There’s nothing more tempting than a day off spent soaking up the sun on a hot beach with a good read. Summer reads don’t have to be mindless, though. Michele Filgate likes to find the perfect book for every occasion, and isn’t afraid to add some substance to the usually light fare offered by summer reading suggestions — Michelle is a writer, book critic, and independent bookseller at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn.
Here's Michele's full list of Summer Reads, below:
1. Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban—This slim book was originally published in 1975. One of my favorite publishers, NYRB Classics, just brought it back into print. It’s a meditation on loneliness. Hoban, well-known for his children books like Bread and Jam for Francis, tells the story of two middle-aged people who become obsessed with freeing the turtles from the zoo. The genius of this book is in the writing itself. Here’s one of my favorite exchanges:
“‘In-between is really where I feel best. Neither here nor there.’
‘There isn’t any in-between,’ I said. ‘Any place you pass through is this moment’s here. In-between is an illusion.’
‘Thanks very much,’ he said. ‘You’ve just invalidated most of my life.’”
2. Blue Plate Special by Kate Christensen—I’ve long been a fan of award-winning novelist Kate Christensen. This is her first nonfiction book, and now I want her to write MORE nonfiction. Christensen is obsessed with food. Food isn’t just a necessary part of life—it’s also meant to be enjoyed. This is a must-read for anyone who has ever yearned for a better life and found some solace in homemade meals.
3. The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy—I’ve been meaning to read Simon Van Booy’s books for ages now, and if any of his other books are as good as this one, I will be one happy reader. Van Booy writes like Hemingway but with more heart. It’s a gorgeous story about people whose lives are connected all because of a baby who is saved during World War II. Warning: don’t read this in public, or you might sob in front of strangers.
4. Submergence by J.M. Ledgard—Easily one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you don’t believe me, read Kathryn Schulz’s review in New York Magazine, and she’ll convince you. Two people who meet at a French hotel by the sea live lives of isolation. One is a spy and one is a biomathematician obsessed with the microbes in the deepest part of the ocean. The timeline goes back and forth between when they meet and after they meet, in which the spy is captured by Somali terrorists and the woman is descending into the ocean to study the microbes. Read it for sentences like these: “Another explanation is that we were raised up from chemosynthetic life in the deep ocean to become photosynthetic life at the top. Having ascended from the eternal night we cannot stop ourselves from heading toward the light. We are moths in the thrall of the sun and the stars, shedding off darkness. That is our instinct, but our conscious nature is also to be drawn to the unknown. We want to know what is behind the wood, what the next valley looks like, and the valley beyond that. We want to know what is in the sky and what is behind the sky. These have been our obsessions since our beginnings, yet the curiosity does not extend to the ocean. We forget there is so much darkness in our world, and to be out on a beach is to be lucky.”
5. Hothouse by Boris Kachka (not out until August)—For anyone who wants to know the story of one of the most important publishers of all time. Are you a fan of Mad Men? Read this book. Are you a fan of books? Read this book. Are you a fan of delicious literary gossip? Read. This. Book.
6. In The House Upon The Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell—This novel is surreal and dark and heartbreaking and astoundingly, astoundingly beautiful. I think my boyfriend (writer and critic Tobias Carroll) summed it up best when he compared Matt’s writing to Angela Carter and Cormac McCarthy. It’s a creation myth written with incantatory prose.
7. American Dream Machine by Matthew Specktor-- Matthew Specktor’s AMERICAN DREAM MACHINE is one of the most underappreciated novels of the year. It’s published by Tin House, one of my favorite publishers. Specktor tells the story of two brothers and their father, a famous movie agent. He focuses on one of the golden ages in Hollywood—the 1970s. One of the brothers is clearly loosely based on Jonathan Lethem.
8. I Await The Devil’s Coming by Mary Maclane (memoir) -- Mary MacLane’s I Await the Devil’s Coming is one of the first confessional diaries that was ever published. It was originally written and published in 1902 and conveys the thoughts of a 19-year-old girl who lived in Butte, Montana. It’s incredibly narcissistic and raw, but it’s also riveting. When the book was originally published it sold 100,000 copies—and I can see why. It was shocking at the time. She talks about her sexuality and her desire. I love this quote: “Fame may pass over my head; money may escape me; my one friend may fail me; every hope may fold its tent and steal away; Happiness may remain a sealed book; every remnant of human ties may vanish; I may find myself an outcast; good things held out to me may suddenly be withdrawn; the stars may go out, one by one; the sun may go dark; yet still I may hold upright my head, if I have but my steak—and my onions.”
9. This is Running For Your Life by Michelle Orange-- Michelle Orange’s This is Running for Your Life is one of the strongest essay collections to come out in recent years. She has a film critic background and a lot of her essays are a blend of personal and cultural writing. In one poignant essay, she talks about her grandmother and how her grandmother would send ticket stubs with reviews scrawled on the back. In the essay “Do I Know You”, she says “Sometimes I worry that I’m actually most alive at the movies, and that their primeval overtures to our most private selves are the reason we can’t help but see them like lovers—which is to say everywhere we go, and in everyone we meet.” There are some more journalistic essays, too—including one about attending the American Psychiatric Association Conference in Hawaii.
10. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey-- The first in a trilogy set in a world where aliens have attacked and no one can be certain of who is an alien and who is a human. A sister is separated from her brother and is determined to find him. Fans of The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game will DEVOUR this book. I’ve recommended books by this author before. He wrote my favorite YA series—The Monstrumologist.