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You’re Working on Your Summer Reading Bingo Card
Let’s all get five-in-a-row
I hope you had a nice, relaxing weekend. I took a half-day Friday and spent the afternoon reading by my parents’ pool. I’m glad I got the time outside when I did since it poured the rest of the weekend. Rainy weekends are perfect for blankets, big mugs of tea and mystery novels.
Since we’re about halfway through the summer reading Bingo contest, I thought I’d offer some recommendations to help fill out your card this week. If you’re new to What To Read If, we’re playing Bingo with this card.
You can read the complete directions here and submit your card, with five-in-a-row, by Friday, September 10th, to be entered into a raffle for a gift card to an independent bookstore of your choice.
This week, I’m opening up the comments section for “Summer that Changed Everything” books. It’s one of my favorite tropes — commonly found in coming of age novels, romance and YA. I included one below and would love to get your picks as well.
And now what to read if…
You’re Itching to Fill the Essay Collection or Memoir Box
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years. I’ve taken it out from the library multiple times but only finally read it a few weeks back. I’m now angry with myself for waiting so long to have read it.
Typically, when I read a short story or essay collection, I find that I love some of the selections and am kind of “meh” on others. This was not the case with Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. Each and every essay captured — and held — my attention.
Chee, a well-established novelist, covers everything from his writing process to gardening to surviving the AIDS crisis in this collection, his first non-fiction book. I particularly enjoyed the essay on his time spent working as a cater waiter for John F. Buckley in the 1980s. And, writers and readers alike will appreciate the look inside what it takes to craft and publish a novel.
Chee has a remarkable ability to say so much in just a few pages. Each essay — just 20 pages or so — packs an emotional wallop and left me thinking for weeks after reading.
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You Need a Book for the Debut Box
Every Last Fear opens with the line “They found the bodies on a Tuesday,” dropping readers right into the action. Matt Pine, an NYU student, returns to his dorm room after a long night out to find the FBI there with devastating news: His parents and two of his siblings were found dead in Mexico. The tragedy quickly gains international attention because Matt’s older brother Danny was the subject of a viral Netflix documentary that argued he was wrongfully convicted of murder.
The novel combines a mystery, a family drama, an exploration of the role “true crime” plays in our society and even a political saga into a single book. While many debuts would drown under this many competing plotlines, Alex Finlay excels at keeping them all straight.
True crime fans, in particular, will find a lot to appreciate with Every Last Fear. In between the book’s twists and turns, Finlay packs in astute analysis about how the genre depicts victims of crimes and those accused of committing them.
You’re Looking to Read a “Summer that Changed Everything” Book
Emily Henry’s Beach Read is perfectly named — and one of my favorite books of 2020. It follows January Andrews, a romance writer grieving her father’s death, and Augustus Everett, an acclaimed literary fiction author. The pair briefly knew each other in college but fell out of touch until they spend a summer living in neighboring beach houses, battling writer’s block.
Augustus and January eventually strike a deal: He’ll try to write something happy, and she’ll try to write something more “complex” and “literary.” January schedules “rom com” activities for Augustus, and he takes her on intense research trips. They begin having daily writing sessions and, as you can probably guess, tepidly enter a relationship. Over the course of the summer, they help each other grow into better people.
One of my favorite things about Beach Read — and I have many favorite things about it — is the way Henry subtly argues that writing about joy is just as important and worthwhile as writing about serious topics. So often, books about relationships and family are considered frivolous or unserious. Henry carefully — and wittily — dismantles this argument, showing that joy and grief go hand and hand.
That’s it for me today. I’ll be back in your inboxes Thursday with a Q&A featuring audiobook narrator Channie Waites. We had a fascinating conversation, and I’m excited to share it with you all. You can catch up on last week’s recs here.
This week’s guest suggestion comes from Tabatha Leggett, who is on a quest to read one book from every country. She’s documenting her journey in the fabulous newsletter, Bookmarked.
“The task of writing a book about a family dealing with addiction and depression without collapsing beneath its own tragedy isn’t easy. But Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom tells the story of Gifty, a neuroscience PhD student who is dealing with the grief of a brother lost to addiction and a mother immobilised by depression with such kindness and in such luminous prose that she succeeds.
Yaa Gyasi has a knack for building fully-realised characters, which is exactly what Gifty is. Flashbacks into Gifty’s difficult childhood are interwoven with a present day narrative in which we follow her research into reward-seeking behaviour in mice, painting a picture of a woman who is mean, tender, hostile, and in desperate need of affection all at once. The result is complex and emotionally affecting—I read this book a couple of months ago and haven’t stopped recommending it to my friends since.”
And don’t forget to share your “summer that changed everything” books.
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