This is my ode to summer reading. Ah, to cozy up to a book on the beach or in a hammock under the weeping cherry and immerse ourselves in another world, a sprinkle of wisdom, or pure magic!
Summer began with some light reading: rom-com and chick lit. Once I got my fill (and found a few that were just too formulaic), I turned my novel reading to more fulfilling historical and literary fiction. Even there, I found a few books too formulaic and heavy-handed. But there were some real gems—and those are the ones I’ll share.
If you’re not a novel junkie like I am, stay tuned because I’ve Interspersed many inspiring writing books, a poetry prompts book, health and wellness, self-help and brain-stretching nonfiction that I think you’ll want to know about.
Ready? Here goes.
I’ll start with the nonfiction and other writing books since that might interest the largest group of readers, but if you’re looking for light reading, poetry or pure fiction, you can scroll down!
Of note: I’ve used bookshop.org for my links. If you have a favorite indy bookstore, just put in their name to support them in receiving a portion of your purchase. If you don’t have a local bookstore, please consider Wakefield Books or Curiosity & Co where some of my favorites were discovered (others came from Willett Free Library). Of course, if you most want to support independent bookstores, why not make your list and mosey on down to your local haunt?
The Writing Books I’m Enjoying
After working through the prompts in The Joy of Writing Journal multiple times — they can be used over and over again with new results each time — I was ready for some prompts specific to writing poems. I found Robert Lee Brewer’s Smash Poetry Journal: 125 Writing Ideas for Inspiration and Self Exploration and keep it in my car. When I’m early for a meeting or waiting in my car, I squeeze in a poem or two. It’s delightful. I have found that I don’t always feel inspired by the prompts in a linear fashion, so I hunt around until I find one that feels juicy at the moment.
This one’s really about the arts in general and I haven’t started reading it yet but am excited to dive in this summer: Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross. It’s one of the books I discovered and bought at Curiosity & Co bookstore, wine bar and gallery in Jamestown, RI (yes—you must make a trip there if you’re anywhere nearby.
Self-help and Health Reading
This summer I’ve returned to reading bits and pieces of Beyond Medicine by Patricia Muesham, MD. Quite inspiring and a part of my focus on health this summer. I also dipped into Paleo-Ketogenic: The Why and the How by Dr. Sarah Myhill and Craig Robinson (after finding that my vegan diet was depleting me and making it hard to kick the sugar habit). I find parts of the book helpful but honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed by the diet and the science, and the diet felt too limited to me. Then I had a consultation with health and nutrition coach Rebecca Briggs. Her explanation of the science behind what to eat and why and what it does in your body made more sense to me and her dietary recommendations were easier to implement and digest than those in this book. So, what we really need is a book by Rebecca Briggs!
Memoir Summer Reading
One of the most exciting projects I’ve worked on in my two-decade-plus career is Jim Brosnahan’s memoir Justice at Trial: Courtroom Battles and Groundbreaking Cases. I don’t think I’ve ever read a memoir with such an incredible diversity of stories. Riveting courtroom scenes and insider insights from the groundbreaking trials in James Brosnahan’s illustrious 60 years as a leading precedent-setting trial attorney made this a must-read.
Each chapter offers readers an insider view of clients, opponents, judges, and juries in civil and criminal trials and legal arguments. The social justice trials include race, women’s rights, LGBTQ+, immigration, poverty, hunger, and wrongful incarceration. Additional chapters bring to life high-profile cases that shed light on timely topics of current public debate from border politics to freedom of speech to privacy and FBI evidence tampering.
No matter how many times we edited a particular chapter, I never grew tired of reading them. Now, I look forward to reading the final, published version this summer! You can read my author interview with Jim Brosnahan and learn about his writing and publishing journey, his insights and tips.
I’m also looking forward to reading On the Rocks by Maria C. Palmer. You’ll get to hear much more about this book from Claire Nakamura’s interview with the author next week! I had the priviledge of working with Maria in the early stages of this book and it’s sure to be a riveting read: Maria’s dad was a bit of a celebrity in Pittsburgh, between his restaurant, his radio show and his foray into politics. This is Maria’s story of how everything fell apart when she was still a kid.
Other Nonfiction to Read this Summer
I’m fascinated by The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, about Christopher Columbus’ “natural” (or illegitimate – what an awful word) son, Hernando, and his quest to create the world’s most extensive library. It’s dense (and small type), so I only read a few pages at a time before bed, which makes for a healthier nighttime reading option—I’m almost never turning the pages and telling myself, “Just one more chapter; I have to see what happens” and going to bed two hours past my bedtime. Almost never, as I said.
Inciting Joy by Ross Gay is another of my great finds from Curiosity & Co (my minimalist husband gave me a sideglance on our last visit and suggested we set a limit at four books in a day). Inciting Joy is deeply inspiring. I’m loving his essays, which are both profoundly personal and universal.
Reading Historical Fiction
What do I love about historical fiction in summer? Most historical fiction authors do an incredible amount of research. They dive deeply into their characters’ lives to understand them, and their insights tend to resonate. They bring history to life. I learn a lot from the true history and how the author resurrects the lives of true characters.
Three cheers for Julie Gerstenblatt’s Daughters of Nantucket. Well over a decade ago, I met Julie through our mutual friend, book maven Robin Kall. I know how hard Julie worked on becoming an accomplished novelist and it’s been incredible to witness her journey. I was lucky enough to attend one of Julie’s first launch events, a conversation with Robin Kall at Curiosity & Co in Jamestown RI.
Learning how Julie landed upon the historical fire that devastated Nantucket in 1846 as the inspiration behind her initial idea, how she researched, and all the ups and downs of her literary journey made it an especially fulfilling read. But even without all that context, this would have made the top of my list for fiction reads this summer. It’s timely, beautifully written, with a fabulous setting and a cast of interesting characters whose lives and lessons also relate to modern times.
Reading Marie Benedict
In addition, I went on a big Marie Benedict kick this summer! Marie is one of my favorite literary fiction authors for her fascinating character studies, insights, and imagining of the interior lives of her subjects (often based upon personal letters and other enlightening evidence), as well as her meticulous research.
It’s hard to choose favorites among her books. Still, I was most fascinated by The Only Woman in the Room (about the brilliant actress Hedy Lamar, whose patented inventions eventually made their way into cell phone technology (though her patent was expired by then) and by which the US military and WWII allies might have benefited greatly had they not had such a bias against a beautiful woman inventor.
I also greatly enjoyed two of her other novels: The Mitford Affair, about a high society, decadent British royal family and their widely divergent political intrigues—several members supporting and spying for the Nazis, one becoming a devout Communist and the main character becoming a novelist who used her career to shed light on the errors of her family’s ways, aided by a sense of humor and satire. Lady Clementine, about Clementine Churchill, like all of Benedict’s books, transported me in time, bringing history alive and providing insights into another of history’s influential women heroines whose work was at the very heart of her husband’s achievements, as well the important work she did on her own to support the people of Britain—of all classes and backgrounds.
And while I read these books well before this summer, I can’t help mentioning that if you like historical fiction about amazing women whose contributions have been mostly ignored historically, check out Her Hidden Genius and The Other Einstein.
Lisa See never disappoints, and Lady Tan’s Circle of Women drew me into a powerful tale based on the life of Tan YunXian, a woman physician in 15th-century China. The details of the bound feet were a little tough to read, but See is masterful at putting aside modern sensibilities and putting herself in the shoes (pardon the pun) of the people she writes about and the mores of their times. For a video interview of Lisa See about one of my favorites of her books, The Island of Sea Women, where she shares her creative process, go here, and for a written transcript of the interview, go here.
I picked up When Franny Stands Up at Curiosity & Co (reminder, it’s worth a trip!—; and if you’re hungry, hop across the street and enjoy the crispy Brussels sprouts and magical outdoor seating at Beech Restaurant or the heavenly tacos at Tallulah’s Taqueria (or both)!). This book is a sweet first novel about a young Jewish woman during and after WWII, a wannabee stand-up comic whose parents don’t approve. There are some very inventive aspects (read it to discover the magic of “The Showstopper”). The humor is old-fashioned and reflects the period and culture, which I imagine was not an easy feat.
I enjoyed Jodi Piccoult’s Mad Honey, but I did find it heavy-handed. Still, a good read overall, and I always enjoy a book that teaches me more about some aspect of nature, in this case, Bees.
I absolutely love Isabel Allende, so I expected her pitch-perfect magical realism, well-drawn characters and spellbinding storytelling when I picked up The Wind Knows My Name. Sadly, I was disappointed and wondered whether it was just a poor translation. Or perhaps someone else wrote this book and Isabel Allende added a touch of her magical realism and the publisher put her name on it. Or maybe this just isn’t one of her best. Either way, I’d rather re-read any of her earlier novels and I found myself skimming partway through.
Rom Com and Chick Lit for Summer Reading
Sometimes I just need a satisfying love story and a good laugh. Or even just one of those will do.
Emily Henry’s humor, playfulness and complicated relationships make her novels enjoyable page-turners. Happy Place, about a previously engaged couple who break up and end up having to spend a week together, trying to hide the break up from their college friends, was enjoyable and kept me up way too late at night!
Ah, poetry! My third love (discovered after Dr. Seuss and the Madeline books).
A big thank you to the ever-helpful staff at Wakefield Books who introduced me to Padraig O Tuama’s Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World. I’m not big on overanalyzing poetry. Part of what makes it magical defies interpretation and examination. But this book is helping me appreciate one poet’s vision and delight in his curated list of favorites. His insights into each poem’s personal and universal aspects have shed light and helped me appreciate and understand them more. And it’s lovely to discover new poems beloved by someone deeply immersed in the genre.
Happy reading. Let me know what you are reading this summer.