Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

What Are You Reading This Summer?

by Carmela Ciuraru | Aug-04-2015

Recently, we asked authors, editors, and booksellers: "What are you reading (or hoping to read) this summer?" 

I always keep an eye out for international fiction. With that in mind, this summer I am looking forward to reading Kamel Daoud's novel, The Mersault Investigation, which I have heard great things about. As well, this summer I also hope to read Works, by the late Édouard Levé, an inventive but tragic figure in French letters.--Jeffery Renard Allen, Song of the Shank

I'm reading Kuwento: Lost Things, an anthology of Philippine myths as reimagined by contemporary Filipino-American poets, fiction writers, and essayists; and Julia Fierro's Cutting Teeth—just out in paperback, so perfect for carrying along on my next trip. I'm also rereading Nabokov's Speak, Memory for the umpteenth time and savoring Cities I've Never Lived In, a short story collection forthcoming from debut author Sara Majka.--Mia Alvar, In the Country

- Kitchens of the Great Midwest  - foodie culture, humor, wit, warmth, culture clash, brilliant!
- Let Me Explain You - Greek American family drama, hilarious and moving
- Love and Other Ways of Dying - essay collection by Michael Paterniti, far-ranging and toothsome
- The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far - experimental fiction and photography by former human rights worker, which I was surprised to fall in love with
- The Beautiful Bureaucrat - fantastic, an urban fable
If I get some vacation time, I'm hoping to dive into Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire, which comes out this October--it's a hefty one at almost a thousand pages, but I've heard amazing things.--Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, co-owner, Greenlight Bookstore

I've been thinking about money, class, and capitalism. So I read Modern Politics, the collection of lectures by CLR James. Also John Keene's collection of fiction, Counternarratives, which is exquisite, and unlike anything I've ever read. I just finished Sarah Schulman's riveting book, The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination. That was the fun stuff. Now I have to complete my summer mission to re-read the first volume of Marx's Capital. I read it twenty years ago, in college, and I remember being surprised by the poetry I found there.--Eula Biss, On Immunity

I brought a few novels along with me this summer to an island in Greece—the ones you sort of skirt around in the darker, busier months and assume you’ll eventually get to on vacation. Only none of them were really inspiring me in that wonderful way of being torn between a compelling fictional universe, and the holiday beach universe right in front of you and your swim trunks. A friend on the island scaled his bookshelves, brought down André Aciman’s 2007 novel Call Me by Your Name, and told me I had to read it instantly. I haven’t looked back since. It’s the perfect summer book—time and sex and longing under the slow Italian sun. Utter brilliance. I’ve now rejiggered my summer reading list to include: Andrew Scull’s Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity; Patricia Highsmith’s Edith’s Diary; a rereading of Paul Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky; and Don Winslow’s The Cartel.--Christopher Bollen, Orient

I can’t wait to sit down with the galley of Paul Murray’s new book The Mark and the Void, coming from FSG in October. I published Paul’s amazingly lovely and heartbreaking and hilarious debut An Evening of Long Goodbyes (which is the name of a dog…do you need to know any more about the wonderful oddness of this author than that?), when I was a young editor back at Random House. His second novel, Skippy Dies, is an absolute cult favorite. And I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve next!--Lee Boudreaux, editorial director, Lee Boudreaux Books

Reading now: Langdon Hammer's biography of James Merrill (FSG); The Devil’s Chessboard (Harper, coming in October), David Talbot’s gripping account of Allen Dulles and his years at the CIA; Hanya Yanagihara’s amazing novel, A Little Life (Doubleday),  and dipping into Jeff Nunokawa’s Note Book (Princeton). Lined up for what’s left of the summer are Jonathan Franzen’s Purity (coming in Sept, FSG), Sally Mann’s Still Life (Little, Brown) and Eudora Welty’s stories, in the handsome Library of America edition. --Jonathan Burnham, publisher, SVP, HarperCollins

I usually like to take at least two weeks off in August to just go somewhere and read, but it's not clear I can. If I do: I'll be finishing three very fine, very different novels all already underway: Garth Greenwell's What Belongs To You, Dean Bakopolous's Summerlong, and Jennine Capo Crucet's Make Your Home Among Strangers. On deck: Mia Alvar's In The Country, and Beatriz Preciado's Testo Junkie.--Alexander Chee, The Queen of the Night, forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in February 2016

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (though I think I’m going to download the audio because someone just told me it's read by the author)
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray (Skippy Dies was weird and wonderful and I’m curious to see what the author does next)
Barefoot to Avalon by David Payne (more than a few people have recommended this memoir to me about Payne’s relationship to his brother whose death he witnessed in a terrible driving accident while helping him move … I’m an infrequent and therefore hideous crier and so I will be reading this when I’m alone update for a few days)
Purity by Jonathan Franzen (Actually, I’m reading this now and underlining the bejesus out of it.  For example on Page 5: “No phone call was complete before each had made the other wretched.”  Or page 213:  “Fighting was like vomiting.  The prospect grew more dreadful with each year that passed without her doing it.” Or page 504, “The woods were unfathomably complex, but they didn’t know it.”)--Bill Clegg, The Clegg Agency; author, Did You Ever Have a Family?

I'm in the midst of reading Outline by Rachel Cusk, which I started when news of the Greek debt crisis broke, so it become oddly topical. It's so wonderful. As in full of wonders. I keep flagging phrases and moments. She has such a profound command of human personality that "in the midst of" is probably not the right phrase. More like, "I've got 40 pages left and wish I could slow it down."--Sloane Crosley, The Clasp, forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux in October 2015

At the moment, I'm savoring Jan Morris' The World, which is a career's worth of her superb travel writing. I'm looking forward to reading Ruth Ozeki's The Face, a meditation on her own face, and to re-reading Elizabeth Hardwick's collection of essays, Seduction and Betrayal. Also on my luscious summer stack is Michelle Huneven's Blame. --Stacey D'Erasmo, Wonderland

Somehow I never got round to reading C. L. R. James’s book on Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian revolution, The Black Jacobins, so I'll be doing that, a full 77 years after it was first published. And looking forward--also a little belatedly--to the brilliant Laura Kipnis’s Against Love.--Geoff Dyer, Where Do We Come From, What Are We, Where Are We Going, forthcoming from Pantheon in May 2016

My list for the second half of the summer includes: Mia Alvar’s In the Country. A writer I edit, Sara Novic, has appeared on a couple of panels with Mia this summer, and I keep hearing about her stories. After that, The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman, because I love secret agents. Then, if I can get a galley, Anthony Marra's The Tsar of Love and Techno. And if anyone's book group is discussing Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, please invite me.  I need to discuss what is certainly one of the best novels of the year.--David Ebershoff, vice president, executive editor, Random House; author, The 19th Wife

I am reading, or looking forward to reading, Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition, Paul Auster’s Sunset Park, Knausgaard’s My Struggle (Vol. One), Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, Don Winslow’s The Cartel, and Jonathan Franzen’s Purity.--Morgan Entrekin, president, publisher, Grove/Atlantic Books

I'm currently reading Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson. Terrific short story collection--chilling and yet darkly comedic at times. I'm having a hard time putting it down; the stories are that good.--Christin Evans, co-owner, Booksmith and Kepler's Books

Some favorites that I've read: 
- The Unfortunates by Sophie McManus (the literary beach read of the summer)
- A Window Open by Liz Egan (the warmest, bookstore-lovingest book I've read in ages. Usually, I don't like books that are about the busy working mom life--too close to home--but this one was LOVELY)
On my To Be Read pile:
- Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
- The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips 
--Rebecca Fitting, co-owner, Greenlight Bookstore

I’m looking forward to reading  E. M. Forster, Graham Greene, Jane Austen, and James Baldwin. --Jonathan Galassi, president, publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux; author, The Muse

 I’m reading Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, which is Mary at her teaching best -- glorious. I just finished (listening to the audio, read by the author) H is for Hawk. It’s a fabulous audio book. I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic and trying to be braver. I’m reading The Ambassadors, because what’s a summer without Henry James. I just finished Elisabeth Robinson’s The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters, which I had never read, and I loved it.--Nan Graham, senior VP, publisher, Scribner

I keep hearing the most terrific things about Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott, so that one is near the top of my list. In my own writing I deal a lot with houses and physical spaces, and I'm eager to see Alcott's take. 

Elizabeth McCracken has been trumpeting A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin, and my rule is pretty much that if Elizabeth McCracken loves a book, it's something I want to read. Not to mention that I'm always in the mood for a good short story collection. 

I've somehow become the sort of person who reads a lot of books at once, and right now, like almost everyone I know, I'm reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I'm also reading Project Fatherhood by Jorja Leap, and I'm finally catching up on Citizen by Claudia Rankine. I've been rereading Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones, and A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, too. --Cristina Henriquez, The Book of Unknown Americans

Summer began with Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth via John Szeed. I'm approaching the end of War and Peace (you know the author), Heroines (Kate Zambreno), and Every Day Is For The Thief (Teju Cole). Coming up next: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me and Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism.--Margo Jefferson, On Michael Jackson

The Elena Ferrante series. Or, at least, the first one. So I can have lunch or drinks with people without saying “No, I haven’t.” Also, Absalom, Absalom (because it’s the grandfather of a boldly jaunty riposte of a novel called Absalom’s Daughters that we’re publishing next summer, and I haven’t read the Faulkner in 100 years). Also, "Fates and Furies" by Lauren Groff (already read the mss, but want to read it again!). And The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips.--Barbara Jones, executive editor, Henry Holt

I am reading and rereading Susan Howe -- who has two books forthcoming from New Directions: The Birth-mark, which originally appeared in the early 80s, and The Quarry, a selection of previously uncollected essays. I want to say The Birth-mark is a "classic" exploration of early American literature, but it's too weird and unsettled and fresh for that designation. And The Quarry contains equally compelling essays that make me look at figures such as Wallace Stevens and Chris Marker with fresh eyes. I don't have a word for what Howe does or an account of how she does it, but I am increasingly grateful for her work and her example. --Ben Lerner, 10:04

My summer reading at the moment: Stefan Themerson's The Mystery of the Sardine, Garth Risk Hallberg's City On Fire, and Olivia Manning's Levant Trilogy.--Jonathan Lethem, Dissident Gardens

I went back to Earl Lovelace's Salt this summer, as well as Mary Karr's Lit. This June, I discovered Naomi Jackson's debut novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill. I really can't wait to get to Akhil Sharma's Family Life, and Yiyun Li's Kinder Than Solitude, and I'm digging into David Leeming's biography of James Baldwin.--Annie Liontas, Let Me Explain You

After dipping into Ann Hulbert’s wonderful biography of Jean Stafford, Interior Castle, I was led back to Stafford’s collected stories, which are finely wrought, terribly strange, smart, and sustaining. For fun, summer fun, I am also reading a YA novel called Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older. So far I am persuaded by the voice, the story’s momentum and otherworldliness (murals weep and move), and for the kinetic way Older uses Brooklyn in the story. Because I love and keenly miss James Salter, I also mean to read Solo Faces. It's his mountain climbing book, the only work of his I’ve failed to read. Plus, on hot days, a mountain story, however perilous, promises refreshment.--Amy Grace Loyd, The Affairs of Others

-I’m nearly finished with Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind, which is as intelligent and moving as it is funny. And it’s very, very funny. Peter Mendelsund (whose What We See When We Read I loved) raved to me about Jim Shepard’s The Book of Aron. I’m looking forward to reading it next. 
-Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, which I’m hoping she'll send to me many months before its published. 
-Things Seen by Annie Ernaux, whose Simple Passion I think is absolutely extraordinary.
-Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey, a new novel by a poet I admire.
-How to be Both by Ali Smith
-Barbarian Days by William Finnegan
-Loving Day by Mat Johnson
-The Red Collar by Jean-Christophe Rufin
-The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
-And finally, I can’t wait to read City of Clowns by Daniel Alarcón and Sheila Alvarado.--Alexander Maksik, A Marker to Measure Drift

Working on finishing The Canterbury Tales, the Fisher "bilingual translation" from Norton that has the original and updated English on facing pages. Also finishing up Knausgaard, volume II, and I have a few things I'm excited about that I have in galleys, like Charlie Smith's new novel, which is happening in the fall. Ta-Nehisi Coates, of course. Wayne Koestenbaum has a new book of poems I heard him read from that I'm excited about, The Pink Trance Notebooks. I want to read Amy Hempel and Jill Cement's pseudonymous thriller, The Hand That Feeds You. That's the stuff at the top of the stack, anyway!--Rick Moody, Hotels of North America

I am looking forward to reading that someone is running for president who spoke out against the invasion of Iraq and who believes in saner, more restrictive gun laws. I have advance copies of new novels by Ethan Canin and by Lauren Groff—am looking forward to those.--Lorrie Moore, Bark

My summer reading at the moment includes The Little Edges by Fred Moten, Debt by David Graeber, and The Essential Ellen Willis.
--Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

My goal for the summer is to finish the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan trilogy-turning-quartet, with the last installment (The Story of the Lost Child) coming in September. To do that properly, I should go back and read the one I missed (#2: The Story of a New Name) but I may have to work in reverse order – which people tell me doesn’t mar the pleasures.  And then, if I get all this done, I’m going to go back and reread Ferrante’s  early non-series book, Days of Abandonment, which I still think about every time I hear or read about a  broken romance.--Sara Nelson, editorial director,; former editor-in-chief, Publishers Weekly; author, So Many Books, So Little Time

This summer I sought all the company I could find of the genre-mixing, magnificently disobedient French writer Marie N’Diaye. Her fiction-memoir hybrid, Self-Portrait in Green, left such an impression on me--with its curious cast of real and spectral female figures who appear to the narrator in green and become “disappointing” and “infinitely mutable"--that I recently bought her two other books available in English: the slim collection of stories All My Friends and the novel Three Strong Women. N’Diaye is as candid as Ferrante in her analysis of what women resent and fear about each other, but she is more mischievous in her adherence to realism.  I wish I could spend the rest of the summer in the reverie that is reading Marie N’Diaye, but "Three Strong Women" is all I have left.  I hope her excellent translator, Jordan Stump, ferries more of her prose into English soon.--Idra Novey, Ways to Disappear, forthcoming from Little, Brown in February 2016

I'm starting a new job teaching creative writing at Smith College in the fall, so I'm devoting the summer to reading short fiction, including (and in no particular order): Animal Crackers by Hannah Tinti; Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins, and Magic for Beginners, by Kelly Link. I've also just discovered the wonderful literary magazine, "One Story," which, every three weeks or so, sends out just that: one story, by one author. And, finally, for some historical perspective, I'm reading and thoroughly enjoying Meredith McKinney's wonderful translation of Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book.--Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being

I'll be mixing reading the new translations of Primo Levi's work with various books about consciousness and the mind, something I am presently fascinated by.--Tim Parks, Painting Death

I'm making this summer my Summer of Science Reading -- starting off with Bill Bryson's A Short History of (Nearly) Everything and Henry Marsh's Do No Harm. ​--Pamela Paul, editor, The New York Times Book Review

I'm intrigued to read the new book by Bob Morris called Bobby Wonderful, a memoir Morris wrote about taking care of his ailing father. I am always blown away by memoirists who are able to turn the dark and difficult parts of their families and lives into entertaining and even inspirational stories.--Matthew Pearl, The Last Bookaneer

Like everyone, it seems, I can't wait to read Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me. Has a book ever been published that was so spot-on and timely? I'm also looking forward to new books by some of my favorite poets. Kay Ryan's Erratic Facts is a collection of short, quirky, witty, subtle poems. Marilyn Hacker's A Stranger's Mirror gathers new and previously published poems in a dazzling array of forms and subjects.  How does she manage to be at once so conversational and so intense?--Katha Pollitt, columnist, The Nation; author, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

I’m reading every book I can find (in translation) by Horacio Castellanos Moya. I’d star with Senselessness if you don’t know his work. It’s truly amazing.
--Francine Prose, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

I am presently reading Ta-nehisi Coates' Between The World And Me. I read it and now am reading it again because I don't want to be caught outside its realm of knowing. It's the book we were missing and I can hardly believe it's here.--Claudia Rankine, Citizen

I’m going to try to reread some favorite books this summer:
The Patrick Melrose Diaries, by Edward St. Aubyn
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Light Years, by James Salter
I’m also going to daily dip into the Letters of Virginia Woolf.--Maria Semple, Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

I'm reading The Seven Good Years the delightful memoir by Etgar Keret!--Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure

I first came across Lauren Holmes when her terrific story “How Am I Supposed To Talk To You” earned her Granta New Voice honors in 2014, and I’ve been eager for more ever since. Her collection Barbara the Slut hits bookshelves on August 4th. As for what I’m reading right now--I’m finally getting into Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk and seriously loving it…what a book!--Matt Sumell, Making Nice

This summer, my big commitment is to read Stendhal's The Red and the Black with the book club I run for the store. I'll also sneak in the fourth Ferrante book, No Name by Wilkie Collins, and The Fly Trap, by a Swedish entomologist named Fredrick Sjoberg. --Stephanie Vandez, co-owner, Community Bookstore

I’m currently enjoying Mona Simpson’s Case Book. Next up on my list is The Book of Aron, by Jim Shepard. I love books told from the perspectives of children. --Meredith Walters, director of programs and exhibitions, Brooklyn Public Library

Dragonfish by Vu Tran, and In the Country by Mia Alvar, are two debuts I'm really looking forward to. And Lauren Groff's novel Fates and Furies. I'm in France for the summer with my girlfriend, who is French-Algerian, and I want to read Camus again, especially his journalism. Weirdly, maybe, I've been looking forward to reading and rereading all of Nicholson Baker if that's possible, definitely Vox and The Mezzanine.  And I can't wait for what promises to be one of the funniest books of the year, Lauren Holmes' debut collection, Barbara the Slut.--Sunil Yapa, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, forthcoming from Lee Boudreaux Books, January 2016

Critical Notes: Go Set a Watchman, E.L. Doctorow, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and more

by Michele Filgate | Jul-27-2015

Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including new about your new publications and recent honors, to Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.

E.L. Doctorow, winner of three National Book Critics Circle awards, passed away at the age of 84. David Ulin pays tribute to the writer in the Los Angeles Times. "This quality of looking beyond himself, of seeking stories that were broader than personal testimony, was what set Doctorow apart. Each book was a different experience, with its own set of challenges and expectations." And in the San Francisco Chronicle, Elizabeth Rosner writes: "Although I never studied with him in the classroom, I learned from his books that the words and images and characters I choose as a novelist reveal as much about myself as they do about the world I’m mapping. Doctorow covered vast landscapes of time and place with insight and irreverence, depicting tragedy, greed, poverty, crime, beauty — and all of it, yes, a personal collage of history."

NBCC President Tom Beer reviews Go Set a Watchman for Newsday: "It's the darker, more ill-formed and less compelling book that Harper Lee had to write first before she could produce -- with, by all accounts, an editor's guiding hand -- her masterpiece." For The Quivering Pen, David Abrams wonders "What if Go Set a Watchman was Harper Lee's First and Only Book?" Donna Seaman reviews the novel for Booklist: "Though Lee’s prose is frequently stilted in Go Set a Watchman, her transitions awkward, her descents into exposition bumpy, this is a daring, raw, intimate, and incendiary social exposé." Maureen Corrigan writes for NPR that it "is a troubling confusion of a novel, politically and artistically, beginning with its fishy origin story." David Ulin writes for the Los Angeles Times: "...although Go Set a Watchman comes marketed as an autonomous novel, it is most interesting as a literary artifact." Heller McAlpin writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that the book's "greatest asset may be its role in sparking frank discussion about America’s woeful track record when it comes to racial equality."

For her new weekly Lit Hub "review of the reviews," NBCC board member Jane Ciabattari traces "the evolution of critical consensus re the new Harper Lee novel in slow motion" and follows up with Ten Books Making News This Week: Go Tell a Watchman vs. Between the World and Me. And for her Between the Lines column, 10 books to read in July.

Two other reviews by Heller McAlpin: Patricia Marx's Let's Be Less Stupid for NPR, and Nuala O'Connor's Miss Emily for the Washington Post.

NBCC board member Walton Muyumba reviews Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me for Newsday: "Rife with love, sadness, anger and struggle, Between the World and Me charts a path through the American gauntlet for both the black child who will inevitably walk the world alone and for the black parent who must let that child walk away."

NBCC board member/VP of Awards Michele Filgate interviewed Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Small Backs of Children, for Lit Hub.

Rigoberto Gonzalez writes about three poets and their fourth books for the Los Angeles Review of Books: Quan Barry, Kyle Dargan, and Ada Limon. And for NBC Latino, he writes about "9 Great New Books by Latino Authors."

For Publishers Weekly, Grace Bello wrote about cartoonist Jessica Abel and her new book about radio and podcast storytelling, Out on the Wire.

For Newsday, Marion Winik reviews William Finnegan's Barbarian Days.

Harvey Freedenberg reviews Jenny Offill's novel, Dept. of Speculation and Michael Bamberger's biography of eighteen golf legends, Men in Green, for Harrisburg Magazine.

Piali Roy reviews Aatish Taseer's The Way Things Were for the Toronto Star.

Joseph Peschel reviews Elijah Wald's Dylan Goes Electric for the Boston Globe.

Julia M. Klein reviews Lisa Moses Leff's The Archive Thief for The Jewish Daily Forward.

Gregory Wilkin reviews Tracy K. Smith's Ordinary Light for the New York Journal of Books. David Cooper reviews Joshua Cohen's Book of Numbers for the same publication.

Clifford Garstang reviews David Payne's Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother's Story and Curtis Smith's essay collection, Communion, for Prime Number Magazine.

Michael Magras reviews Mia Couto's Confession of the Lioness for Bookreporter.

Joan Silverman reviews Maxine Kumin's memoir, The Pawnbroker's Daughter, for the Portland Press Herald. Laverne Frith reviews the same book for New York Journal of Books.

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