Archive for the ‘Reading Lists’ Category

The Interestings Cover The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls Cover The Flamethrowers: A Novel Cover My Brilliant Friend CoverThe Dud Avocado Cover Swimming Home Cover The Count of Monte Cristo (Oxford World's Classics) Cover    To the Lighthouse CoverThe Death of the Heart Cover  Little Known Facts Cover The Pink Hotel Cover Zelda: A Biography (P.S.) Cover

In a month or so, there are going to be summer reading recommendations everywhere.  They will invariably include books about female friendship and the beach.  Usually both.  I’ll probably enjoy the hell out of some of them.  But I don’t really need to read about the beach when I’m already there.  So here’s what I’m looking forward to reading this summer:

If I had to pick one thing I loved the most about summer when I was young, it would be camp.  Day camp , Girl Scout camp, Band camp (I blog about books, of course I went to band camp) and even French camp.  I don’t think I’m alone on this one.  I think summer makes everyone nostalgic for the adventures of youth.  I wish I could still go to camp (especially French camp which had amazing food and fencing).  Instead, I go to the office, freeze my air-conditioned ass off and try not to stare out the window too much.  This summer, there are two books that appear to be both literary and about camp!  Lucky me.

The first, is Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which just came out, but which I am going to try to wait to read until summer.  This is a novel that follows the lives of a group of friends that meet as teenagers at a summer arts camp.  I read Wolitzer’s The Wife this winter and couldn’t put it down.  It was really witty, tackled some pretty heavy issues, and was a total page-turner all at the same time.  Based on the early buzz, I fully expect the same from The Interestings.

The second, which doesn’t come out until June, is Anton Disclafani’s The Yonahlosse Riding Camp for Girls.  If I had to pick a second favorite thing about summers when I was young, it would be horses.  During my junior high summers I spent almost every day with horses.  I can’t remember another time when I’ve been  both covered in dirt and insanely happy.  So a coming of age story about a riding camp in the 1930s is at the top of my list.  Also, it has been described with adjectives like lush and transportive.  Those are summer adjectives.

After camp, I’d love nothing more than a backpacking trip around Europe.  Wouldn’t everyone?  The next best thing to actually traveling is to plan a summer reading trip.  The ex-pat in Europe makes for a great beach read.  I can’t imagine that The Sun Also Rises would be anywhere near as perfect as it is except when read in the glaring heat.  Ditto for Tender is the Night.

So, where will I go first?  Italy, of course.  I’m pretty excited for Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers.  It sounds sort of scandalous (artists, motorcycles and Italian terrorists!) and it combines two summer themes:  the ex-pat in Europe and the coming-of-age novel.  There’s something about a day at the beach that makes me feel totally in love with the world.  That’s the best feeling with which to approach a coming-of-age novel.

I think I’ll stay in Italy a little while longer so I can visit Naples.  Books about southern Italy are best when read outside in the sun.  Preferably somewhere with a lot of noisy traffic for ambiance.    I think it’s because I’m Sicilian that the further south I get, the happier I am in Italy.  Naples is dangerous, dirty and decaying, but it’s also a real, live city (as compared to say the Disneyland that is Florence).  Amid the chaos, there’s a fascinating beauty.  I’ve been hearing so many good things about the Italian author Elena Ferrante’s latest novel, My Brilliant Friend, that it’s been a struggle to save it for summer.  This is a story of female friendship (beach read!), only it’s about growing up tough in the city of Naples, rather than growing up rich in Nantucket.

Where to next?  France!  First, to Paris with Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado.  This is apparently a cult classic, but I’d never heard of it before last year.  I love it when that happens. This 1950s novel of the American girl abroad is supposed to be a great romantic comedy.   Then onto a summer villa in the hills above Nice with Deborah Levy’s Booker short-listed Swimming Home.  This one sounds a little bit dark and suspenseful.  Perfect for a rainy day.

I can’t leave France without having a little adventure.  What better book for whiling away a week at the lake than the classic The Count of Monte Cristo?  With Revenge on hiatus for the summer, a good dose of literary vengeance might just fill the void.  Clocking in at around 1000 pages, this is the perfect book for that week when all you have to do is lie in the sun and read.  We all need at least one week like that or what’s the point of summer?

Before returning stateside, I’ll hang out with the British modernists for a bit.  Really stunning writing is almost meditative when you’re lying on the beach.  There’s nothing better than drifting in and out of beautiful prose with the distant cacophony of seagulls and surf in the background.  Read, close your eyes to the sun, and then read some more.  It’s dreamy.  This summer, it’s going to be Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse and Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart.  Chosen not just for their transcendent prose, both books feature classic summer locations: the house on the lake and the sea-side resort.

When I get back to the States, I think I’ll wind up the summer with a road trip out west.  I know most summer reads take you out East for a little cottage on the seashore vacation, but I love the gritty heat of summer in the city too.  Also, it’s almost pointless to read about Los Angeles in the middle of winter when you live in the Midwest. I don’t care how great the book, it’s just not the right experience when I’m staring out the window at three feet of snow.  Winter here is best spent reading the Russians.  This summer, I’m looking forward to Christine Sneed’s Little Known Facts and Anna Stothard’s The Pink Hotel, both set in L.A.  The dual nature of L.A. seems well-represented by these two since one is the Hollywood side and one the seedy side.  This part of the summer reading list is borne out of last summer’s reading of Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, which was all sorts of awesome in both Italy and L.A.

Finally, I have not forgotten that this is the summer of Gatsby.  I’ve had Nancy Milford’s 1983 biography, Zelda, on my coffee table for about a year now and this seems like the perfect time for it.  Yes, I know there is a new novel about Zelda that just came out, but I didn’t really like The Paris Wife and this new Z novel is too similar in concept.  It’s hard to read about a fictionalized Hemingway or Fitzgerald in a novel that’s obviously inferior to anything either of them ever wrote.  Well, that was how I felt about The Paris Wife anyways and while I’ll try to keep an open mind about Z: A Novel, I don’t have high hopes.  If I have time, I think I’d rather revisit some of Fitzgerald’s novels because I’ve been wanting to do that ever since I read this awesome installment of Lydia Kiesling’s Modern Library Revue for The Millions.

So these are my top picks for summer.  What are you planning on reading at the beach this year?


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