I hope you had a great weekend.
As a kid, I loved the library’s summer reading challenge, and if you’re reading this newsletter, I’m guessing you did too. So, I’m bringing the tradition back for adults with this Bingo card.
Fill it in with books you read between now and Labor Day and submit your completed card here. Everyone who gets Bingo will be entered into a raffle to win a gift certificate to the independent bookstore of their choice. (You can fill it out by using this document or however you want.)
This week, I’m featuring books for three of the categories, and I’ll sprinkle them in going forward as well. And, each week, I’ll open up the comments thread for you to share your favorites to help you fill in that “Submit a rec to What To Read If” square. This week I’m looking for your favorite books by debut authors.
We’ll run on the honor system, but I’m asking everyone to use each book for a single category. While everyone can play along, only subscribers are eligible to win the prize. (You can subscribe here.) Other than that, read what you want and have fun!
And now what to read if…
You Want to Start With a Short Book
If you want to start building momentum towards your summer reading, you can’t go wrong with My Sister, The Serial Killer. In just 230 pages, Oyinkan Braithwaite packs in murder, family feuds and twist after twist.
In case the title didn’t give away the book’s premise, its opening pages do. In them, Korede, a nurse, is bleaching the site of her sister’s latest murder. After each of her sister Ayoola’s crimes, Korede steps in, transporting the body and stopping Ayoola from posting anything suspicious to Instagram. At the beginning of My Sister, The Serial Killer, Korede is almost resigned to serving as her sister’s fixer. That changes, though, when Ayoola sets her sights on the handsome doctor Korede has loved from afar for years.
My Sister, The Serial Killer isn’t a whodunnit. We know from page one who the killer is. It’s not even focused on decoding Ayoola’s motives. Instead, it’s a family drama focused on the relationship between the sisters and their parents.
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You Need a Nonfiction Pick
Just four months after he was sworn in as president, James Garfield was shot twice in the waiting room of a D.C. train station. For 80 days, Garfield lingered, lying in pain in the White House. Candice Millard brings this history — and Garfield’s path to the presidency — to life in Destiny of the Republic. She writes about how the desperate attempts to save Garfield actually led to his death and the behind-the-scenes machinations as politicians fought for power.
Millard’s book is a crash course in everything from germ theory to Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of an early metal detector prototype. I read it nearly a decade ago and still reference it regularly.
Like the best narrative nonfiction, Destiny of the Republic reads more like a novel than a historical account. If you’re primarily a fiction reader but want to put an “X” through the nonfiction box, Destiny of the Republic could be a good fit. It combines the deep research and reporting of nonfiction with the storytelling techniques of a novel.
Bonus recommendations: I wrote a list of three nonfiction books that read like fiction for writer Sarah Foil’s blog.
You’re Looking for a YA Book
You Should See Me in A Crown, author Leah Johnson’s debut, is a big-hearted, joyful read about Liz Lighty, a high school senior who feels “too black, too poor and too awkward” for her wealthy, prom-obsessed small town in Indiana. (Liz compares prom in her town to high school football in Texas.) The high school senior is set to leave for her dream college until her financial aid falls through. To secure the funds she needs, Liz decides to run for prom queen, knowing the winner receives a sizeable scholarship.
As if running for prom queen as a nerdy wallflower isn’t stressful enough, her competition includes the high school’s mean girl, her ex-best friend and a new girl that Liz quickly develops feelings for.
Liz’s voice is smart and funny — the book is filled with her quips and witty pop culture references. I loved how Johnson balanced the main prom plot with subplots about Liz’s relationships with her friends and family. For a book about prom, it has a strong emotional core that left me in tears at certain points.
I have two more guest recommendations for you this week:
“I’m currently reading debut memoirs for my audiobooks column, and I can report that Blow Your House Down by Gina Frangello, Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner and Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough are all excellent. Hough’s will absolutely be among my favorite books of 2021. June brings the release of There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness by M. Leona Godin, which I was lucky to read a few months ago, but I cannot wait to read the audiobook in the author’s own voice.”
— James Tate, author of Blind Man’s Bluff
“I just finished Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age and am sorry I waited so long. Reid’s debut is a page-turner that confronts race, class and privilege with wit, wisdom and empathy. I laughed. I cringed. I cheered. And now I can’t stop thinking about the truth at the heart of this novel.”
To see your summer reading rec featured in future editions, comment below or respond to this email.
What are your favorite books by debut authors? Let me — and your fellow Bingo players — know!
What to Read If is a free weekly book recommendation newsletter. Need a rec? Want to gush about a book? Reply to this email, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @elizabethheld.
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