Remember when summer meant two and a half months of beautiful aimlessness? When your biggest obligations were getting to the mall to hang out with your friends, to drink Orange Julius, and try not to buy anything from Hot Topic that your mother would absolutely hate. There was no homework, no dioramas to build, and nary a protractor in sight.
Like so many other parts of childhood, we never knew had good we had it.
Now, summers mean no break from the daily grind, only sweatier commutes on public transit, figuring out which places have the best air conditioning in combination with the cheapest food and drinks, and deciding if a three day music festival in the park is worth it if you have to use a Port-a-Potty.
But there is one very important thing that’s stayed with me from summers as a kid to summers as an adult: my summer reading list. I’ve spent the last seven years of my adult life finishing my undergrad and working on my Master’s degree, so I was able to relive the freedom of getting to read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted without the obligation of writing a paper about it afterward. That is heady stuff, let me tell you.
So, without further ado, four books that YOU, lovely Nerdship, should carve out time to read this summer.
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
“An Untamed State” is the story of Mireille, a privileged, American-born Haitian woman, who is kidnapped while visiting her family in Port-Au-Prince. Mireille thinks her ordeal will be short, that her father will pay her ransom and she’ll be reunited with her husband and baby son by the next night. She is very, very wrong.
This book is about so many things: father/daughter relationships, a man’s pride, interracial relationships, the deep divide between the haves and the have nots, both in Haiti and in the United States, the deep and lasting damage of sexual violence, the politics of family – the one you are born into, the one you choose, and the one you make for yourself. In the hands of another writer, wrapping all of these things into a single narrative might be too much, but not for Roxane Gay. Her writing is almost seamless and nothing is wasted. This is a heartbreaking, gorgeous book.
Once I Was Cool by Megan Stielstra
Have you ever read a book at just the right moment in your life? Maybe you need to escape or maybe you need to laugh or maybe you just need to be reminded why in the hell you are trying to do this insane, risky, art thing? That’s what this book was for me.
This is a collection of essays, not fiction, which I know is not everyone’s cup of tea, and that makes me want to encourage you to read this EVEN MORE. These are not the kind of dry, academic essays that you had to slog through in college literature classes at 3am hopped up on caffeine and vending machine Doritos. These are stories, the kind that make you lean in close across a damp table in a crowded bar, the kind that make you laugh so hard you can’t catch your breath, the kind that you read on an airplane on the way to an event for the job that pays your bills and you find yourself crying because you’re reminded of how much you love the job that you are currently NOT getting paid to do, but you know you couldn’t live without, even for one day.
Um, that last part might be more me-specific, but I think you see my point.
These are stories about finding love and falling in love and and falling out of love and making bad decisions for the right reasons and learning and teaching and making art and helping other people find their own art. Every essay is dynamic and engaging and Megan’s voice is there in each one. There’s no chance you’ll ever mistake her writing for someone else’s.
In addition to all of the other things she does, Megan is the Literary Director for 2nd Story, a live lit storytelling collective here in Chicago. You can hear her read an excerpt from the opening essay in the collection, “Stop Reading and Listen” here at Poets & Writers.
Once I Was Cool at IndieBound.
Read Megan’s blog here.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Because I love reading YA, I wanted to make sure to include one on this list. I initially picked up this book after reading “Fangirl,” and as much as I liked that book, I loved “Eleanor & Park.” It sucker punched me in the heart in the best way.
It’s set in the Eighties and both Eleanor and Park are both outcasts in their own ways. Park is half-Korean living in a white suburb and reading comics. Eleanor is new girl in town and if her red hair and strange, thrift store outfits didn’t already make her persona non grata in high school, her family’s financial status certainly would. Eleanor and Park share a seat on the bus, which leads to sharing comic books, exchanging mixtapes and falling in love in the way you can only do for the very first time.
Rainbow Rowell is one of us, you guys and if you want proof, you only have to go to her tumblr to see it. There’s also going to be a special edition of “Eleanor & Park” that includes fanart, like the piece below by Simini Blocker.
Eleanor & Park at IndieBound.
Check out more of Rainbow’s books at her blog.
Phonogram: Rue Britannia by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
And last but certainly not least, a graphic novel to round out the list.
This one is a little older than the others, but I just recently got around to reading it and oh my God, I can’t believe it took me so long. If you read comics at all these days, you’ve probably heard of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie – they just completed a very successful and popular run on Young Avengers, with the team being lead by a teenage Loki, not to mention Gillen having just wrapped a run on Iron Man and McKelvie doing covers for the new run of Ms. Marvel (among others). They’re also about to launch a new title this month – The Wicked and The Divine.
But back to “Phonogram.” It’s the story of David Kohl (who looks a lot like Gillen to me), a phonomancer, who is sent on a quest to figure out what is happening to Britannia, the goddess that gave him his powers. A phonomancer gets their power from music and the closer David gets to finding Britannia, the weaker his powers are becoming. He’s losing the music he loves and connects to the most – Britpop.
As someone who believes that music has the power to change or save a person’s life, I found myself pulled in more by the concept of world that Gillen and McKelvie built than David’s story, but it was one hundred percent worth it for the music references alone.
Go forth and read!