What We're Reading, Vol. 10
What is summer if not the perfect time to read at your heart's true delight? With days too hot to function, reading is often the perfect escape from the heat and frankly, from real life in general when we need it. A book, a fan, an iced drink in the shade, and we are all set to make our escapes, through time, locations, expectations. Lists can be rewritten, new discoveries can pull us further than the book in our hand. Perhaps we'll even graze over a few at once, miniature stacks living in our tote bags to be chosen for each summer day occasion. As seen throughout our Summer Reads series, we all have our own criteria for summer reading, but the key at every season is enjoyment, and if that changes things, then so be it.
In June, we shared lists of all the books we hoped to read over the summer, setting our hearts on book stacks and goals, and earlier this month a few of us discussed reading habits in the heat. Here, we share what we’re actually reading this July, whether it's on our list or not:
I’m off to the US for a two-week holiday on Thursday, so my to-read pile is a large one. Other than being a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding, the only plans I have for the next two weeks are to read, drink coffee, sleep, repeat. I’ve just opened Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang, which has been on my list for ages, but I’d be lying if I said that Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women isn’t number one on my list. I’ve recently become my local library’s biggest fan, but I had to buy this one. I am trying desperately to save it for the flight but I have sneaked a few pages in already and can’t wait to devour it.
Most recently I finished Joan of Arc by Helen Castor, which wasn’t quite long enough for my taste but the richness with which Castor researched her subject was evident, especially in Joan’s trial. I’m on a medieval women reading binge lately, and up next in the genre is Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens by Alison Weir. There’s nothing I love more than getting deep into a thick historical book during a hazy summer afternoon, and this book is big enough that I have had to sacrifice a few pairs of shoes just to fit it in my suitcase.
I’ve been in a very cozy spot with reading the past couple of weeks, really going for whatever I most want to read, and it’s been a truly fantastic experience. I haven’t done the best job at sticking to my summer reading list as a few new releases have come out that I haven’t been able to resist. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve raced through Mona Awad’s Bunny, Courteney Maum’s Costalegre, and Mary Laura Philpott’s I Miss You When I Blink. I loved all three and enjoyed that they all held very different profiles. Bunny is the scandalous read that needs to make an appearance every season (last year, the book that played that role was Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature, which Rachel likened to Mean Girls in a piece for the Attic). Costalegre is the fantastic, moody, perfect art-centric summer novel, which Raquel has qualified as “lush” and “tempestuous.” I Miss You When I Blink meanwhile is is a collection of essays that gets to you by hitting very close to home but making you laugh all the while.
Next up, I’m reading Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood (actually on my summer reading list!), having been further inspired by reading Costalegre (which boasts many characters based on Peggy Gugenheim’s real life circle of artists), and then looking to dive into Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise, Lara Williams’s Supper Club, and Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing.
I’m always looking for ways to balance my writing life, between the academic and the creative. Investing in books about creative writing is certainly one way for me to remind myself that first and foremost, I love to write, and that writing is something I sometimes actually enjoy doing. Now, writing about a book about writing is surely a bizarre experience for a writer. As would be reading about a book about writing for a reader. Putting aside my love for word play, talking about Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing is a challenge. I picked up this book cautiously, never having been fully taken by this genre. I am halfway through but already I feel like this is a different work. First of all, this is a collection of lectures – not the kind you’re forced to go to as a student, but the kind you queue for for hours of your own free will. The personal becomes irrevocably intertwined in this exploration of the big writing questions, who are writers, why do they write, what do they write, how do they write? What I have been enjoying the most is the demystification of the craft: it’s not about ivory towers and special people, but about the most ‘democratic’ of arts, as Atwood herself puts it, and its accessibility. A lot of the assumptions about writing centre around a je ne sais quoi that writing supposedly possesses, a mystery, an ineffable quality that only ‘Writers’ with the big W have. I like that so far a lot of this book moves away from that and tries to go to a place of stories, memories, and experience that are relatable and sometimes even mundane.
My reading list for this summer has, until recently, been populated primarily by all-female coteries, from the bewitching clique of instagram (or at least, stereotypically instagrammable) girls in Mona Awad’s Bunny to a collective of young women recovering their hungry appetites in Lara Williams’s Supper Club. However, as I await — rather impatiently — the arrival of Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women in my local bookstore, I’ve taken a slight detour and started reading Richard Powers’s The Overstory instead. What begins as a series of family histories unfolds, in this novel, like a tree into a magnificent tale spanning centuries, if not millennials, about the planet’s existence and its future. It is a refreshing departure from stories of human concerns, though its view of humanity’s destructive capacity, when juxtaposed against the earlier mentioned texts, then presents two competing discourses on human desire. On one hand, a literal reclamation of space to live — the uninhibited expansion of one’s being — has been framed as a feminist act. On the other, the shrinking of the self, the attention to (nonhuman) others — something almost like Simone Weil’s notion of decreation — seems almost vital for mankind to persist. I’m not too certain where I stand between these two polarities, though neither seems quite satisfying as yet. I suppose all I can do is to keep reading on, and who knows, some light might finally reach me through the thick of the canopy by the end of this long summer.
At the end of June, I came out of a reading slump and into something like a reading marathon. I started by reading a duology that I’ve been meaning to read since I was a teenager: Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. I enjoyed the first book a lot and struggled with the second. I then picked up Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which has a film adaptation that I’ve loved since I first saw it in the cinema. Weirdly enough, I feel like the narrative makes more sense on screen, but it’s still a fun and easy read that definitely has earned its stripes as the ultimate beach read. I then powered through Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which would have been much more fun if my parents hadn’t told me the ending just as I got past the half-way point. Also this July, I read Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. Over the past few months I’ve really got into watching booktube (what it says on the tin: YouTube channels focused on books). There’s something very calming about watching people talk about books, even if I haven’t read them. I decided to read Radio Silence because I saw quite a few of these booktubers say how much they loved the book and how it had elements similar to one of my favourite podcasts: Welcome to Night Vale. I didn’t hate the novel and I realised pretty quickly that Oseman was pandering to a very different demographic than the one I’m a part of. However, I do think she wrote pretty much all of this book directly logged into Tumblr (Tumblr plays a very big role in the plot of the book and every time I had to read italicised Tumblr post tags, I physically cringed). If you happen to be 14-17 and feeling a little lost in the world or with school or university, this book might be for you.
Now tell us below – what are you reading this month?
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