-in-love professors who spend the summer in Singapore so that Rachel can meet Nick’s family. But in the two years that they've been dating, he fails to inform her that his family are Crazy Rich Asians, and she unknowingly enters the world of the Asian uber-elite. This book is juicy and dramatic and delicious, until all of a sudden it’s not.
Call Me By Your Name
By André Aciman
Cause why wouldn’t you want to relive the peach scene through text???
The Banker’s Wife
By Cristina Alger
A female two-hander in the world of high finance and money laundering: A bored American housewife living in Switzerland because her husband took a job at a Swiss bank finds out that his plane crashed in the Alps. But when she looks more closely she stumbles into a conspiracy that puts her life in danger. In New York, a society journalist is about to retire to marry into a powerful political family, until her mentor comes to her with the next Panama Papers-style scandal. It’s a page-turner and it’s always cool to see ladies in a male-dominated world!
The Woman in the Window
By A.J. Finn
I am about 80% into this masterpiece. My beautiful and most trusted advisor, Benjamin, my hairdresser from New York, suggested this to me a few months ago, on the eve of my return to the West Coast, and I am shamed to admit it has taken me this long to find, buy, and consume. I have thrown this love child of Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Paula Hawkin’s Girl on the Train as far away from me as possible no less than15 times (the one thing you need to know about my reading habits is that I have, on occasion, been known to judge a book by how many times I dramatically through it across the room). So far, it has been a beautiful tightrope of spectacular prose and stunning suspense that I have been devouring with fear and gusto and I can only imagine how many more times I need to throw it in the last 20% remaining.
By Guy de Maupassant
I always try to use my summer to read a French classic and one of my all time favorites is Bel Ami from Maupassant. There have been two movie adaptations I believe, both trash. The novel is fantastic and takes places in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century when there was so much money and excess. The alternate title of the book is The History of a Scoundrel because it’s about this man who basically sleeps his way to the top and it’s fun and an interesting snapshot of the upper middle class intelligentsia of Paris at the time.
By Marilynne Robinson
I read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead this winter and loved-loved-loved it. It is ostensibly about a father-son relationship, a genre I generally detest, but it is actually a beautiful meditation on life and living in this broken country. Bonus: Obama loves it, too!
By Fanny Burney
So for everyone who has already read Pride and Prejudice an embarrassing amount of times (Staunchly note: as Tanya has), this is a great Austen-esque alternate that explores, basically, how a young woman learns (and fails) to flirt.
The Secret History
By Donna Tartt
While most people spend winter trying to mentally find their beach, I spend summer trying to find fall on an east coast college campus. The Secret History by Donna Tartt is my favorite book and includes all the elements of my ideal summer story: murder, bacchanalia, and frigid Vermont landscapes. If you too are dark + twisty inside, I highly recommend.
- Lauren F.
By Lauren Groff
I haven’t finished this short story collection and yet I’m still recommending it. Not only that, I’m including it in the “classics” section. Am I crazy? Yesofcoursehavewemet? But that’s beside the point. Unless Groff chokes in the third quarter, this is one of the most sensational short story collections I have ever read. It’s destined for timelessness. But be warned: this isn’t light writing. It’s thick, swampy, humid, hungry, gummy writing. When you finish a story it doesn’t evaporate; it sticks—suspending you in that fuzzy lime green layer above a pond where nature feels electric. I guess what I’m saying is that I never thought I’d love anything named after that damned swing state and yet, here we are.
Consider the Oyster
By M.F.K. Fisher
Just because you shouldn’t eat them in summer doesn’t mean you can’t! Thought-provoking facts and storytelling to feed the mind. Fuel for great dinner party banter.
- Eliza, co-founder of the online journal Girls At Library
By Madeline Miller
I live for feminist retellings of “difficult” women; if you love mythology, poetic prose and witchcraft then look no further. The fictionalization of Circe’s romantic relationship with Odysseus and other figures from The Odyssey made me retroactively resent my 9th grade English teacher less, and honestly aren’t we all just trying to let go of our pubescent angst? This is a summer read because it’s set on a mythical, gorgeous Greek isle and has enough romance and bitchy women to fly through the book in one poolside afternoon.
By Rachel Cusk
The first in a beautiful trilogy (then read the next two!!! they're all A+). Basically nothing happens in this book and yet it is totally revelatory—it gave words to every feeling I could never articulate and I found myself rereading almost every page so that it could double or triple sink in. Yet the book is so quiet—a reprieve from the constant noise of right now. The protagonist/narrator’s observations really, really unearthed the feelings I had that I couldn’t fully comprehend. Also it’s good for summer because I sometimes got so in my head thinking about all the things that were becoming clearer and it’s nice to have some SUNSHINE around when that happens right?!
By Rachel Cusk
Cusk’s sharp, cerebral, almost-mean-girl kind of writing is tops. She makes you feel better/smarter simply for having consumed her words. Who doesn’t need that in the summer, when our brains are most likely to feel at their most jellied?! Let Cusk kick your ass a little bit.
By Danielle Lazarin
This is one of those short story collections where the sum is bigger than its parts. Individually, not many stories wowed me. But taken together, they form a compelling meditation on the way women express desire, pain, fear—the small fraction of a woman’s aggregate thoughts she communicates to the world.
By Rachel Khong
I will never stop shrieking about this book. This novel is seasonless but its brevity makes it summer-y to me. Why hasn’t everyone with a family member read this? Do you have Daddy issues? A controlling mom? Has your family been devastated by incurable diseases? Have you been dumped so brutally that you had to literally get the hell out of dodge? Do you have eyes and a heart? Then this is the book for you. Khong is the former editor of Lucky Peach, so this is also a book for those of us who like to eat, and if you don’t like to eat then I don’t like you. This book is devastating, hilarious, beautiful and essential. Read it or perish.
Conversations with Friends
By Sally Rooney
C’mon. It’s funny, it’s fun, it’s smart, and there’s sex. Plus the cover is a beach-y, dreamy yellow. Get it.
The Refrigerator Monologues
By Catherynne M. Valente
A series of linked humorous stories about the WAGs of superheroes. Written sort of like a fairy tale gone wrong, lightly exploring the superhero genre’s treatment of ladies.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation
By Ottessa Moshfegh
Ottessa Moshfegh’s new novel probably isn’t going to make you feel good. It’s about a depressive borderline-sociopath who tries to escape the pain and inanity in her life by retreating into a haze of prescription pills. I think we turn to art primarily to either escape our lives or to see ourselves reflected in whatever it is we’re consuming. The latter experience is decidedly less pleasant when the parts of yourself you’re seeing are the ones you try not to look at. There were times when I had to put this book down and take a breath because it felt not so much accessible as like being slapped. Our world is burning closer to the ground every day, and this book will not distract you from that. But if you’re sad or angry or otherwise internally mangled, you certainly won’t feel alone.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
By John Carreyrou.
The kick in the pants Silicon Valley needs right now (or always needs). A true account of overpromising, under-delivering, and ultimately putting real lives at risk, with a conniving female villain at the center of it all! An absolutely fascinating look at hubris, delusions of grandeur, and criminal fraud. I literally could not put this down.
American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road
By Nick Bilton
The super weird super true story about the founder of The Silk Road, that shop on the dark web best know for selling drugs and guns. A good beach read if you like to ponder creepy libertarian ideals while simultaneously having a panic attack on the beach.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
By Michelle McNamara
I picked up this book when the Golden State killer was apprehended this April, twenty minutes from my house. It is true crime unlike any I have ever read, and I have read a shitload. McNamara truly has a knack for piecing together information that was lost amongst the many counties he preyed upon and asking the tough questions most have forgotten. She captures the hysteria and fear that crippled my town. Her writing is vulnerable and personal. Many readers and supporters of her work believe that she personally had a part in catching this monster.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
By Shirley Jackson
One of my favorite stories ever ever. Like Grey Gardens plus some scary-movie-I-haven’t-seen-because-I-find-scary-movies-unsatisfying. A small, creepy, perfect book.
A Place for Us
By Fatima Farheen Mirza
Fatima’s well-crafted novel weaves through the lives of a family with Indian-Muslim heritage in the last two decades in northern California. Makes you question your duties, both as a child and as a parent.
A Little Life
By Hanya Yanagihara
A friend of mine recommended this 800-pager at the end of last summer and it sat on my shelf until I saw Antoni from Queer Eye repping the characters names on a t-shirt. It is honestly NOT a “summer read” but I loved being buzzed on multiple beaches this summer (Miami, Cassis) with tears flowing down my cheeks as I read this “torture porn” novel. It’s painful and beautiful, but it was a nice shift from the usual female-centric novels I read. A reassuring look into a males mind (or at least I like to think, while also acknowledging that it’s written by a female): that they too have hearts and feelings and aspirations and strong friendships.
By Nic Sheff
By David Sheff
If you really want to murder your insides and purge your tear ducts, go for a double header of Tweak by Nic Sheff, a memoir about the gnarliest of all possible addictions—methamphetamine—and Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, a memoir about methamphetamine’s drive* to ravage a family. (*it’s hard not to anthropomorphize a drug that seemingly takes on a life force of its own.)
- Lauren D.
The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row
By Anthony Ray Hinton
I’m still processing how I want to describe this, partly because it’s super intense, partly because I’ve only just started. Let’s just say it’s about a young black man from Alabama wrongly convicted of murder, who unnecessarily spent 30 years of his life on death row and somehow made light of this experience while touching countless lives in the process.
The Line Becomes a River
By Francisco Cantú
Having studied immigration and border control while in college, Cantú went on to become a border control agent, working through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, to understand border dynamics and modern immigration. He tells the story of Latin American migrants from two points of view: one as a government agent trying to limit entry, and one as the friend of a Mexican migrant trying to gain entry. Although published back in February before news of family separations broke, this book could not be more timely for understanding border dynamics and appreciating the risk that families take in order to arrive here.
The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent
By Eduardo Galeano
This is cheating because I’ve only read part of it but this book by Uruguayan journalist and poet Eduardo Galeano is necessary reading in a world where we are bombarded with hateful rhetoric about Central American immigrants and refugees fleeing their homes and/or seeking better lives in the United States. Europe and the United States have been exploiting and fucking with their homelands for hundreds of years and Eduardo is here to make sure we know it.
Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother
By Sonia Nazario
I have not read this book (and have no current plans to read because I talk to immigrant kids every day*), but it’s recommended by people I trust and is also especially topical since unaccompanied child migrants have been in the news of late. Sonia tells the story of a 17-year-old Honduran boy, Enrique, clearly, who travels north to find his mother in the U.S. Originally published in 2006 (because every old atrocity is new again).
- Becca (*an immigration attorney)
By Lisa Ko
A sadly relevant story of what happens when an undocumented immigrant parent “disappears” and leaves her son to live a lifelong struggle with identity and belonging.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
By David Grann
Looking to feel further outraged, revolted and disgusted by our federal government and white people en général? Then this is the book for you! KOTFM was a real hot item last summer, but I re-read it pretty frequently. Grann has a gift that I feel the dude from Sons of Anarchy and Robert Pattison have sullied (...with their film adaptation of one of his books); historical non-fiction that reads like fiction is undervalued, especially when it’s carrying the narratives of extreme loss and injustice. The book follows the mysterious murders of a family on the Osage Indian Reservation—a tribe whose lands were parceled out by the US government but was able to maintain the ‘mineral rights’ to their land in OK. That land was then flooded by oil rigs, making the Osage incredibly wealthy and very vulnerable. The sheer racism and cruelty of our government illustrated in this book unfortunately feels too topical for our current day-to-day life as US citizens.
In the Woods
By Tana French
If you don’t know, now you know. Read this shit, escape into a murder case that’s framed by witty Irish banter. Some people choose to escape to Victorian England, I choose to escape into an unmarked grave of a pre-teen. DON’T @ ME (Staunchly note: please @ her)
By Tana French
I cannot praise the Tana French collection of “murder mysteries” more; even to confine it to the genre of “murder mysteries” seems insulting to her greatness. The way she imagines the various levels of twists and turns, building off one-another, light touches in one instance and breathtaking revelations the next, she is simply genius. This publication specifically in the series blew me away. It was brilliant and the fact that the book is still in one piece after its near constant travels across my apartment is a miracle...that’s honestly all I can say because #spoilers.
Eleanor and Park
By Rainbow Rowell
Two misfit teenagers in 1980s Nebraska form a reluctant friendship and, eventually, fall in love. This book so truly captures so much of what I remember about being a teenager, but also brings in adults as fully realized characters. Bad Things happen, but this book is ultimately hopeful, sweet, and warm. I think I read it in one night.
I’ll Give You the Sun
By Jandy Nelson
I read this a couple years ago and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. It’s about twins (one boy, one girl) and how their relationship changes after their mother passes away. There is the before (narrated by one twin) and the after (narrated by the other) and it’s a fascinating study in shifting perspectives, teenagehood (did I make that up?) and loss. It is GOOD. Oh man, it’s making me want to re-read.
Lincoln in the Bardo
By George Saunders
I am unashamed about my fandom for reimagined history around Lincoln (Gore Vidal’s Lincoln is one of my all-time favorite books). This, however, uses Willie—Lincoln’s dead son—as a character to explore and literally climb into loss and grief. The fact that he does so in a hilarious and imaginative way makes the heartbreak bearable, understandable, and most importantly this summer, withstandable.
The Good Lord Bird
By James McBride
This National Book Award winner—what a romp! Very Twain-esque. It follows a young African-American boy who gets thrust into the world of John Brown’s abolitionist campaign because John Brown thought he was a girl and wants to save him. He makes Henry, or “Little Onion,” wear a dress. So to survive, Little Onion goes through the whole book pretending to be a girl while interacting with the likes of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and others. It’s fun and hilarious, and McBride kind of drags Douglass. Fascinating.
The Underground Railroad
By Colson Whitehead
It’s fiction...but is it reaaaallllllyyy fiction?? Flawlessly composed and absolutely heartbreaking in its truth, it needs to be a must-read for everyone, but probably especially for middle-American youths. Too specific? Ok, also, all middle to upper class white youths and ESPECIALLY all legacy youths. Ok, back to the book : it was painful and beautiful in its reality; it continues to marinate in my brain, revealing itself more and more through random conversations and, unfortunately, real life events. I loved it and you need to read it and tell everyone you know about it so they read it and they tell everyone they know about it until enough people have read it that the world begins to right itself and this potentially historical repeating piece remains firmly in the fiction section.
By Martha Hall Kelly
For whatever reason my future therapist will hopefully explain before firing me for causing their emotional distress, WWII has always been my favorite time in history, please don't ask any follow up questions. This piece of incredible historical fiction felt like it was written solely for me, but hopefully tickles your fancy as well. Female protagonists, from various countries, all thinking they’re on the right side of history, magically and seamlessly woven together in a buttery cocoon of flowery language?! Be still my heart.
Blood, Sweat and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made
By Jason Schreier
The world has descended into chaos this summer, and my chosen method of disassociation and self-care is games. It doesn’t matter what kind—it’s mostly videogames but it’s also board games, mobile games, card games, dice games, slot machines—just give me something to play. I’m very interested in game history and most of what I’ve read over the last 6 months has all been games-related, so I apologize in advance if none of this is interesting to Staunchly readers but I’ll recommend it anyway. Life in the summer is kind of punishing, and the stories of how videogames are made are even more so.
- Lauren F.
It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan
By Tristan Donovan
If you’re interested in in-depth histories of games ranging from Chess to Trivial Pursuit, boy have I got a beach read for you!!! Jokes aside, Donovan does an incredible job of illustrating what an important role games have played in human history and I absolutely loved this book.
- Lauren F.
Brought to you by Staunchly’s resident Steamy Reads Expert Becca Title
I want to recommend some capital-R romance authors because I am very pro a steamy read on a hot day (on any day), but I need my books to comport with my modern intersectional feminism, historical accuracy be damned. Is every plot point a shocking and unexpected twist? No. Do I need to linger over the beauty of each delicately crafted sentence? Certainly not, but the prose ranges from “not distracting” to quite good. Are these books engrossing and relaxing and glorious? Oh yes. Plus, using my Kindle-purchasing dollars to support women authors who respect and center women's feelings and desires, and celebrate women's pleasure and joy is just right down the middle with my politics.
Here are four authors to check out:
Sarah McLean writes historical romances that take place in the Regency period (think: Jane Austen) with heroines who are more Lizzy than Kitty or Lydia. She also writes a romance recommendation column in the Washington Postand her recs are great.
Courtney Milan is the pen name of an author who is a former attorney who clerked on the Supreme Court and came forward publicly to discuss her experience with sexual harassment at an also-prestigious 9th Circuit clerkship. (This may be legal inside baseball but she is very smart, very brave.) She writes historicals and modern romances focusing on tech. She’s also great on Twitter. She is my hero.
Victoria Dahl is who I turn to when I am not into hearing about carriages and corsets (though she has written some of those as well). She writes a lot about adorable, small(er) towns and the people who love them (and each other, obviously). She is also great on Twitter.
Kate Meader’s books are extra sexy and mostly take place in Chicago. She’s got a series about a family of firefighters (one is a lady!), a series about restaurants, and one about a pro-hockey team (which taught me everything I currently know about hockey which is...still not a lot).
Also a couple specific series and one-offs:
Nora Roberts. Heard of her? Specifically I really love her “Brides Quartet” mostly because it’s about four friends who run a wedding planning company and their romances are cool but I love female friendship and entrepreneurs! (Secondary shout-out to the In Death series she wrote under the name J. D. Robb which is weird and uneven but is still often a near-future murder mystery delight.)
Modern Love by Beau North—Not everyone is white! Not everyone is straight! People be hipsters!
Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai—See above. Also: tattoos!
By Clarice Lispector
The most profound, offbeat, stream-of-conscious perspective on what it means to exist. I’m being deliberately vague because I don’t know how to encapsulate it. You feel like you’re reading a painting.
By Matthew Zapruder
It turns out that “Why Poetry” is also a pretty compelling argument for “Why Life.” As in, why and how we should live, as people sharing a world with other people, and how we all must learn to understand and care about each other. Gee whiz, seems highly relevant at the moment. Zapruder encourages a gracious kind of thinking; one that is expansive, empathetic, imaginative, and open. Even though it was kind of corny sometimes, I loved reading it.
By Elizabeth Gilbert
I was very reluctant to start it, because I hated Eat, Pray, Love (the movie, I never read the book) but I just finished Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and it was surprisingly good. It was a really healthy (and new for me) perspective on what it means to create and live creatively. I recommend it to anyone who has been on the fringes with themselves and their passions. Why for this summer? Because I need to get back in touch with things that matter to me and make shit for the sake of making shit. Also it’s quick and easy!
In the Shelter
By Pádraig Ó Tuama
This one might be a bit too far out, but I’ve been loving Pádraig Ó Tuama’s In the Shelter. It has a giant Catholicy cross on the front of it, be forewarned. I first heard him on On Being. He leads Corrymeela, a community focused on healing divisions in Northern Ireland. This book is about his coming to terms with his faith while being liberal and gay. I am not religious at all, but I’m still loving his really open, honest depiction of being lost and depressed and unsure of how to be in the world.
Here are the final three paragraphs of the book (he reads these in the On Being episode in his amazing Irish accent):
Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. I recognise and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day. I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet.
Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast.
(Not the place I thought the Staunchly 2018 Midsummer Reading List would end, but I can’t think of a better one.)