It’s that time of year again: SUMMER. For students, or recently graduates like myself, summer brings with it a freedom that seems limitless. Faced with so much time to do what I like, I always make a list of what I’d love to read. For those employed year-round, summer doesn’t necessarily evoke anymore those long stretches of free, unscheduled time, but I put forth this reading list in the hopes that whether you’re lounging on a beach, stuck in an office from 9-5 or doing some combination of both, you’ll give yourself time to read a w0rk that is truly lovely and inspiring. Nathan Go already started off his summer reading list with suggested works by Filipino and Filipino-American authors. Similar to my summer reading list last year, I’m going to keep my list eclectic and globally diverse. There are some some books I’ve read, some books I look forward to reading and some that have been adapted into films–for those, like myself, who love reading books and watching films and noticing, sometimes irritatingly, the differences between two versions of the same story.
Long Division by Kiese Laymon
Kiese Laymon is an amazing, courageous and brave novelist and essayist, whose essay about gun violence in America, “How To Slowly Kill Yourself in America: A Remembrance”, was published last July and became something of a viral internet sensation. I’ve been a long-time fan of Laymon’s work, who has also for many years published short essays on his website Cold Drank. Long Division is Laymon’s debut novel: a puzzle, a novel-within-a-novel riddled with time travel and Youtube celebrities and set in the Post-Katrina South. Laymon fiercely tackles issues of prejudice, adolescence and love with a swagger and confidence all his own. You rarely find novels this honest and engaging. Read this book. It’ll change your life, also it’s a soul-nourishing precursor to his collection of essays, How To Slowly Kill Yourself In America that comes out this August.
Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Reluctant Fundamentalist is Mohsin Hamid’s second novel, a short, absorbing novel that takes place over the course of a single evening. Its structure is innovative, told from the perspective of a Pakistani man, who, somewhat implausibly, tells the story of his sojourn in America, his lost love, and his life post 9/11 terrorist attacks to a seemingly random American tourist. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is beautifully written and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007. Mohsin Hamid recently published How To Get Filthy Rich in Asia, which I have not read yet, but I now look forward to reading. Also, Ann Arborites the novel’s film adaptation will be playing at the Michigan Theater this week. Here’s to hoping Mira Nair translates this insightful novel well.
A Man of People by Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe, referred to as the father of African literature, passed away last March. In highschool, like I’m sure many others, I read Things Fall Apart, and I wrote a stilted, somewhat cliche book report, examining what I thought to be the novel’s main themes: “This book is about ___, ___, and ___.” To pay homage to such an influential post-colonial author, and to remedy my own shameful ineptitude, only having read the most celebrated work by Achebe, I’ve chosen to read A Man of People, a satirical novel that follows a school teacher, Odili, who begins a career in politics in an unnamed modern African country, likened to Nigeria. According to Wikipedia, the novel ends in a military coup. Achebe’s portrait of modern Nigeria will also well prepare me for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s recent novel Americanah, a love story that begins when its two main characters are in school and Nigeria is under military dictatorship.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel depicting author Marjane Satrapi’s coming-of-age years in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. The graphics are beautiful, rich and compelling. Through these images, Marjane Satrapi complexly explores a life of limitations, her experiences as a dislocated vagrant, trying to reconcile her love for her tumultuous homeland, and a cultural identity that fits the lived experience of Iranians and not just the one-sided depiction perpetuated by a rigid regime. The novel was also adapted into an award-winning film, for those again looking to read a novel and see how it interprets in different mediums.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s third novel, On Beauty, was on my reading list for quite some time. In fact, I started the novel shortly after I read White Teeth, but it didn’t manage to engross me as thoroughly as its predecessor. Recently, I started the novel again, and I’m glad I did. On Beauty is a modern version of Howard’s End by E.M. Forster, but it’s still Smith’s unique novel, imbued with her grace and wit. On Beauty has been called a “transatlantic comic saga” by Guardian author Stephanie Merritt. (Speaking of transatlanticism, I’m also looking forward to Colum McCann’s latest novel TransAtlantic. And, oh, yes read Zadie Smith’s new novel NW too.) Set in Massachusetts on an university campus similar to Harvard’s, On Beauty focuses on two warring families, whose oppoising ideologies and personal differences clash time and time again throughout the novel. Once you start, you won’t be able to put it down.
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
At this point Junot Díaz is a literary rockstar. This past September, he almost caused a riot in New York city, though it is NYC and I don’t think it takes much to get a crowd of angry New Yorkers riled up. If you’re a regular reader of the New Yorker, you know most of the stories in this collection have already been published, but the experience of reading the stories together is definitely still worthwhile. Most of the stories are told from the perspective of the Díaz’s recurring character Yunior, preoccupied particularly with Yunior’s infidelity and promiscuity, but also critiquing the Dominican-American immigrant experience. Also, if you’re like me, and you enjoy reading fiction by geographical areas pair this story collection with Edwidge Danticat’s debut short story collection, Krik Krak, narratives that are mostly set in Haiti and New York. Very different. Very interesting.
Y: The Last Man series by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra
Since it’s summer, and I read that fear-inducing article published by the New Yorker last month about the dangers of sitting, I’ve started going for daily strolls. One of my favorite places to visit is Ann Arbor’s comic bookstore Vault of Midnight. I’m a newbie to comics, and Y: The Last Man, I think, is an awesome introduction to the world of comic books. It’s exciting and smart, loosely inspired, I believe, by Mary Shelley’s novel, The Last Man. The premise: A plague wipes out every male mammal in the world, except for one man, Yorick and his Capuchin monkey, Ampersand. If you read just one book in this series, I know you’ll be hooked.
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Finally, I suggest We Need To Talk About Kevin, an epistolary novel, a series of letters written from a woman to her estranged husband, mostly featuring their son, who committed a school massacre. This novel is one of the most gripping explorations of women, motherhood, nature vs. nurture, America’s obsession with fame, gun violence and American optimism. The novel starts off slowly, but once it hooks you, you really can’t stop reading. We Need To Talk About Kevin won the Women’s Prize for Fiction when it was still being called The Orange Prize. Tilda Swinton stars in the film adaptation, and though some critics have qualms with the film’s overt symbolism, I think Lynne Ramsey’s interpretation is absolutely chilling and horrifying. Check out the trailer. This film is perfect for a night you want to be terrified, and if you’re looking to really scare yourself out of motherhood. Why not watch Oprah Winfrey produced adaptation of Beloved and Rosemary’s Baby.