Here is my summer reading guide for 2018! For a printable PDF version of the guide, click here. Let me know if you’ll be reading along with me this summer!
Click on the title to jump to its synopsis:
- For the one to make you laugh: Hey Ladies by Caroline Moss and Michelle Markowitz
- For when you’re craving short stories: Florida by Lauren Groff
- For the one to keep you up at night: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
- For when you want a new group of friends: The Ensemble by Aja Gabel
- For when you want a love story: When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri
- For when you want more love: Many Love by Sophie Lucido Johnsen
- For the one that won the big award: Less by Andrew Sean Greer
- For the adventure-without-ever-leaving-your-couch read: Rough Animals by Rae DelBianco
- For the memoir lovers: I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell
- For the one with the voice we rarely get to hear: There There by Tommy Orange
- For the true event you won’t believe happened: Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard
- For the reader who can’t get enough of reality TV: The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
For the one to make you laugh:
Hey Ladies by Caroline Moss and Michelle Markowitz
Based on the column of the same name that appeared in The Toast, Hey Ladies! is a laugh-out-loud read that follows a fictitious group of eight 20-and-30-something female friends for one year of holidays, summer house rentals, dates, brunches, breakups, and, of course, the planning of a disastrous wedding. This instantly relatable story is told entirely through emails, texts, DMs, and every other form of communication known to man.
The women in the book are stand-ins for annoying friends that we all have. There’s Nicole, who’s always broke and tries to pay for things in Forever21 gift cards. There’s Katie, the self-important budding journalist, who thinks a retweet and a byline are the same thing. And there’s Jen, the DIY suburban bride-to-be. With a perfectly pitched sardonic tone, Hey Ladies! will have you cringing and laughing as you recognize your own friends, and even yourself.
For when you’re craving short stories:
Florida by Lauren Groff
Storms, snakes, sinkholes, and secrets: In Lauren Groff’s Florida, the hot sun shines, but a wild darkness lurks.
The New York Times-bestselling author of Fates and Furiesreturns, bringing the reader into a physical world that is at once domestic and wild—a place where the hazards of the natural world lie waiting to pounce, yet the greatest threats and mysteries are still of an emotional, psychological nature. A family retreat can be derailed by a prowling panther, or by a sexual secret. Among those navigating this place are a resourceful pair of abandoned sisters; a lonely boy, grown up; a restless, childless couple, a searching, homeless woman; and an unforgettable, recurring character—a steely and conflicted wife and mother.
The stories in this collection span characters, towns, decades, even centuries, but Florida—its landscape, climate, history, and state of mind—becomes its gravitational center: an energy, a mood, as much as a place of residence. Groff transports the reader, then jolts us alert with a crackle of wit, a wave of sadness, a flash of cruelty, as she writes about loneliness, rage, family, and the passage of time. With shocking accuracy and effect, she pinpoints the moments and decisions and connections behind human pleasure and pain, hope and despair, love and fury—the moments that make us alive. Startling, precise, and affecting, Florida is a magnificent achievement.
For the one to keep you up at night:
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.
“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.
Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.
At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.
For when you want a new group of friends:
The Ensemble by Aja Gabel
The addictive debut novel about four young friends navigating the cutthroat world of music and their complex relationships with each other, as ambition, passion, and love intertwine over the course of their lives.
Brit is the second violinist, a beautiful and quiet orphan; the viola is Henry, a prodigy who’s always had it easy; the cellist is Daniel, the oldest, the angry skeptic who sleeps around; and on first violin is Jana, their flinty, resilient leader. Together, they are the Van Ness String Quartet.
In The Ensemble, each character picks up the melody, from the group’s youthful rocky start through to adulthood. As they navigate devastating failures and wild success, heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty, they are always tied together—by career, by the intensity of their art, by the secrets they carry together, and by choosing each other over and over again.
Following these four unforgettable characters, Aja Gabel’s debut novel gives a behind-the-scenes look into the highly competitive, mysterious world of high-level musicians. The story of Brit and Henry and Daniel and Jana, The Ensemble is a heart-skipping portrait of ambition, friendship, and the tenderness of youth.
For when you want a love story:
When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri
From the acclaimed author of The Assistants comes another gutsy book about the importance of women taking the reins—except this time, when it comes to finding sexuality, pleasure, and love sometimes where you least expect it.
Katie Daniels is a perfection-seeking 28-year-old lawyer living the New York dream. She’s engaged to charming art curator Paul Michael, has successfully made her way up the ladder at a multinational law firm and has a hold on apartments in Soho and the West Village. Suffice it to say, she has come a long way from her Kentucky upbringing.
But the rug is swept from under Katie when she is suddenly dumped by her fiance, Paul Michael, leaving her devastated and completely lost. On a whim, she agrees to have a drink with Cassidy Price-a self-assured, sexually promiscuous woman she meets at work. The two form a newfound friendship, which soon brings into question everything Katie thought she knew about sex—and love.
When Katie Met Cassidy is a romantic comedy that explores how, as a culture, while we may have come a long way in terms of gender equality, a woman’s capacity for an entitlement to sexual pleasure still remain entirely taboo. This novel tackles the question: Why, when it comes to female sexuality, are so few women figuring out what they want and then going out and doing it?
For when you want more love:
Many Love by Sophie Lucido Johnsen
In this bold, illustrated memoir, a young woman shares both a personal and sociological take on modern, “unconventional” love, exploring her own transformation from serial monogamist to proud polyamorist.
After trying for years to emulate the kind of relationship her parents had—married happily for forty years—Sophie Lucido Johnson realized that maybe the love she was looking for was down a road less traveled.
In Many Love, Sophie delivers a fresh look at polyamory: its history, its misconceptions, and its new relevance among the many millennials embracing non-monogamous relationships. With a series of caring partners all the way from her high school sweetheart to her current fiancé, Sophie explores her sexuality and the very nature of love itself, questioning everything we’ve all been taught about relationships. She shares each of her revelations—sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious—and ultimately uncovers the incredible power of making room for all kinds of love in one’s life.
Complete with informative charts (did you know there are five distinct types of jealousy?) and witty illustrations, Many Love is an empowering, heartwarming memoir offering a memorable glimpse into an unconventional life.
For the one that won the big award:
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Who says you can’t run away from your problems?
You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.
QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?
ANSWER: You accept them all.
What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.
Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, LESS is, above all, a love story.
A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost, by an author The New York Times has hailed as “inspired, lyrical,” “elegiac,” “ingenious,” as well as “too sappy by half,” LESS shows a writer at the peak of his talents raising the curtain on our shared human comedy.
For the adventure-without-ever-leaving-your-couch read:
Rough Animals by Rae DelBianco
Ever since their father’s untimely death five years before, Wyatt Smith and his inseparably close twin sister, Lucy, have scraped by alone on their family’s isolated ranch in Box Elder County, Utah. That is until one morning when, just after spotting one of their bulls lying dead in the field, Wyatt is hit in the arm by a hail of gunfire that takes four more cattle with it. The shooter: a fever-eyed, fearsome girl-child with an outdated TEC-9 in her left hand and a worn shotgun in her right. They hold the girl captive, but she breaks loose overnight and heads south into the desert. With the dawning realization that the loss of cattle will mean the certain loss of the ranch, Wyatt feels he has no choice but to go after her and somehow find restitution for what’s been lost.
Wyatt’s decision sets him on an epic twelve-day odyssey through a nightmarish underworld he only half understands; a world that pitches him not only against the primordial ways of men and the beautiful yet brutally unforgiving landscape, but also against himself. As he winds his way down from the mountains of Box Elder to the mesas of Monument Valley and back, Wyatt is forced to look for the first time at who he is and what he’s capable of, and how those hard truths set him irrevocably apart from the one person he’s ever really known and loved. Gripping from the first gunshot to the last and steeped in a mythic, wildly alive language of its own, Rough Animals is a tour de force not to be missed.
For the memoir lovers:
I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell
We are never closer to life than when we brush up against the possibility of death.
I Am, I Am, I Am is Maggie O’Farrell’s astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. The childhood illness that left her bedridden for a year, which she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. An encounter with a disturbed man on a remote path. And, most terrifying of all, an ongoing, daily struggle to protect her daughter–for whom this book was written–from a condition that leaves her unimaginably vulnerable to life’s myriad dangers.
Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and restrained emotion, O’Farrell captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty, and mysteries of life itself.
For the one with the voice we rarely get to hear:
There There by Tommy Orange
Fierce, angry, funny, heartbreaking—Tommy Orange’s first novel is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen, and it introduces a brilliant new author at the start of a major career.
There There is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.
Here is a voice we have never heard—a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with stunning urgency and force. Tommy Orange writes of the plight of the urban Native American, the Native American in the city, in a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. An unforgettable debut, destined to become required reading in schools and universities across the country.
For the true event you won’t believe happened:
Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard
It’s a humid June day when the phones begin to ring in Atlanta: disaster has struck. Air France Flight 007, which had been chartered to ferry home more than one hundred of Atlanta’s cultural leaders following a luxurious arts-oriented tour of Europe, crashed shortly after takeoff in Paris. In one fell swoop, many of the city’s wealthiest residents perished.
Left behind were children, spouses, lovers, friends, and a city on the cusp of great change: the Civil Rights movement was at its peak, the hedonism of the 60s was at its doorstep. In Hannah Pittard’s dazzling and most ambitious novel yet, she gives us the journeys of those who must now rebuild this place and their lives.
Visible Empire follows the chaos—and hope—that remained in the wake of the crash, and the truths that became evident because of it. This is a story about how we choose to look at the world, and those moments when we finally see it for what it is—whether we’re ready for that clarity or not.
For the reader who can’t get enough of reality TV:
The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
A debut novel of family, fame, and religion that tells the emotionally stirring, wildly captivating story of the seventeen-year-old daughter of an evangelical preacher, star of the family’s hit reality show, and the secret pregnancy that threatens to blow their entire world apart.
Esther Ann Hicks–Essie–is the youngest child on Six for Hicks,a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia’s? Or do they try to arrange a marriage–and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media–through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell–Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?