As we ease into the melting, mid-summer month of July, let’s cool off with a few refreshingly good reads. These are five books I highly recommend.
By Theresa Braun
The Beach Read: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
I finished this book (with water welling in my eyes) as I stood waiting in line under the Eiffel Tower, but I recommend you read it while sprawled out in warm sand, letting the emotions it provokes crash over you like waves. In The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer weaves together the lives of six characters who first formed a bond at summer camp. That bond is tested as the teenagers enter young adulthood and then middle age, experiencing varying degrees of prosperity and personal growth. Told with graceful ambition, the novel explores themes of friendship, talent, power, and envy, challenging us to reflect on the choices we have made.
The Shorts: Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Unpopular opinion: I enjoyed this collection of short stories more than Swamplandia!, Karen Russell’s novel and Pulitzer Prize finalist. Perhaps I found her gift for inventiveness better suited to telling a range of tales in bursts of magical fiction. Regardless, Vampires in the Lemon Grove delivers truly original stories, including a bully who encounters a scarecrow in the form of a classmate and dead presidents reincarnated as horses. As a whole, the collection is both whimsical and tragic, written with both precision and playfulness.
The (Sort of) Classic: The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
This book is for anyone who wishes she was tearing into a croissant on the Left Bank of Paris right now. Largely underrated, Elaine Dundy’s first novel shares the Parisian adventures of a young American woman in the 1950s. Sally Jay Gorce is “hellbent for living,” fortified by wit, romance, and a few champagne cocktails. The novel opens on our gal hanging out on Boulevard St. Michel in an evening gown (naturally, because the rest of her clothes are at the laundry). From there, it follows the free spirit’s hijinks, from nightclubs to jail to the South of France. Rather than superficial, I found Gorce admirable; she seeks fulfillment, claiming to loathe “lazing around not learning anything, not accomplishing anything, not seeing anything new.” To top it off, The Dud Avocado even has Ernest Hemingway’s seal of approval: “I liked your book,” he told Dundy. “I liked the way your characters all speak differently…My characters all sound the same because I never listen.”
The Good Advice: How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
This is not your typical self-help book. In fact, it’s not a self-help book at all. It’s not even nonfiction (technically speaking). But Sheila Heti’s brilliantly honest novel reveals the raw truths of female friendship and the life of an artist, asking (and attempting to answer) the questions of how we should love one another and ourselves. It’s both humorous and heartbreaking. It’s the spiritual handbook we didn’t think we needed.
The New Release: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
It seemed too good to be true: a new novel from Harper Lee. But on July 14, our middle school hearts can rejoice as we welcome the long hoped for sequel of the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird. Picking up the story 20 years later, Go Set a Watchman revisits beloved character Scout Finch as she returns to her childhood home, facing personal and societal struggles in the context of a turbulent 1950s America. Remarkably, the novel has been published exactly as it was first written before Lee shelved it in the mid-1950s.
What’s on your reading list this month?