Julie’s Summer Reading Picks

me in sunglasses

Julie is BookPeople’s Marketing Director. She reads a whole lot of fiction, long and short. When not standing at her desk, she’s busy drinking too much La Croix and taking pictures of her cat, Sam, and rabbit, Nate. In the summer months she likes to read on her stoop, unless there are bugs. (Editor’s note: She drinks too much La Croix at her desk, too, and often worries, aloud, if so much carbonation is bad for her teeth.) 

Let Me Explain You by Annie Liontas

This book had me at page one. Hilarious and full of both heart and terrific sentences, Let Me Explain You surprised me with its fresh, funny voice and unique story. When Stavros Stravros, a Greek-American diner owner, believes the appearance of a cigarette-eating goat is a symbol of the end of his life, he sends a letter to his adult daughters and ex-wife detailing exactly what is is each one is doing wrong with her life and what she should do to change it.

While Stavros’s hubris provides significant comic relief, his meditations on mortality and reflections on the arc of his life, from Greece to America, deliver a depth that will sink this story straight into your heart. Meanwhile, the perspectives of his daughters as they respond to their father’s announcement of his imminent death dig into family dynamics in a sharp, realistic way.

I loved this book for many reasons. It made me laugh out loud and it reminded me that humans are complicated creatures, and family members the most complicated of all (or at least the most complicated to love). This is Liontas’s debut novel. I can’t wait to read what she writes next.

 

The Cost of Courage by Charles Kaiser

I’m of the camp that believes summer reads don’t have to be light, toss-away tales. Any time of year, I want a book that will stick with me, and The Cost of Courage certainly has. This personal perspective on World War II history and the French Resistance will hold both well-read armchair historians and casual readers rapt. With a journalist’s deft balance of emotional weight and historical fact, Kaiser details the heretofore untold story of the Boulloche family; how the sisters risked their lives carrying out clandestine assignments for the Resistance at home while their brother underwent excruciating journeys in defense of his country that found him in three concentration camps. I found myself reading portions of this book aloud in both disbelief and awe of what this family risked, what they confronted and what they endured. From the first pages, as he introduces his personal connection to the family and their story, Kaiser holds readers close to their fight for freedom, and to their loss. Books like The Cost of Courage are invaluable for crystallizing the horrible truths of World War II as they played out in the lives of those who could not escape it. Heart-breaking, important reading.

 

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

Why had I never read Lucia Berlin before?! I’m a big fan of short stories and an even bigger fan of short fiction written by women. Why did she elude me until now? Farrar, Straus and Giroux is releasing this compilation in August. If you love Grace Paley, read this, read this, read this. Her stories often give voice to working class characters, putting her in vein with Raymond Carver. She began writing in the 1960s, but didn’t publish until 1981, when her first collection, Angel’s Laundromat, was released. American short fiction across those decades is some of my favorite to read and revisit. I’m thrilled to have this new writer’s perspective on my shelf. And how’s this for securing a legend as a bad ass (courtesy of her Wikipedia page): “Lucia died in her home in Marina del Rey, on her birthday, with one of her favorite books in her hands.”

 

The Hand That Feeds You by A. J. Rich

I first heard about this novel when I attended a reading by Amy Hempel, my patron saint of short fiction, at The Wittliff Collections earlier this year. Until now, Amy Hempel had not written a novel. News of this work, which she penned with fellow writer, Jill Ciment, was a BIG DEAL. Hempel’s sentences changed my life. Her creative process fascinates me. I thought I would spend this reading experience picking out which line belonged to Hempel, which image must have come from Ciment, but the writers’ union on the page is seamless, and instead I wholly lost myself in unwinding Morgan Prager’s mystery. About that mystery: the book opens with Morgan Prager’s grisly discovery of her fiancee’s body in her bed, where, police confirm, it has been mauled by dogs. As the story unfolds, Prager learns the unsettling, ultimately terrifying, truth; the man with whom she was prepared to spend the rest of her life is no one she knew at all. Hempel and Ciment have penned a top rate psychological thriller that makes for one heck of a summer read. (P. S. – I enjoyed this story so much, we made it our Top Shelf pick for June.)

 

Just Kids by Patti Smith

If Amy Hempel is my patron saint of short fiction, Patti Smith is my patron saint of rock and roll. I love this book. I read it when it first came out and am about to listen to it on on CD while driving to Salt Lake City next week. Her poetic remembering of her early days in New York City – living with Robert Mapplethorpe, putting up their art as collateral for a room at the Chelsea Hotel, recording Horses – is a dreamy entry into an era of that city I’m sorry I missed. This listening will serve as preparation for reading Smith’s forthcoming follow-up memoir, M Train, one of my most highly anticipated books this fall.

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