This June, when I packed our family's suitcase for a week at the beach, the question of which paperback to bring floated over me: an invitation to which I hadn't yet had time to respond. The beach (cabin, lake, camping, river, mountain) read is sacred, after all. As a mom on vacation, I might actually have time to read for concentrated stretches of time rather than in fleeting minutes stolen behind a locked bathroom door. And, yet, the goal of the week at the beach is escape. I don't need a book to escape from my escape. Tania James's Atlas of Unknowns was, to my sun-drenched relief, my ideal beach pick. (In the interest of full disclosure, Tania and I went to grad school together and I stalk her -- and links to her writing -- on twitter.) Atlas of Unknowns follows two sisters -- Linno and Anju -- in both their hometown in Kerala in southern India and in New York where Anju has won a scholarship to a private school. The story is about a family with secrets, the immigrant experience in America (turns out it's not always streets lined with gold), and the way in which the bond between sisters is a constant push and pull. Perhaps it was that my beach vacation is always with my sister and her family, but it was that third part that I kept me turning pages even as we packed up our chairs and umbrellas. James deftly reveals how sisters, in spite of the distances and abuses that pass between them, are always stumbling towards each other.
Find more summer reads below. Download the list to find it fast at your local bookstore or library.
Cassie Premo Steele, Birthing the Mother Writer Columnist, writes, "Last week, I was in a city away from home for a night to do a poetry reading, and I stopped into a used bookstore and found a two-volume set of Anna Karenina from 1917. I started reading and couldn't stop. I am not exaggerating to say I was tempted to skip the poetry reading. It is a week later, and I have finished the 575 page first volume and have moved into the 475 page second volume. If depictions of married life were charted across the centuries, there would be spikes at Jane Austen and Gustav Flaubert, and a huge dip with the Real Housewives-- and the pinnacle would be Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. The movie's coming out, so hurry and get the book. There is no way that a film can depict the inner storms of all these characters."
Fiction Co-Editor Kristina Riggle just finished A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. "I agree with other reviews I've read that it's not so much a novel as a collection of linked stories, and I imagine some readers were mightily baffled if they expected anything like a typical plot arc. But I got in the groove quickly. I adored this book, and all of the gloriously screwed-up characters, from the kleptomaniac assistant to the sick, obese, over-the-hill rockstar determined to flame out and die on his Suicide Tour."
Blog Editor Karna Converse writes, "Heather Choate Davis' debut novel, The Pitcher's Mom, is a sweet read that rings true and is laugh-out-loud funny at times. Jill, a single mom, first learns of her son's interest in baseball at his Kindergarten graduation. Jill hoped he'd announce intentions of growing up to be a poet or playwright, but instead, Gus proclaims he'll be a professional baseball player. Davis' story follows Jill and Gus from the purchases of wiffle balls and athletic cups to the bleachers of Little League, All Star, and high school competitions. Jill learns how to be a pitcher's mom but struggles with knowing when and how to tell Gus about his father. Any mom who's spent time on the bleachers will identify with this book's characters, setting and the dreams that go hand in hand with the baseball diamond and the boys of summer."
Suzanne Kamata, Fiction Co-Editor shares, "I became word-drunk on the richly inventive language of Honor Molloy's autobiographical debut novel Smarty Girl: Dublin Savage. On the surface, it's the engaging story of an Irish theater family in 1960s Dublin told from the point of view of the scrappy middle daughter. Daddy is a well-known actor and an alcoholic, while Mam, an American expat, writes radio plays and tries to keep her ever-expanding family together. Meanwhile, Noleen, the narrator, gets into all kinds of trouble and tries to make sense of what's going on around her. Thirteen years in the making, this book, is a song, a poem, and a celebration of Irish story-telling."
Perfectly Normal Columnist Heather Rader is reading Writing Alone and with Others by Pat Schneider. "With summer writing retreats approaching, I was excited to dig into this book. There are three sections: The Writer Alone, Writing with Others and Additional Exercises. As is typical with any book on writing, it deals with how to banish fear, but it also addresses the delicate balance of doing this very vulnerable work with trusted others. Pat Schneider writes, 'When we write, we create, and when we offer our creation to one another, we close the wound of loneliness and may participate in healing the broken world.'"