You’ve already got your trashy beach reads, but there’s also a time and place for, you know, real books. After the jump, 10 New(ish) — i.e. coming out soon or just came out recently — Books You Should Read This Summer.
10. Playing With Grownups by Sophie Dahl
The full-length debut by the granddaughter of Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal centers on a dreamy, romantic English woman who hasn’t quite escaped the thrall of her fabulous mother, Marina. When Kitty, now married, pregnant, and living cozily in New York City with her financier husband, receives the call that her mother has been hospitalized after a breakdown, Kitty flashes back to her magical youth, revolving around her Swedish grandparents’ Never-Neverland of a country home, Hay House, shared by her mother and aunts. When Marina’s guru insists Marina move to New York City to pursue her painting, Kitty eventually joins her on Park Avenue, and her mixed-up adolescence begins. Wearing her mother’s clothes, flirting with her handsome boyfriends and swept into parties where her mother chops the cocaine, Kitty comes through a number of charming yet troubling moments, as well as foreshadowings of Marina’s future breakdown.
Amelia says: I’m in the middle of this book right now and am LOVING it. If you’re into the quirkiness of the characters in, say, The Royal Tenenbaums and have an affinity for female characters like Franny in Franny & Zooey this book might intrigue you as well. Sure, Sophie Dahl is a model, but she got more than just beautiful genes handed down to her.
9. Whacked by Jules Asner
In this deliciously devious beach read, chick lit meets Fatal Attraction as Jules Asner weaves together a tale of relationships, betrayal, and very modern revenge.A novel with a killer eye for the crimes and obsessions of modern relationships, Whacked is a wry, arresting foray into a realm that its author knows inside out.
Amelia says: Jules Asner used to be a host on E! I always liked her, especially in comparison to that Giuliana de Pandi twit they have now. She’s married to director Steven Soderberg and the novel is supposedly inspired by a little bit of her own life. I am going to read it while eating a big bag of grapes on the beach.
8. When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris
In David Sedaris’s excellent latest collection, cringe-worthy moments follow on the heels of laugh-out-loud ones–you may never buy another pair of thrift-store pants, for example, and that’s only the beginning. The stories jump back and forth in time and locale–Sedaris is in middle school, in college, in his grown, professional life; now North Carolina, now New York, now Normandy. The constant is Sedaris’s narration, and that’s why his delivery works so well with his words–every absurdity is made more believable (if not more palatable) thanks to his steady reading. He sounds incredulous and world-weary all at the same time. Death may be a recurring theme in these essays, but listeners will chuckle helplessly all the same.
Catherine says: I’ve read a lot of reviews of this book saying its very “meh,” but David Sedaris is always entertaining, even if he’s having a bad day. Since they’re short stories, they’re perfect for the beach: Read one, then turn over. Repeat for an even tan.
7. Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
In this enthralling debut, psychiatrist Dr. Leo Liebenstein sets off to find his wife, Rema, who he believes has been replaced by a simulacrum. Also missing is one of Leo’s patients, Harvey, who is convinced he receives coded messages (via Page Six in the New York Post) from the Royal Academy of Meteorology to control the weather. At Rema’s urging, Leo pretends during his sessions with Harvey to be a Royal Academy agent (she thinks the fib could help break through to Harvey), and once Re- ma and Leo disappear, Leo turns to actual Royal Academy member Tzvi Gal-Chen’s meteorological work to guide him in his search for his wife.
Catherine says: I had been in a serious book rut all winter. As soon as I read this love story with a scientific/psychological theme, I was cured.
6. A Wolf At The Table by Augusten Burroughs
A searing, emotional portrait of a son who wants nothing more than the love his father will not grant him, Burroughs’s latest memoir is indeed powerful. Absent is the wry humor of Running with Scissors and the absurd poignancy of Burroughs’s years living with his mother’s Svengali-like psychiatrist. Instead, Burroughs focuses on the years he lived both in awe and fear of his philosophy professor father in Amherst, Mass.
Amelia says: This is not exactly happy reading because it doesn’t have nearly the same humor as Burroughs’ other books, but it is amazingly tragic and beautifully written. If you thought Augusten’s mom was a piece of work, wait till you meet his Daddy.
5. The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York by Chandler Burr
New York Times perfume critic Burr (The Emperor of Scent) follows the creation of two new scents—Un Jardin sur le Nil by French luxury house Hermès, and Lovely, a celebrity fragrance by Sarah Jessica Parker—in a kind of travelogue through the international perfume industry, one of the most insular, glamorous, strange, paranoid, idiosyncratic, irrational, and lucrative of worlds.
Catherine says: This book takes you inside the glamorous perfume industry, which, strangely, isn’t written about even half as often as the fashion industry is. After reading it, I wished I had been born with a talented nose and could create molecularly balanced scents.
4. Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex by Ellen Sussman
This witty reference steps in where time-honored discussions of the birds and the bees typically fall short. All of the 100-some entries are formally defined and further explained through reflective and ribald definitions, essays, and stories by some of today’s most exciting writers. Everything from celibacy to promiscuity, hand jobs to sex toys is tackled by everyone’s favorite writers including Steve Almond, Patricia Marx, Phillip Lopate, and Antonya Nelson. From sexual relationships (monogamy, one-night stand, ménage à trois) to sexual positions (doggie style, 69), from age-old practices (prostitution) to contemporary twists (cybersex), this alphabetical encyclopedia includes everything you need to know about the language of love and more.
Catherine says: I was reading this while riding the subway to work one morning when I realized at least five sets of eyes were staring at the page I was on, which had the words “autoerotic asphyxiation” written in big, bold type. After that, I decided to read this book of stories that are more intellectual than gratuitous in the privacy of my own home.
3. Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas
For most of us, librarians are the quiet people behind the desk, who, apart from the occasional “shush,” vanish into the background. But in Quiet, Please, McSweeney’s contributor Scott Douglas puts the quirky caretakers of our literature front and center. With a keen eye for the absurd and a Kesey-esque cast of characters (witness the librarian who is sure Thomas Pynchon is Julia Roberts’s latest flame), Douglas takes us where few readers have gone before. Punctuated by his own highly subjective research into library history-from Andrew Carnegie’s Gilded Age to today’s Afghanistan-Douglas gives us a surprising (and sometimes hilarious) look at the lives which make up the social institution that is his library.
Catherine says: Am I a big loser? I love libraries and can’t wait to read this.
2. If I’d Known Then: Women in Their 20s and 30s Write Letters to Their Younger Selves ed. by Elyn Spragins
If you could send a letter back in time to yourself, what would it say? Following in the tradition of the bestselling What I Know Now™ comes a new collection that will speak directly to young women. Editor Ellyn Spragins asked women under forty to write letters to the girls they once were, filled with the advice and insights they wish they’d had when they were younger. Readers will recognize familiar names as well as meet new voices in these wonderfully candid missives, including: author Hope Edelman; actress Jessica Alba; Olympic soccer gold medalist Julia Foudy; activist Zainab Salbi; actress Danica McKellar; and author Plum Sykes. A perfect gift at graduation or for any important young woman in your life, If I’d Known Then offers rare glimpses into the personal stories of extraordinary young women-and will inspire readers to live their best lives.
Catherine says: It makes me feel good to know really successful women didn’t always know where they’d end up — Jessica Alba felt so rejected in sixth and seventh grade that she cried a lot and hardly ever smiled. The people who were mean to her are kicking themselves now.
1. The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block
In Stefan Merrill Block’s extraordinary debut, three narratives intertwine to create a story that is by turns funny, smart, introspective, and revelatory. Abel Haggard is an elderly hunchback who haunts the remnants of his family’s farm in the encroaching shadow of the Dallas suburbs, adrift in recollections of those he loved and lost long ago. As a young man, he believed himself to be “the one person too many”; now he is all that remains. Hundreds of miles to the south, in Austin, Seth Waller is a teenage “Master of Nothingness”–a prime specimen of that gangly, pimple-rashed, too-smart breed of adolescent that vanishes in a puff of sarcasm at the slightest threat of human contact. When his mother is diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s, Seth sets out on a quest to find her lost relatives and to conduct an “empirical investigation” that will uncover the truth of her genetic history. Though neither knows of the other’s existence, Abel and Seth are linked by a dual legacy: the disease that destroys the memories of those they love, and the story of Isidora–an edenic fantasy world free from the sorrows of remembrance, a land without memory where nothing is ever possessed, so nothing can be lost. Through the fusion of myth, science, and storytelling, this novel offers a dazzling illumination of the hard-learned truth that only through the loss of what we consider precious can we understand the value of what remains.
Catherine says: My friend Megan has been telling me to read this book for ages, and I think I will this weekend when I’m at the beach, though I have to prepare myself for a sunscreen-infused sob fest.