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For some people, summer is the only time of year when there’s time to read. Even if your vacation spot has Wi-Fi, you’ll be glad you took a break from Twitter to read something a bit longer (remember books?). We asked seven local authors to tell us what they’re reading this summer so you can make the most of your reading blitz.
Richard Peabody, The Richard Peabody Reader
I can’t wait to tackle Sally Mann’s Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs. Her book is a Pandora’s Box of family history, secrets, and photos. Controversy surrounds Mann’s work. We’re contemporaries; our daughters are similar ages, though she stretches the bonds of privacy further than I can imagine.
My daughters were caught up in Greek myths a few years ago, and I’m now riffing on same. Adam Nicholson’s Why Homer Matters is a fresh doorway into the epic poet. My novel-in-progress focuses on him and the women in “The Odyssey.”
Elliott Holt, You Are One of Them
Right now, I’m reading the fourth and final Neapolitan novel by Elena Ferrante. These books move fast—the reader is plunged headlong into the story of Elena and Lila’s friendship—and the ferocity of the narrative voice is irresistible. I intend to reread all four books in the series this summer.
I recently reread The Bostonians, which has me hankering for more Henry James. I love James (especially Washington Square and The Portrait of a Lady). The Ambassadors is next on my list. And because I loved Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life (a very bleak tragedy about a young man named Jude), I’m going to reread Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. I reread Tess of the D’Urbervilles (for the first time in 25 years) last winter and wasn’t as moved by it as I was at sixteen. I hope Jude holds up to my memories of it.
Maud Casey, The Man Who Walked Away
I recently finished Maggie Nelson’s genre-bender The Argonauts. The other day my friend Ailish Hopper—an amazing poet and D.C. native, whose recent book, Dark~Sky Society, deserves a major shout-out—said, “Maybe love is a conspiracy theory,” which made me laugh because it’s funny and because it’s true. Crack open the conspiracy theory of love, foisted on us by a culture made anxious by things that are ever shifting and unpindownable, and there are endless, more expansive, varieties of love, or whatever you want to call it, and that’s what Nelson’s book speaks to, as well as to pregnancy and death and family and, well, it contains multitudes, that book.
The book I’m in the middle of is Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk, a raw, beautiful, elegiac love story involving a ginormous goshawk. The book I’ll be reading next is John Keene’s collection of stories and a novella, Counternarratives. His first novel, Annotations, blew me away, and Counternarratives looks to be as nimble and strange and awesome. James Baldwin wrote, “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions hidden beneath the answers” and Keene—and Nelson and MacDonald—do that. I’m very pro-questions these days.
Sandra Beasley, Count the Waves
My in-laws recently gave me Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir, The Light of the World. An elegy for a husband is a slightly perverse gift from one’s new in-laws, but the poet in me is excited to open a bottle of wine one July night and dive in. The summer lull in my teaching and freelance commitments is when I can take a chance on new authors. So I’ve picked up two debut collections—The Verging Cities, by Natalie Scenters-Zapico, and Danez Smith’s [insert] Boy. I found them the way I find all my future favorites: Their voices hollered at me from the page.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Balm
Every summer I look forward to my annual beach vacation. While my family frolics in the ocean with the jellyfish and sharks, I find a comfy spot on the hot sand where I can hide beneath my umbrella with a good book. This year I am looking forward to discovering some new writers. This is starting out as a very promising year for debut novelists, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’ve just finished Lauren Francis-Sharma’s ’Til The Well Runs Dry, a big and absolutely gorgeous novel set on the island of Trinidad. Angela Flournoy’s novel The Turner House about the ups and downs of a large family in Detroit is up next. I’ve already started it and had to stop myself for fear I would finish it before my vacation starts. I also have an advance copy of Kim van Alkemade’s debut Orphan #8, which is due out in the fall. I already know that this tragic story of children in a New York Jewish orphanage who are experimented upon in the name of science will virtually guarantee that I never make it into the water with my family. Is there anything more gratifying than discovering a debut talent?
Alice McDermott, Someone
Summer seems to be the only time of year I can chose the books I read by whimsy, rather than by professional obligation. Thus far, a June trip to Barcelona inspired me to revisit George Orwell’s brilliant memoir of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia. I’ve also discovered Merce Rodoreda’s In Diamond Square, a beautiful story that covers the same events from a woman’s, and a novelist’s, perspective. And I’ve just received an excellent new translation of the stories of Guy de Maupassant by Sandra Smith, who translated Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise. Smith makes de Maupassant’s work, which has suffered from too many dull, high-school-anthology translations, seem fresh again. Already I’m planning to share them with my students in the fall—not that summer’s ever going to end.
George Pelecanos, The Martini Shot
So far, the book of the summer for me is David Nicholson’s newly-published Flying Home: Seven Stories of the Secret City. Nicholson writes beautifully about the lives of Washingtonians, past and present, who rarely get a voice in American fiction. The heart of D.C. still beats in these short stories. I put this one on the shelf alongside the work of Edward P. Jones.
Recently I watched Hombre on cable, which I saw first-run at The Town on New York Avenue when I was kid. It remains one of my favorite Westerns, a slow-burner with a sensational, minimalist performance by Paul Newman in the title role, and a for-the-ages turn by Richard Boone as proto-badass Grimes (“Mister, you got a lot of hard bark on you walkin’ down here like this.”) As usual the film drove me back to the Elmore Leonard novel, which was pretty much transcribed to screen. If you like Hombre, try Valdez is Coming, which for my money is the very definition of a perfect book. It does what it sets out to do, lyrically, without a wasted word. I miss Elmore Leonard, but he left behind a library that I’ll be reading and rereading for the rest of my life. What a legacy.