Summer Book Recommendations
Friday was my last day of the semester and today’s the first day of my summer break. How about some book recommendations?
As I’ve written before, my reading habits have switched to predominantly fiction over the last few years. It’s fiction I most want to read when I have downtime and it’s the fiction section I hang out in in bookstores now, always searching for new reads. But at the end of last year, I was feeling burnt out on the novels I was reading. I was losing interest and unable to focus. Maybe it was life. Maybe it was reading choices. Whatever it was, I took a break from fiction and spend the last two months of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 reading non-fiction again
I returned to fiction early February when I picked up a copy of Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage in a used bookstore. I had read a lot of Murakami about ten years ago but hadn’t returned until now. The book, which follows a single man a few years out of college while he tries to reconnect with college friends who abandoned him, completely captured me. It made me think it was time to both revisit Murakami and that my interest in fiction was sparked again. Since then, I’ve been on a tare of new and recent fiction, each book seemingly better than the one before. Here are a few favorites I adored and have stuck with me since finishing them:
A story about an economics professor, lying away in bed, as she goes over a lecture she has to deliver the next day. Visited in her dreams by Keynes, her thoughts drift through economic theory, motherhood, teaching, tenure committees, personal essays, and more. This was one of those that felt like it was written just for me, combining many of my interests and hitting me in my life right where I am.
My partner read this one first and couldn’t stop talking about it. What starts as a quiet book about a family getting away to the country for a vacation turns omnibus and strange. It’s a slow burn that twists and turns and before turning back around to examine the minutia of family life, of parenting, of what it means to be alive.
This book was on a few best of lists and rightfully so. Part mystery, part thriller, part indictment of the art world, the protagonist here saves a man’s life in the opening pages before becoming obsessed with the man he saved, both wanting to get to know him and let him remain a mystery. The last sentence hits like a gut punch.
I had read Millet’s previous book, A Children’s Bible, a few years ago and enjoyed it just fine but her latest, Dinosaurs, completely bowled me over. Another quiet book about a single man who moves to Arizona1 and integrates himself with the young family who lives next door. Gradually, as his own backstory is revealed, we come to understand his actions, making for a story about the importance of connection, of living with others, of being in community.
Picked this up after reading this Randall Park profile in the New Yorker2. I own some Tomine collections but never read his graphic novels and enjoyed the narrative threads that blend culture, race, love, art, and what makes us who we are. Adding many more Tomine stories to the list now.
I found this story — about a young woman about to graduate college — both heartbreaking and hopeful. A tender and sexy coming-of-age story about art and ambition, sex and love, power and innocence. Passages from this one have rattled around my brain often since closing it.
I’m currently about half-way through Andrew Martin’s short story collection Cool for America and really enjoying it. Martin’s debut novel, Early Work, was a favorite of mine a few years ago and this collection picks up many of the threads he began threading in the novel: stories of young wannabe intellectuals balancing life and leisure, work and ambition. Up next, I think, will be Reinier de Graaf’s debut architectural-focused novel The Masterplan.
On the non-fiction side, Olivia Laing’s newish essay collection Funny Weather was a balm each morning over breakfast. Before that, I found Brian Phillips’s essay collection, Impossible Owls, to be a knockout. I’ve already returned to a few of his essays for rereads.