The allure of Summer Reading remains ever-potent, even for those who no longer get months off in the middle of the year. Your paperback probably isn't surrounded by sand, or nestled into a hammock with you, it isn't grass-stained. More often than not you are taking it all in on the subway, but in the slower moments of summer: in your bed next to the open window, or maybe the park. Summer books are light and airy like a sundress, so save your Dostoyevsky for when dark winter has its cold hands gripped around your soul. It's time to lower the brow a notch.
Below, some summer reading picks—new and old—from an assortment of New Yorkers you may follow on Twitter.
Chris Eigeman, Actor/Director: My summer reading is dictated by the book’s physical size. It’s a reductive, perhaps stupidly limiting qualification, but there it is. The book needs to be mass market, be able to fit into my back pocket, probably be bought in a used bookstore for less than a buck, and be left on a bench when finished. So with that: James Grady’s Six Days Of The Condor—very much like the movie, but three days better. Andrew Vachss’ Flood (or any of the Burke novels). Very dark books about a long ago NYC (the '80s). James Crumley’s Dancing Bear. As if Hunter S. Thompson moved to Montana and became a well armed detective. (Apparently, the books need to be both small and violent.)
Alex Balk, The Awl: Every crisis ends when the people who suffered through it start to forget just how tough things were and actually look back with a bit of nostalgia at their period of deepest despair. Have we reached that point yet with The Great Recession? Maybe, maybe not. But we very well might soon, so before we all start saying, "Well, it wasn't that bad," you could do worse than to pick up Choire Sicha's Very Recent History (still available in hardcover, out in paperback this August) and take an expertly guided tour of a time that seems both fresh and distant. The writing is such that you can either breeze through it or take it nice and slow and absorb everything the author isn't explicitly spelling out; it's perfect for summer. There are probably all sorts of disclosures I should make about this selection, but I'm not gonna; just get a copy of this book, it's totally worth it. Also worth it: the new translation of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Professor and the Siren, just out from the people at NYRB Classics, who are doing God's work for books.
Lindsay Robertson: In 2004, before Downton Abbey (but after Gosford Park), Julian Fellowes released his first novel, called Snobs, about high-stakes social climbers in late 1990s Britain, and every single sentence of it is an (often laugh-out-loud) delight.
Snobs is the story, told in deliciously underminery detail by an unnamed and very self-aware male actor (that you can't help but think is based on Fellowes himself—there are even a few real-life celebrity blind items thrown in), of his "friend" Edith's ascension (through a schemey marriage) to Countess, and everything that goes wrong for her after that. But really, it's hundreds of little lessons and observations about the weird quirks and contradictions of English aristocrats, celebrities, and wannabes, that no matter where you live or who you hang out with, you can definitely, for sure, find a way to apply with great pleasure to people you know (and maybe even a little to yourself).
I found Snobs when my best friend brought the book on tape on a road trip last month, having discovered it randomly on display at the library, and I HIGHLY recommend the audio version (read with brilliant nuance and humor by Richard Morant). In fact, just get out a map and pick a destination and drive there this summer just to listen to this book.
Edith Zimmerman: Oh man, I haven't been reading much, but my "summer" (or, past year, roughly?) list would include When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan, a novel about a future in which people who've committed crimes are then essentially dyed the color of their crime, for the duration of their sentence, so the main girl wakes up Red fully red, all over—because of Her Crime (I won't get too much into it), and the whole thing is kind of goofy but also entertaining and sexy and spooky, sort of a sideways Scarlet Letter. I haven't finished it yet, but it's been fun so far. Shameless plug: My friends at the amazing natural-deodorant (and more!) company Soapwalla gave it to me, which was awesome.
I've also been trying to get into plants, so I've been reading The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Atrocities, both by Amy Stewart, and they're both really easy to read, and to pick up and put down wherever, whenever. I've learned some crazy stuff about... haha, shit, I forgot already and need to look it up again—oleander. Pretty dark, actually. Anyway. Also Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History. By signing important documents with their little fronds! Just kidding. Although it did inspire me to watch this cool time-lapse of a pineapple.
Timothy Kreider, Author of We Learn Nothing: I started reading Middlemarch over the winter, in New York City. It's the favorite novel of more than one of my female friends whose taste and judgement I respect. Interestingly, I don't know any men who feel as passionately about it, and worried there was some sort of weird gender divide there. I asked Lauren Groff (author of Delicate Edible Birds and Arcadia) to tell me why she loved it, and I'll go ahead and quote her response since it's more eloquent than any recommendation I could give: "You read not necessarily for the characters, though most are beautiful and round, nor for the very humble but graceful conclusion Eliot brings you to by the end, but for the mere experience of being carried in a brain as wise and gentle and empathetic as Eliot's for as many pages as she carries you."
I've found this to be exactly right; you read it to be in the company of Eliot's generous, forgiving intellect—she's always urging you to withhold judgement, to be compassionate toward even unlikeable characters, reminding us how hard it is to truly know another person.
The imperative to avoid eye contact on daily subway rides in NYC provides a ready-made rigorous reading schedule, and I made it through Book 5 (of 8) before the long, brutal winter ended. However, I am embarrassed to report that since moving back to my summer cabin I have read not one page of anything. Somehow down here I always kind of want to read a massive unrewarding Steven King novel, the same way I want to eat Old El Paso tacos and whole bags of Utz potato chips. I have reserved the audiobook version of Middlemarch—which must run to about eleven thousand hours—at my local library in hopes of finishing it while drawing or doing housework.
Emily Gould, Author of Friendship: I'm obsessed with Adam by Ariel Schrag. Schrag is the author of two moving, hilarious graphic novels about discovering your sexuality in high school, both written when she was almost the same age as the characters. She's maybe best known for being namedropped in the Le Tigre song "Hot Topic," which is basically the highest honor any human has ever received. But with this new novel she's exceeded even that achievement. I's a funny, heartfelt, extremely dirty book that takes place in the sweaty, grubby, sexy summer of 2006 in NYC. Its namesake protagonist disguises himself as a trans man so he can hook up with the girl of his dreams, who identifies as gay, but the more important deception might be that he's pretending to be her age (22) and he's still in high school. Hijinx ensue, but while the book is funny, it's also quietly revolutionary—Schrag writes honestsly about gender identity and sexuality in a way that's extremely rare, maybe unprecedented.
Jen Doll, Author of Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest: I have been reading basically every summer Y.A. book I can get my hands on to usher in the season (it's here, yay!) and one that I have loved so very much is Nina LaCour's Everything Leads to You. It's set in Los Angeles and combines elements of mystery and romance (between two female characters) with old-and-new-Hollywood. It is so well-written and thoughtful about love, it will leave you breathless. It also had the strange result of making me want to take a trip to L.A., which means I think that it's very very good indeed.
Jeff Yang, Columnist, Wall Street Journal Online: Incredibly prolific graphic wunderkind Gene Luen Yang's three (!) most recent books—all published in the past year: Boxers and Saints, his epic paired exploration of the Boxer Rebellion, and The Shadow Hero, his collaboration with equally brilliant Sonny Liew. There's nobody working in comics today who's more adept at finding the hilarious in and around the serious (and tragic) and the serious (and tragic) in the hilarious.
Also Jennifer Senior's All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. Because sometimes you have to dive into the dadding and momming abyss in order to swim into the light. And The Closer by The Greatest Reliever That Ever Lived and some guy. Because there's a Mo-shaped hole in my pinstriped dreams. I'll put on some Metallica and remember broken bats and better days.
Oh, and yeah, read Eddie Huang's "Fresh Off the Boat". I heard it's gonna be a TV show or something. [Yang is the dad of Hudson Yang, star of ABC's forthcoming series Fresh Off the Boat.]