It’s technically spring here in Brooklyn, but the mercury has been yo-yoing so much lately we’re not entirely sure what season it actually is. We’ve ricocheted from the cold and the damp to the sweltering and the sunny again and again, but the one thing we seem to have skipped is spring itself. While I’m upset to have missed out on that delicious transition season, those Goldilocks times of year always being my favorite, I’m choosing to lean into the hotter days and embrace the imminence of summer.
Summer is, traditionally, a season for beaches and bonfires, rooftop bars and baseball stadiums, lakes and lying in front of your air conditioner waiting for the whole thing to be over. But for me, it is also a season of reading. Even though my life doesn’t revolve around the rhythms of an academic calendar these days, there’s still something about the warm season that signals freedom, which for me translates into diving into books with reckless abandon. And summer offers myriad opportunities for Vitamin D-soaked literature. Rooftops, parks, beaches, porches, hammocks, rafts: I want to catch them all.
Where winter is the season for hefty tomes, digested during the hibernating hours, summer is for fun. Those sweltering months pair perfectly with great stories grippingly told (and, unabashedly, a bit of fluff, too). Here’s what’s on my list for the summer of 2018. I’d love to hear what’s on yours! And in true Z&S fashion, all of these books have a New York or Southern twist.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Karen Russell): Short stories are perfect for summer, delicious amuse-bouches of literature that neatly fill the span of a train ride, or a wait for an iced coffee, or the period until you should re-apply your sunscreen. I loved Russell’s first short story collection and her subsequent novel (in fact I wrote about Swamplandia in the very first volume of “Required Reading”), so I have high hopes for this, her most recent collection.
Eligible (Curtis Sittenfeld): Summer is for fun, and what could be more fun than a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — the progenitor of all will-they-won’t-they rom-coms. In Sittenfeld’s telling, Liz is a New York magazine writer (stereotypical rom-com job, check). She and her yoga instructor older sister(again, check), Jane, return to their childhood home in Cincinnati after their father has a health scare. A Fourth of July barbecue sets the scene for Liz’s meet-cute with Fitzwilliam Darcy and, well, you know the rest.
Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell): I know I said summer was the season of fun, but sometimes fun means the freedom to finally tackle homework you’ve assigned yourself for years. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never read this Southern classic, though it has sat on my shelf for many moons. This year, that changes.
Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston): Speaking of homework, this classic has also been on my to-read list for who knows how long. Set in Florida in the early 1900s, Hurston’s Southern romance was initially dismissed by the (almost exclusively male) leaders of the Harlem Renaissance as frivolous and languished out of print for years. It was rediscovered in the 1970s, was finally given its due, and is now considered one of the best novels of the 20th century.
Manhattan Beach (Jennifer Egan): In 2017, the New York City Mayor’s Office started a summer reading program called “One Book, One New York.” It’s basically a city-wide book club: New Yorkers are encouraged to vote on five finalists, all of which are set at least in part among the five boroughs, and then the whole city (in theory) reads and discusses the winner. I recently read (and adored) last summer’s selection, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. I’m determined not to procrastinate as much this year and hope to tackle this year’s selection, which has been on my shelf begging to be read since late 2017 anyway, in time to participate in one of the book club events.
Behold the Dreamers (Imbolo Mbue): This immigrant tale was a runner up for “One Book, One New York” this year and has been glowingly recommended to me by several fellow bookworms. The debut novel from Cameroonian writer Imbolo Mbue, it follows a couple and their six-year-old son as they come to America and try to make a life for themselves in Harlem on the cusp of the Great Recession. It’s not a short book, which makes it all the better suited to long summer days in the park.
The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South (John T. Edge): I picked this one up on a friend’s recommendation last summer, while hiding from the rain in a Virginia bookstore, with the best intentions of reading it immediately…and instead it has sat on my bookshelf for nearly a year. This summer, in addition to consuming the season’s traditional barbecue and accoutrements, I want to read about the history of the Southern cuisine entering my belly. This book explores the ways in which Southerners have shaped America’s culinary identity and examines how food has served as a flash point for many of the great social justice struggles of the 20th century.
An American Marriage (Tayari Jones): I’ll admit, I’m copying this last one from the Bitter Southerner’s list (and from the recommendation of the brilliant Ashley C. Ford, whom you should really be following if you aren’t already). A haunting love story, a human dive into the injustices of the American penal system, and a gripping portrait of — as you might have surmised — a marriage, this novel was also praised by The New York Times and endorsed by Oprah. How many more reasons to read it could one possibly need?