It’s time. It’s time to move away from the doomscrolling and Slack notifications. Away from the calendar invites and LinkedIn notifications.
You have to do it slowly so as to not raise alarm, those devices sense non-digital activity. Then find a sunlit cafe table or poolside chair, remove a book from your bag, and breathe. You made it to summer, congratulations.
Damon Galgut’s Booker Prize winner follows a white family in apartheid, and then post-apartheid, South Africa. Funny, heartbreaking, and satirical. I particularly enjoyed the way that the narration slips up or qualifies itself from time to time, bringing home the partiality of fiction and memory.
In some of the most electric prose I’ve ever encountered, writer Lisa Taddeo (also author of the exquisite Three Women) delivers an uncompromising exploration of trauma, sexuality, gender, and rage in her debut novel. Not your traditional summer beach read — more summer storm than sun-drenched — Taddeo’s unmatchable turns of phrase and ability to capture the raw, nuanced tension of the human experience, are breathtaking.
Look, we can’t have a Small Planet book list without a solid time travel entry, and Emily St John Mandel (Station Eleven, The Glass House) new novel delivers big time. Also, it’s a detective novel, a snappy specimen of speculative fiction, an essay on the resilience and fragility of nature, and a Stephen King-esque essay on the life of writers. You’ll zip through it and immediately wonder what she’s working on next.
Alexandar Hemon is an author from Bosnia and Herzegovina who moved to the U.S. after the war, and he’s one of my favorite authors. This collection of short stories and essays draws from his experiences before, during, and after that horrible conflict. His prose works as love letters, and elegies, to families and cities that have endured incredible loss. This book is definitely a must-read
I thought At the Pond: Swimming in Hampstead Ladies Pond was going to be another run-of-the-mill wild swimming memoir, but it was unputdownable. The pond itself is in the middle of London and is the only wild swimming spot in the UK reserved for women. As you’ll see, the essays transcend urban geography. Each story is a personal memoir, less about swimming than self-discovery, memory, and what it means to be alive. It makes me long for summer days spent swimming at the beach or enjoying the park alone or with friends.
Jennifer Egan’s novel The Keep is an odd duck and a real page-turner at the same time. I still am not sure exactly what just happened, but keep thinking about it. It’s such an interesting mashup of noir, horror, mystery, and social commentary. Two cousins with a traumatic history are renovating a gothic castle with spotty cell service, buried secrets, and a kooky baroness upstairs. What could go wrong?
Mark Booth’s fascinating analysis is a wild, illuminating ride that takes the POV of the mind creating matter, versus the opposite “scientific” view of how the universe unfolds. Secret societies, altered states, the occult influence on early science, the fact that the District of Columbia was laid out by George Washington to mirror the star sign Virgo … Booth upends all manner of established wisdom to lay out a global history full of mystery, wonder, and limitless potential.
I’m a history nerd, and Ray Dalio’s book does a great job using historical events and patterns to pretty much predict the future. He has a real gift for distilling complex data into accessible “aha” moments about the current state of the climate, the economy, and the political sphere. His writing style is efficient and he pulls off a neat formatting trick: you can read the whole book or only read important facts in bold.
“Art is a way of preserving experiences, of which there are many transient and beautiful examples, and that we need help containing.” Alain de Botton’s modern classic, which I finally got around to reading. This book shines new light on old masters and brings joy and meaning to familiar works of art. I’ll never look at Manet’s bunch of asparagus in quite the same way.
Perhaps the Stars concludes Ada Palmer’s four-part series, Terra Ignota, which I’ve come to believe should be among the top works of science fiction, ever. It connects the “present” of the year 2454 to the distant past of the Enlightenment of the 18th century (and the formation of the nations we live in today).
In the future, nations have been downgraded and replaced with “hives” of common purpose. Automated flying cars have rendered distance less relevant. After all, if you can live in Brisbane and work in Belize, what difference does your nation of birth make? Palmer explores the interplay of various powers and how they rigidly enforce their own beliefs. Time and distance are major themes in the story. Does the world bend toward isolation and distance, or towards togetherness and love? Bonus: we get God’s backstory as a kid!
N.K. Jemisin’s trilogy is a masterpiece of climate, social, and political commentary. The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky span different generations and characters living on a single supercontinent called the Stillness, which undergoes protracted periods of radical climate change. A select few are gifted (or cursed as most see it) with extraordinary abilities to affect and control the natural world. It’s a beautiful, sometimes painful series on the nature of power, change, and fate.
Throughout Greek mythology and Western literature Circe gets sort of a bad rap as a “witch” who turns enemies into animals (and hooks up with Odysseus as he’s trying to get back home). Miller corrects and expands that story, reframing her as an exiled protagonist who discovers her own agency in a fantastical and hierarchical world of gods, men, and monsters. A perfect beach read, and soon to be adapted as an HBO Max series.
A moving, gripping, and very short novella about the trials and bonds of brotherhood. I sat in on a creative writing workshop with author Justin Torres and was instantly taken with his perspective, so I immediately bought his book. The evocative depiction of both volatile family life and of upstate New York in the 1980s are indelible. The story sticks with you long after reading.
I love stories within stories, and writers writing about writers (mise en abyme!), and I really like the author’s style of mixing up past and present. Harry Quebert was a runaway international bestseller for good reason. The hook is undeniable and the plot moves at lightspeed. Marcus Goldman has writer’s block after his successful first novel. When the body of a young girl, and a long-lost manuscript, resurface in his mentor Harry’s backyard, mysteries and realities become intertwined.
There aren’t too many authors past or present who can pull off such an effervescent tone while delivering a set of farewell gothic epistles. Carlos Ruiz Zafón prepared his sublime collection of short stories before his passing in 2020, and each of the 11 stories is about how and why human beings create — for love, money, survival, validation, and legacy. Zafón makes you an intimate and a confidant in the stories he told. He is missed.