Every summer brings a barrage of expensive new swimsuits, patios reeking of sunscreen, and slews of brand new, aesthetically-pleasing books. But seeing as my years as an undergrad are coming to a close, I’m feeling much more nostalgic this sunburn season. It’s the end of an era for me, and while I love bingeing new titles, this summer calls for some familiar faces. That’s why I’d like to take a moment reintroduce a handful of my favorite books. Yes, they’re oldies, but they’re my favorites by far, and with luck, they can be your favorites too!
1. The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
Written in layman’s terms and narrated by an honest (and occasionally quirky) speaker, “The War of Art,” is the perfect craft book to read on a face-melting day (like this one). The book is comprised of short chapters, making it the ideal read for those times when even the vaguest traces of literary philosophy could bring you to tears. This book defines Resistance (the things keeping us from pursuing our goals) and identifies its impact on our lives. It also talks about Resistance in connection with the Self, ways to work past Resistance, and ways we can take the professional habits from our past and present jobs and apply them to our careers as artists. It’s definitely one of the more digestible craft books out there, but it’s not any less motivating or inspiring for it!
2. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, Kristopher Jansma
My copy of this book has barely survived two visits to the beach, and it shows. But somehow that only makes me love it more. Leopards follows the stressful career of a young fiction writer as he navigates and re-navigates relationships with his flamboyant (albeit capricious) friend and the tempting-yet-unattainable love of his life. This book harbors a story within a story within a story, and ruminates on the boundaries between truth and fiction. There are animal attacks, political marriages, betrayals, and hopeless attractions. This novel has something for everyone, including carefully-crafted characters and environments that will have you racing back for a second read.
3. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
There’s a very special place in my heart for asian history. I love nothing more than to sit down on rainy days and read about ancient Japanese customs and Chinese tea ceremonies. Because of this, Memoirs of a Geisha was a special treat to read! This compelling story of a poor-girl-turned-geisha was revelatory in so many ways. I learned the ins and outs of the geisha tradition, in addition to the culture’s darker practices. And all the while I was transfixed by the narrator’s authentic voice and her rich style of storytelling. This book is by far one of my favorites, and I’m beyond excited to read it again this summer.
4. The Red Parts, Maggie Nelson
True-crime meets lyric essay in Maggie Nelson’s autobiography The Red Parts. Using prose to recount the emotionally-draining hunt for her aunt’s killer, Nelson offers taut perspectives on sexual assault, a woman’s ability (or lack thereof) to wander alone at night, and America’s seeming obsession with disappeared women. Additionally, Nelson retells her struggle to make sense of two mental states which she calls “Murder Mind” and “Suicide Mind.” Told in a mixture of blunt forensic jargon and sharp prose, The Red Parts will discomfort readers with the brutal reality of a murder trial.
5. The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love you, Frank Stanford
I’ll start with the disclaimer that this book won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Battlefield is told in a Leaves-of-Grass-esque tangent that could give some people traumatic flashbacks to high school English class. If you’ve got a little more patience and mettle, however, then congratulations, you’ll enjoy this epic poem. Francis Gildart’s harrowing and heartening movements through the slave-owning South lie at the heart of this poem. A fiery child if ever there was one, Francis is unique among his white peers in that he fiercely rejects the maltreatment of African Americans. There’s plenty of humor and head-scratching to go around in this book, but it will ask you to be forbearing much of the time, and to truly enjoy this work, you’ll have to comply. I recommend reading this during a cool summer dusk. Get a cold drink, have a seat outside, and enjoy the musical waterfall of words that Frank Stanford has to offer.
6. The Bear and The Nightingale, Katherine Arden
I’ll admit, this book isn’t that old, but I’m going off the fact that it’s not “brand new” either. To anyone who has a taste for young adult trilogies, this last one is for you. Katherine Arden’s Nightingale series is composed of three books which follow the supernatural adventures of Vasilisa, a young girl born in the unforgiving Russian wilderness. There’s plenty of tantalizing folklore to satisfy fantasy lovers, but don’t let the presence of magic fool you. The monsters and charms of this world are every bit lethal as the Russian winter, and create the kind of stakes that keep you flipping pages to the very end. The benevolent and cruel spirits of Vasilisa’s home are creatures you simply won’t experience in any other novel. If I could assign you one book to read this summer, The Bear and the Nightingale would be it.
Have you read some great books this summer? If you have, feel free to share them in the comments.