You're Celebrating the Solstice
Want a relatable sci-fi book or are planning your next trip
Hi Book Lovers,
Happy belated Juneteenth and Father’s Day! I hope you had a great weekend.
This week, I’m doing something different. My friend Courtney Cook and I have swapped newsletters. Courtney writes Survival by Book, a fabulous newsletter featuring regular essays on love, loss and life through a bookish lens. I wrote an essay for Survival by Book about the Strong Female Lead, “10 Things I Hate About You” and my favorite YA book. Courtney returned the favor by writing today’s recs.
Courtney is a writer based in Wilder, VT. She has degrees from Dartmouth College and the University of Wollongong, Australia, taught English literature for many years, and now works as a technical writer and marketing manager.
She’s also serializing her memoir, College, a Love Story, through her newsletter.
And, now, what to read if …
You’re Celebrating the Summer Solstice
I have a guilty secret: I’m not that good at summer reading. I like the idea of it, just like I like the idea of training to run a 10k in warm weather, but something about loads of sunshine and fresh air make it hard for me to finish a thought, much less a book (or a 10k). Good book nerd that I am, I always carry a novel in my beach bag, but it often stays in the bag, like a spurned Instagram prop, while I lie around watching the surf and daydreaming.
Which is why I love Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book. It’s written like summer feels to me—as short, image-rich stories that center on simple events, like the kind of thing you remember as a kid: a thunderstorm, sleeping out in a tent, walking along the shore, collecting driftwood with your grandmother. It’s told from the point of view of six-year-old Sophia, and her grandmother, and balanced by intermittent, vivid, appearances of Sophia’s father. The death of Sophia’s mother is only fleetingly touched upon, but it explains Sophia’s, at times, spicy behavior, as well as the mix of worry and indulgence with which her grandmother treats her. There is a poignancy that is, just like everything else in the book, buoyed by a sense of sea, sunshine and salt air. I’ve never been to an island in the Gulf of Finland, but this book makes me feel like I have.
Bonus: fans of Jansson’s Moomintroll comic strip and books will be happy to know that The Summer Book is illustrated with lovely pen and ink sketches.
Bingo box this book checks: Book set outside the U.S.
You Want a Relatable Sci-Fi Mystery Thriller
Gibson is the guy who coined the term “cyberpunk,” and his novels are full of interesting details about things that sound a lot like today’s #tech headlines; it all feels very of the moment as of last week’s crypto Black Monday. Part of The Peripheral is set 70 years in the future, in a London-as-techno-utopia built by robots called “Assemblers” on the remains of the global climate apocalypse and inhabited by an elegant, bio-hacked, global elite. The other part is set in a fictionalized present tense United States that is riven by foreign wars and corporate-backed governmental malfunctions. Sound familiar?
I like Gibson because his protagonists are just like you and me—sort of. Cayce Pollard, from his book Pattern Recognition, is as sensory defensive, socially awkward, and ADHD as I am, even though, in her case it also means she’s an internationally renowned cool hunter. And Flynne Fisher, the gamer protagonist of The Peripheral, is a smart woman from a small rural town who’s had a steady run of bad luck—also relatable. Flynne and her war veteran brother, Burton, do what they can to get through the working week, aided by a motley group of friends who read a bit like Fury Road meets Ozark. For extra money, Flynne takes a job as a cyber security drone flyer in what she thinks is a video game, but she is soon drawn into an international murder mystery that takes place seventy years in the future.
Bingo box this book checks (for me): Reread a favorite book
You are Considering Taking up Astrotourism
Traveling in the sense of adventuring is new to me. I had my kids young, so I had never really done the thing wherein you ask yourself “where would you like to go on vacation?” as opposed to “Which set of grandparents gets priority for this holiday? Is there a science museum or an American Girl Doll store within driving distance of [name of friend]’s wedding in [name of location]?” Then, with Covid I didn’t go anywhere at all.
Last fall, when I finally got out of my zip code for a week or so, it felt so good to be out of my comfort zone. It felt like I was walking around with a groovy electronica soundtrack for a while—just a dopamine frenzy of fresh new things to look at and think about. This summer, I have a chance to do some more traveling, and I want to expand my idea of what’s possible and interesting. So, I went to a used bookstore and browsed an actual, IRL travel section. Dark Skies was the result—one of those OG, serendipitous bookstore browsing surprises.
It’s a pretty book—hardcover and with beautiful photography. So far, I’m thinking maybe I’ll go to Jökulsárlón, Iceland, to “observe the night sky above glacial icebergs on their journey towards the ocean.” Or Rovaniemi, Finland, to “embrace Finnish sauna culture…after a long session of viewing the northern lights.” What do you think?
Bingo boxes this book checks: Book that teaches you something new
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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