Ah, summertime. For many Midwesterners, these few blissful months of sunshine are reserved for weekends at the cabin, happy hours on the patio, and as many brats and burgers as we can cram into our sunburnt bodies. For me, most of my time has been filled with hours at multiple jobs, homework for online classes, and a ravenous desire for alone time when I’m not accomplishing my more pressing tasks. I reserve most of those moments of freedom for the company of books rather than people, and the many “pleasure reads” I’ve consumed throughout the summer so far are a welcome break from the piles of assigned reading English majors are accustomed to. Here are a few of the books that have kept me sane these past few months.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Most writers have their “writer idols,” and Fredrik Backman is mine. Since I started college, he has released four novels and one novella, and each of them have a special place in my heart. The past two summers, I have gone on a camping trip right at the end of finals week with his latest book in tow. This June, I read what might be his best book yet, Beartown, about a small hockey town in Sweden where a traumatic event changes the entire course of the town’s history and identity. Backman excels with his signature grasp on character and intimate understanding of human emotion, bringing you into a world that you simultaneously don’t want to leave and want nothing more than to take a step back from the atrocities occurring in it.
Sex Object by Jessica Valenti
Lately, I have gotten more and more into essay collections, and Valenti’s Sex Object is, at once, a essay collection, a memoir, and an utterly authentic lesson on feminism. Valenti, columnist and founder of one of the first feminist websites of the 21st century, Feministing, is vibrant in her bravery and comforting in her honesty. Her stories are deeply personal, and at times profound, yet she is incredibly relatable in her struggle. I laughed at the absurdities of her NYC upbringing over oatmeal and tea on the porch in the morning and felt tears form at her struggles with pregnancy and motherhood. With this collection, more than anything, she seeks to show other women that we are not alone.
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
If you were to ask my friends to describe me, many might use phrases ranging from “a lover of her community” to “obnoxiously local,” depending on their perspective. I have lived in Eau Claire, Wisconsin for four years, and my love for my city by the river has grown so much in that time. Nickolas Butler is a local writer whose books describe so vividly the beauty of Wisconsin, as well as simply have so much heart. In June, I had the privilege of attending his writing residency at a cabin in nearby town, and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Immediately after leaving the cabin the last day, I zoomed to a local shop and picked up his latest book. I sped through it in a manner of days, and I haven’t felt so at home in a piece of literature in a long time. From his spot-on depiction of summer camp in the Midwest to his complicated yet lovable characters, I couldn’t put it down, and that’s a great feeling.
Between Lost and Found by Shelley Stratton
I always try to be mindful of which books I pick up to read after completing another one. I make sure there’s some distance between reads (these wonderful novels deserve to be sat with for a while) and I attempt to make the pile next to my bed an array of completely different genres, although I do have some favorite recurring themes that I look for. One of my beloved backdrops for a novel is a small town where everyone is in each others’ business. This may be because I watched way too much Gilmore Girls growing up, or maybe it’s because I grew up in one of those towns. Either way, Between Lost and Found ticks all these boxes. Stratton’s debut novel chock full of quirky characters and small town secrets is a lovely account of the power of family and what it means to find yourself.
The Mothers by Britt Bennett
Last February, I joined my first book club. The club is a feminist, women writer focused multigenerational group of people who have opened my eyes to many different perspectives and challenged me to read books that I wouldn’t otherwise pick up. The group has also challenged me to trudge through books that I don’t necessarily want to spend my time with, and this was one of those books. It took me awhile to get into this novel because the thing I care about most in a book is characters, and I just wasn’t connecting to the protagonist in this one, considering her to be too rooted in archetypes. That being said, there is a lot to love here, especially when we get small glimpses of our title characters, The Mothers. Bennett’s debut bestseller is worth making an effort for, even if only to make myself a more productive conversationalist in our meetings.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
You know that book that your one friend keeps urging you, even begging you to read, yet you keep filing it away in the box labeled “Maybe Next Time” in the back of your brain? Smith’s heartfelt and honest memoir of her lifelong friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe was that for me until I borrowed it from my pal, promising to finally open myself up to the magic of their life together. While I’m a bit sensitive to what I deem as “overly flowery language,” I get over it quickly as I buy into Smith’s dreamy prose, wanting to believe in the magic she weaves through her tumultuous young adult life in 1960’s NYC. This is a book to bite off in chunks, savoring each tender tidbit of Patti’s and Robert’s relationship and allowing yourself to be transported to a place and time that only seems possible inside the pages of a book.
Send us any of your summer reading suggestions on social media @LitDarling or in the comments!