Terrie Akers, Marketing Director
After two months of book conferences and indie bookstore visits, my summer reading pile is tall and teetering. My first visit to the new Books Are Magic bookstore in Brooklyn led me to My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci. Statovci immigrated with his family from Kosovo to Sweden when he was a child, and his novel is a surreal and heartbreaking depiction of the immigrant experience and the meaning of love and family. While in Chicago for the American Library Association annual meeting, I picked up a copy of the collected poetry of Kenneth Koch at 57th Street Books, a massive tome that I’ll been dipping in and out of all summer. At Seminary Co-op, store manager Kevin Elliott recommended The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill, which had already been sitting on my shelf for about six months, and I was finally inspired to crack it open; it’s as good (and weird) as Kevin promised.
I’m currently reading Rupert Thomson’s latest, Never Anyone But You, a novel based on the lives of two revolutionary female artists who challenged the conventions of art and gender in their 1940s-France milieu. It’ll be out from Other Press next May. And on deck to carry me through the rest of the season are several backlist books I’ve been meaning to read for ages: Pnin (which I picked up at Books on the Square in Providence), Wide Saragasso Sea (Molasses Books in Brooklyn), and The Story of a New Name (on loan from a friend).
Rachel Aspden, author of Generation Revolution
I’d always rather be by the water, summer or winter, and this summer, even when I’m reluctantly in the city, my reading is marine. Philip Hoare writes with sensitivity and depth about his own and others’ obsessions with the sea. His new book, Risingtidefallingstar, promises tales of “drowned poets, selkies and cetaceans and mythic birds,” and the connections between our 60% water bodies and our 70% water-covered planet. And a friend with the best taste has recommended Norman Lewis’s Voices of the Old Sea, a portrait of the “almost medieval” life of a small Spanish fishing village after the second world war and before the advent of mass tourism. It features a “ghastly bar” presided over by a mummified dugong—the perfect place to hear these strange stories from the ocean.
Mona Bismuth, Marketing Associate
Histoire Mondiale de la France by Patrick Boucheron generated quite a stir in France when it was published earlier this year, and I am very excited to be able to dive into this content-heavy book this summer. With an approach that’s completely different from the national narrative and from the most popular French history books—usually offering a very negative vision of a self-loathing France—this book quickly became a best seller, with more than 85,000 copies sold as of June. According to Boucheron, France would not be the France we know without its history of immigration, and French culture would not be the same without the mix of cultures started centuries ago. Spanning from 34,000 BC to IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s 2012 scandal, this read seems essential for readers interested in European history, globalization as a historical phenomenon, and the sociological and political impacts of national storytelling.
But enough with the past, and as this sounds like a “banquet book,” next on my TBR list for the summer are speculative fiction and near-future novels exploring gender issues. In the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Unit, books such as Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke look very compelling.
Malin Persson Giolito, author of Quicksand
Right now I am reading the Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St Aubyn, the indescribable (and yes, funny!) masterpieces about heroin, death, and childhood rape. You have probably heard that they’re good. They’re better, much better.
Some of the reads I need to do in order to prepare for the Open Book Festival in Cape Town in August are Fever by Deon Meyer and Who Will Catch Us As We Fall by Iman Verjee—we are doing a panel together on young voices in literature and yes, you are right, to work as a writer is the best possible way of living. I am also planning on re-reading Elsa Morante’s History, one of my all-time bests; it was far too long ago that I read it last.
Esther Kim, Associate Publicist
I’m currently reading Eileen Chang’s brilliant collection of short stories Love In A Fallen City. Call it my post–Hong Kong holiday reminiscing! Chang’s writing is beautiful and witty. I’m obsessed with how colors appear in her stories.
There’s lots of exciting work coming from the world of translated Korean literature (English PEN just named East Asia & SE Asia as their focus for the coming year, and LTI Korea is playing the long game with their sights set on a Nobel Prize), so this summer I’m planning to dive into all of the translated Korean literature I can get my paws on. That’ll include Hwang Jungeun’s One Hundred Shadows and Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairytale.
Mark Mazower, author of What You Did Not Tell
The book I can’t wait to read is Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets—a panoramic oral history of the final years of the USSR and the aftermath. I’m always curious about new vehicles for historical stories. Exploring my own family’s Russian connections brought me back to Tchaikovsky’s 4th, and thence to a very belated discovery of the great Yevgeny Mravinsky, for half a century the principal conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic. There is a great portrait of him in his 50s—austerely powerful intellectual. And you can see him, magisterial into his 80s, on YouTube. Having ploughed my way recently through biographies of Vaughan Williams and Elgar, I am in the mood to tackle Gregor Tassie’s 2005 study, Yevgeny Mravinsky: The Noble Conductor, to learn how he navigated the choppy waters of Stalinist politics. Meantime, Sabahattin Ali’s Madonna in a Fur Coat beckons enticingly.
Christie Michel, Marketing Associate
This summer I’ll be reading the books I picked up at some local shops in Chicago during ALA Annual. They include Byung-chul Han’s The Agony of Eros (from Seminary Co-op), bell hooks’s All About Love: New Visions (from Women & Children First), and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (from 57th Street Books). I’m also really looking forward to some ARCs I picked up, including Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts (forthcoming from Akashic in October) and White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht. If I have time (I won’t) I’ll read China Mieville’s October: The Story of the Russian Revolution and Kono Taeko’s Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories.
George Prochnik, author of The Impossible Exile and Stranger in a Strange Land
In these insanely distracting, necessarily alarming days, I’m trying to read as many books as possible that are not newsworthy. Why is it then that so many of them have something to do with Russia? I hesitate to speculate in case my thoughts are being secretly recorded.
Somehow or other I picked up Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina again and have just finished the bloody, enormously vivid hunting scene in which Stepan Arkadyevich and Levin bag a number of innocent snipe near a little aspen copse. I prefer the passages capturing Anna’s mounting intoxication by illicit desire. I have also been re-reading Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground just because, well, as the narrator declares: it’s worthwhile to speculate on what takes place “with people who know how to take revenge and generally how to stand up for themselves. Once they are overcome, say, by vengeful feeling, then for the time there is simply nothing left in their whole being but this feeling.”
It’s easy enough to understand why I felt bound to pick up Under Western Eyes, Joseph Conrad’s masterpiece of paranoia and moral confusion, with its combustion chamber of colluding Russian revolutionaries. But I’ve also been surprised and enchanted by newer meditations on the Russian character and/or soul: Emmanuel Carrère’s compelling, My Life as a Russian Novel: A Memoir, is loosely concerned with the writer’s struggle to understand the world and his own life-choices, which veer between the darkly obsessive and sensually freewheeling. Many of the ruminations, in fact, have nothing to do with Russia—which is part of the book’s idiosyncratic allure. I’ve also just begun Mikhail Shishkin’s The Light and the Dark,which thus far suggests an intricate, exquisite labyrinth circling the vicissitudes and subversive possibilities of love. Finally, in case the mad present moment threatens to slip too far from view, I want to read everything the wonderfully incisive Masha Gessen has written. It’s hard to choose between her many significant books. But I think I’ll begin with The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.
Lauren Shekari, Rights Director
I’m notoriously bad at picking lighthearted beach reading! So many good books, who has time for mindless fluff?!?! So in keeping with that theme, I plan to read Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. I have been on a bit of a Baldwin bender lately, and his perspective on race in America feels every bit as relevant and vital today as it did when he was writing.
Dinitia Smith, author of The Honeymoon
My summer reading has been, as usual, rather varied.
I’ve been re-reading the poet Ted Hughes’s wonderful translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, as a possible prelude to a new fiction project. There is nothing like these stories—so full of passion and tragedy and beauty, exquisitely rendered in Hughes’s modern language, but retaining their classical authenticity. Among them are the stories of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, with a love so passionate that it results in the fusion of their two beings; of the forbidden love of Pyramis and Thisbe, the basis, of course, of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; of Phaeton’s desperate longing to know his father, the sun; and of Myrrha, and her tragic and incestuous relationship with her father, King Cinyras.
Some of my summer reading has been less successful. I read George Saunders’s, Lincoln in the Bardo, a novel much beloved by many people I respect. Parts of the book, those dealing directly with Abraham Lincoln’s mourning for his little son, Will, are very moving. But I found the rest of it almost incoherent and very hard-going indeed.
Another novel has been Rachel Cusk’s Outline, which has also been popular with my writer-colleagues. It’s really a series of linked stories about a writer teaching at writers’ conference in Athens, and the people she encounters there. Cusk employs some of the narrative techniques of one of my favorite authors, W. G. Sebald, that is, a narration by a central character of another character’s narration, sort of a narration-within-a narration. But for me, Cusk lacks the brilliant technique and the deep moral concern of Sebald, and her characters seemed cold and distant.
I am now reading Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements, about a Wasp family wedding, and will go from there to Philipp Meyer’s Texas epic, The Son, as I’d like to know more about the history of that state.
So, in all, it’s a very mixed list indeed!
Caroline Sydney, Editorial Assistant
For the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to a long flight so that I can tear through the end of Catherine Lacey’s The Answers, a disturbing and addictive examination of the psychology of love and sickness. In anticipation of Lucy Ives’s debut novel, Impossible Views of the World, I’m going back to some of her poetry—Anamnesis and The Hermit. I’m also looking forward to lazy weekend afternoons with A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma. Between now and the April release of Therese Bohman’s Eventide, I’ll be preparing by reading The Other Woman and Drowned. And, at last in paperback, At the Existentialist Café makes a great travel companion.
Rupert Thomson, author of Katherine Carlyle and Never Anyone But You
As usual, some of my reading is linked to books I’m writing, or thinking about writing, and some is an attempt to fill gaps in my knowledge. In acquainting myself with a classic I have never read before— Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights—I’ll be neatly killing two birds with one stone. While on the classics, I was recently inspired by my friend Hisham Matar to return to the work of Joseph Conrad. I have just read Lord Jim for the second time, and found it so gripping that I’m aiming to follow it up with either The Secret Agent or Nostromo. Coming right back up to date, I’m curious to explore the work of two American writers, both of whom have cult reputations. I’ll be reading Kate Zambreno’s Green Girl. Zambreno’s novel follows a young American woman as she struggles to negotiate contemporary London, and has been criticized for creating a protagonist who is “unlikable,” a criticism that makes no sense to me whatsoever. I’ll also be reading The Red Parts, Maggie Nelson’s searing meditation on the murder of her aunt, and on the trial of the man responsible.
Later this summer, I’m traveling to Tolstoy’s house, Yasnaya Polyana, for a three-day seminar. I’ll be taking A Confession and Other Religious Writings, an autobiographical work in which the great man investigates his feelings of desolation and estrangement from the world, and embarks on a quest for spiritual fulfillment. I’ll also take Emmanuel Carrère’s Limonov, a fictional memoir of the Russian writer-turned-dissident-politician. Finally, Jesse Ball’s imagination has intrigued me ever since I read a short story of his in the Paris Review a few years back, and I’m looking forward to his latest, the supposedly macabre A Cure for Suicide.
Maria Whelan, Publicist
This summer I’m heading to Cape Cod to visit my family and I picked up a copy of Dennis Lehane’s new novel, Since We Fell, to get back to my Massachusetts roots. I also hope to read The Idiot by Elif Batuman, The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee, and The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy. In order to catch up with the rest of the world, I bought a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood when I was in Paris this spring (at Shakespeare and Company!) and plan to read it before diving into the new Hulu show.
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