Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Now Reading: June 2016

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I always associate summer reading with a notion of escape—best-selling novels on the beach, celebrity memoirs by the lake, poetry on a picnic blanket. But let’s be honest, it’s about the freedom to read whatever you want, and whenever you want. Summer is about vacations that allow for long porch sits with a book and a large glass of lemonade, spiked or virgin, whatever your pleasure. It’s about late night binge reading when you must read one more chapter before dimming the lights. There’s just something about reading during the long, hot months of summer that feels extra satisfying. Another option for summer reading is the audiobook to distract from any extensive road trips and help you escape into another world before you get to your own vacation destination.

It’s time to pick up that book you’ve been meaning to get to all year. Maybe you’re like me with an ever-growing pile of To Be Read books spilling from the nightstand, or maybe you need a good suggestion to get your summer reading going. Whatever type of reader you are, we have you covered in this month’s Now Reading list. Apologies in advance if we’re adding to your book addiction.

For months, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of Emma Cline’s The Girls, so much so that I purchased both the hardback and the audiobook version. After both reading and listening to the book, I realized my instincts were correct. I found myself enamored with Cline’s descriptive writing style and enthralled with her storytelling ability. Set in the late 1960s, the novel tackles the ageless themes of female relationships, fitting in, and self-discovery. With inspiration from the real-life Manson ranch/murders, Cline gives her readers early hints of the book’s outcome that add crumbs of tension throughout the text. As a reader, I found myself falling into the world of 14-year-old protagonist Evie, wanting to belong as she did, even knowing that the book would culminate with a gruesome murder. The writing teeters on the edge of indulgent, but I found myself getting lost in her fascinating descriptions and details.

Heather Vrattos, Photo Editor, just finished reading When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. She found inspiration in his story, sharing, "His brief memoir begins with his diagnosis of stage four-lung cancer. As he leads the reader through his life and what drove his career choice, he invites one to contemplate what it means to be alive, to be conscious, and to live a meaningful life. When his death moves from an unknown, distant future event, to a more imminent event, he adjusts his life and priorities, making difficult but thoughtful decisions. His description of his career as a neurosurgeon and the hard choices his patients had to make, with trade-offs between healing one part of the brain and losing another function, seemed to echo his own medical trade-offs in his cancer treatment. The letter he wrote to his daughter when he had only a few months to live particularly moved me. His wife picks up the pen at the end of the book to describe the end of his life. The description of his last day brought tears and hope simultaneously. It is tragic that the life of such an intelligent, caring person, with so much potential to help others was cut short. One could only hope to exit this world surrounded by as much love as he was."

Another summer reading suggestion is from our Fiction Co-editor, Suzanne Kamata. She writes, "Two of the three women whose narratives comprise Janice Y. K. Lee’s new novel The Expatriates are wives. Margaret is the one-quarter Korean wife of Clarke, whose corporate salary ensures that she doesn’t have to work. Her role is to plan menus and dinner parties and find help to look after their three beautiful children. Another wife, the independently wealthy Hilary, is married to David, a lawyer, and trying desperately to get pregnant. The third main character, Mercy, is a socially-awkward twenty-something Korean-American who graduated from Columbia University yet can’t quite seem to find her footing in real life. She goes from one under-demanding job to the next until Margaret hires her as a nanny. On a family trip to Korea, however, something horrible happens to one of the children under her watch and all three lives are irrevocably altered. Born and raised in Hong Kong herself, and educated at international schools and Harvard, Lee is highly familiar with moneyed expats and the minutiae of Hong Kong culture, such as the enduring mania for disinfection post-SARS (ultra-violet toothbrush sterilizers!) and the disdain for the mainland Chinese who flood into the city and 'buy up baby formula and Ferrero Rocher in enormous quantities.' In addition to her eye for detail, Lee does a terrific job of bringing the lives of the three women together and increasing the tension; the last half of the book flies by to its satisfying, if not happily-ever-after, conclusion."

Ginny Kaczmarek, Poetry Editor, rounds out the list of suggestions with an inspirational, fun read. She suggests, "For a little celebrity reading with a gender-bending twist, I enjoyed the autobiography Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva! by Big Freedia with Nicole Balin. ‘Sissy Bounce’ hip-hop artist Big Freedia, born Freddie Ross, grew up as a chubby gay boy in a rough part of New Orleans. She (though male, Big Freedia prefers female pronouns) chronicles her struggles, from her father's imprisonment, her stepfather's disapproval, to violence in the streets, but also how her unique, irrepressible spirit found its home in music: first a gospel choir, then cheerleading, and finally the hip-hop Bounce community. Along the way, the love of her mother, devoted family and friends, and eventually fans and professional supporters, propel her to successes she barely imagined. Fans of her music or her TV show—as well as anyone who appreciates a stay-true-to-yourself story—will enjoy learning more about this fascinating person who manages to remain humble and hardworking while celebrating what her mama gave her (and what she's created for herself)."

For more summer reading suggestions follow us on Goodreads. What books are you looking forward to reading this summer? Tell us in the comments below.

Abigail Lalonde lives in Philadelphia with her husband, daughter, and three cats. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Rosemont College. Her work has been featured in Sanitarium MagazinePretty Owl Poetry, Crack the Spine, and Memoir Mixtapes. She writes about books and writing on her website.

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