Another year, another reading list. You know Summer™ is officially here when book folk begin busting out the reading recommendations. ‘Tis the season of the beach read, and in that vein we humbly offer up our own choices. So without further ado, here’s what we (and we hope soon you) plan to pick up this summer.
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
(9781910296967, Galley Beggar Press, £14.99)
In an ideal world I’d take a week off to read Ducks, Newburyport. If I stuck to a regime of 200 pages a day, I’d be able to get through it in 5 and a bit days. It’s one of the biggest, most impressive books I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen quite a lot of books. Spanning 1020 pages and written in pretty much one long sentence, give or take the odd full stop, it’s a real wonder. In Ducks, an “Ohio housewife tries to bridge the gap between reality and the torrent of meaningless information that is the United States of America.” Weaving in Trump, school shootings, children, dead parents, sex, African Elephants, and many other things, this is a real publishing event that is already causing a massive stir in the media. I’m about 100 pages in so far, it being too big to carry around. Please can I have that week off now?
Plastic Emotions by Shiromi Pinto
(9781910312315, Influx Press, £9.99)
I read the first couple of chapters of Plastic Emotions a while ago and reader, I was hooked. I was also reading three other things at the time, and so I put it to the side until I had time to give it the attention it deserves, which is happily now! Based on the life of Sri Lankan architect and forgotten feminist icon Minette de Silva, Plastic Emotions charts de Silva’s career, her affair with infamous Swiss modernist Le Corbusier, and her efforts to build an independent Sri Lanka as it heads towards political turmoil. Written in lyrical, intimate prose, this is immensely enjoyable and a sure-fire lit prize contender this year. It’s also one of those rare gems that doesn’t come around so often, so go get a copy!
As a big fan of both comics and lesbians, I’ve been excited about Sensible Footwear ever since it was announced to us seven months ago. A personal and political history, it follows the life of creator Kate Charlesworth as she grows up and into her queerness in Yorkshire. Kate’s own story is set against the gay rights movement, documenting decades of queer history alongside her personal life story. From 1950, when gay men could face custodial sentences, violence against queers, and lesbian invisibility, through to Stonewall, Act Up, Section 28, and the Lesbian Avengers, and onwards to equal marriage and trans rights, this is a truly wonderful, in-depth and moving look at our past. It’s a visual treat, too. A mix of illustrations, collage, and photography, it reminds me of Emil Ferris’s seminal My Favorite Thing is Monsters. The original gay rights flyers and pins included are very cool too. FUN SIDENOTE: The first time I saw Sensible Footwear in the flesh was when I bumped into the publishers on a train from Gatwick, where I’d just landed from… Lesbos (lol).
Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers by Sady Doyle
(9781612197920, Melville House, £14.99)
Hands up if you like monsters, feminism, pop fiction, TV, cult horror movies, and Nancy from iconic 90s movie The Craft? This book is for you! A razor sharp and encyclopaedic read, Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers is an exploration of female monsters throughout pop culture, and what they say about society, especially when held up against today’s feminism. It’s a sympathetic look at the women we fear and why we fear them, from Lilith to Carrie to Aileen Wuornos.
Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest by Hanif Abdurraqib (9781911545446, Melville House, £8.99)
In last year’s essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hanif Abdurraqib wrote about music in the wider context of 21st Century America – with all its racism, death, injustice, and beauty – but also on the macro level of its near holy place in his own life. Go Ahead in the Rain condenses all of this further, examining those themes in relation to just one band – A Tribe Called Quest. Hanif has said that he wanted to treat A Tribe Called Quest with the same historical reverence afforded to bands like The Beatles or Pink Floyd, but at its heart Go Ahead in the Rain is about a specific arc of fandom. Music fandom is one of my favourite ever subjects, so this is perfect for me. Also, Hanif Abdurraqib is a transcendental genius.
The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling
(9781911231318, Text Publishing, £10.99)
In summer, it seems like everyone leaves – and if they can’t, they want to. An escape novel is the next best thing. In Lydia Kiesling’s debut, a young mother on the verge of a breakdown flees her sane and sorted life in San Francisco for the high desert of Altavista with her toddler. There Daphne drinks too much and behaves erratically, and struggles to square her interior life with the realities of America and motherhood.
Anthony Bourdain: The Last Interview by Anthony Bourdain (9781612198248, Melville House, £12.99)
Since he died, I have not been able to shut up about Anthony Bourdain. I don’t know what it is – I was only tenuously aware of his work while he was alive, hardly what you’d call a major fan. I had vague intentions to read Kitchen Confidential to see if it tallied with my own experience. Then he died, and I read it, and it did, and I’ve been mainlining his work and his interviews ever since. There’s just something about his voice (actual and otherwise) that’s like talking to a friend over a pint. I need to know what he thought about… just, anything really.
Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison
(9780857303189, No Exit Press, £8.99)
I’m a chapter into this Western and enjoying the unique voice of its protagonist already: Jess Harney is a sharp-shooting, 17-year-old who must set off on a quest to find her outlaw brother after she is orphaned, disguising herself as a boy for safety. 1880s Kansas is palpable from the very first paragraph, with the colours of the big, wide countryside as vivid as anything, the textures rich and evocative, and an intense thread of emotion woven through the prose that I can’t wait to follow. Having very little experience with the Western genre, a ‘rich melodrama of gun-slinging, hidden identities, conflicted loyalties, and high-stakes emotion’ (Kim Fu, author of For Today I Am a Boy) seems like an excellent place to start.
The Fragility of Bodies by Sergio Olguín, trans. by Miranda France (9781912242191, Bitter Lemon, £8.99)
Some may say summer is for light-hearted reads – I say it’s not the tone but the transportive quality. The perfect holiday book takes you away to somewhere (or sometime) else and immerses you completely in the unique atmosphere of a specific context. In noir-thriller The Fragility of Bodies the reader is dropped onto the streets of Buenos Aires to follow journalist Verónica Rosenthal, an ambitious young woman with a thirst for justice (and bourbon). The case she’s tackling is a gruesome one involving apparent suicides by train that turn out to be the result of a cruel game of Russian roulette played by a group of men on the city’s working-class youths. This is the first in a series of novels that has become a TV-adapted sensation in its native Argentina, and I look forward to discovering what all the fuss is about.
Foxfire, Wolfskin & Other Stories of Shapeshifting Women by Sharon Blackie (9781910463680, September, £14.99)
Sharon Blackie is the author of feminist manifesto If Women Rose Rooted (among others) and this first literary fiction collection seems the natural progression of her writing career, combining her enduring interest in traditional folklore and feminism to create a set of weird and wonderful short stories. The book itself is gorgeous, wrapped in black with a fiery fox illustration leaping over the spine, and I’m particularly intrigued by the story ‘The Madness of Mis’, inspired by the medieval tale ‘The Romance of Mis and Dubh Ruis’. As it goes, Mis’s father Dóire Dóidgheal was killed by the famous Fionn mac Cumhaill himself, and in her grief at his death she rose up into the air like a bird and flew away to haunt the mountain range that became known after her – the Sliabh Mis mountains. This is a story I half-remembered from school, and to come across it again in this new form is an unexpected surprise.
Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch
(9780735210936, Riverhead, £19.99)
As those who spend a lot of time with me will attest, I have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of memes, vines, and other viral content that serves absolutely no practical purpose. Because Internet looks at the phenomenon of the English language as it is used online – from distinct grammar structures to reaction gifs and emoji use. It’s scientifically informed and linguistically brilliant, framing language as ‘humanity’s greatest open-source project’, and sounds like a heckin’ good summer read to me.
LaGuardia by Nnedi Okorafor
(9781506710754, Berger Books, £16.99)
I’ve been a fan of Nnedi Okorafor’s work ever since I picked up Lagoon while shelving in the bookshop I worked at, and safe to say, that particular copy never made it to the shelf. I then read a whole bunch of other stuff by her (Who Fears Death, anyone?), and now consider her one of my favourite authors. Set in the future, LaGuardia follows pregnant Nigerian-American doctor Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka who is en route from Lagos to New York and assisting a plant-like alien in fleeing from violence. Next up: smuggling the refugee through LaGuardia’s Interplanetary Airport. It sounds brilliant, and I for one can’t wait to read it.
Where I End and You Begin by Preston Norton
(9781484798355, Disney Books, £14,99)
A queer bodyswap
fic story complete with song-reference title that uses Twelfth Night as a framework – if that doesn’t make you want to read it I can’t help you. Honestly, this is pretty much a whistle-stop tour of my favourite tropes in (fan)fiction, and someone’s only gone and written a whole book about it. Incredible.
How To Be Autistic by Charlotte Amelia Poe
(9781912408320, Myriad Editions, £8.99)
Even within the medical profession there is so much we don’t know about being autistic, and even fewer of us who are neurotypical have an idea of what it’s really like to live on the spectrum. It is then with both eagerness and some trepidation that I look forward to reading Charlotte’s divulging memoir How To Be Autistic, recounting her personal experiences as someone living with autism. That far from being an illness to be ‘fixed’, autism makes up an important part of her personality and expression. It’s so easy to observe the lives of neurodivergent people from the outside-in, but it’s not very often we are given an opportunity to understand their interior lives from their own perspective. Technically this book isn’t out until September, but these days UK summers (and my hayfever) seem to drag on until October like some kind of feverish nightmare, so I’m running with it.
Rolled a One by Chris Baldie
(9781910775233, BHP Comics, £8.99)
The cross-over between DnD and comics should be an obvious one, but rarely does it get realised in graphic novel form. Picked up by Scottish indie publisher BHP Comics, Rolled a One does just that, interweaving a short but touching story of new-found friendships against the backdrop of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Like a feel-good summer blockbuster, but less lame, and with elves.
Emanon Vol. 2: Emanon the Wanderer by Shinji Kajio & Kenji Tsuruta (9781506709826, Dark Horse, £12.99)
If you’re a fan of manga and haven’t picked up Emanon yet I implore to stop reading right now and grab a copy (then please come back and finish our blog), its one of the most impressive things I’ve read this year and August couldn’t come sooner so I can pick up Volume 2. Based an award-winning sci-fi story about a mysterious girl with a three-billion-year memory, it’s an exquisitely drawn meditation on fleeting encounters and how memories shape us. The next volume goes beyond the original material to continue Emanon’s wanderings across a beautifully realised late 1960s Japan, and I suspect it will only want to make to visit the country even more. I reviewed the first volume when it came out back in May, which you can check out here.
Marvel Visionaries: Stan Lee by Stan Lee & various artists (9781302918392, Marvel, £29.50)
Last year, the world of comics lost one of its greatest contributors as Stan Lee – the legendary co-creator of some of Marvel’s most memorable characters – passed away. Having shaped a large part of my reading habits, I can’t wait to reflect on some of his most memorable stories in this new edition of Marvel Visionaries: Stan Lee. As well as collecting the obvious additions such as his first work for Marvel (a prose Captain America story) and the first appearance of Spider-Man, there’s a great mixture of some of his best known comics and hidden gems including Daredevil’s clash with the Sub-Mariner, the legendary Spider-Man drug stories and some classic Thor and Silver Surfer issues. In addition, the sheer amount of artistic talent on display (Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Gil Kane – just to name a few) is pretty hard to match.
O Maidens in Your Savage Season 3 by Mari Okada & Nao Emoto (9781632368201, Kodansha, £10.99)
Legendary anime writer Mari Okada’s manga debut continues to be a delight. She wrote and directed Maquia – one of my favourite films from last year, so it is great to see her flourishing in another medium. Paired with supremely talented Forget Me Not artist Nao Emoto, she has created with one of the best and most measured coming of age/puberty stories in comics. The main characters that make up the literature club that are some of the most memorable characters in manga aimed at teens in recent years. An anime adaptation has just started streaming on HIDive that is also written by Okada making this a perfect excuse to continue the series.
Tonta by Jaime Hernandez
(9781683962052, Fantagraphics, £17.99)
The latest entry in the Hernandez brothers much loved Love and Rockets series, I don’t need much of an excuse to pick this comic up. Jaime once again gets to show how he great is at depicting everyday family life. Tonta is a great character whose reckless approach to life has made her just as memorable as Maggie and Hopey which is no easy task. She is naturally a perfect choice to be spotlighted in this new standalone graphic novel. Having to juggle teen crushes with murder mysteries is no easy task but Jaime always makes this sort of thing look easy. This will be one I’ll definitely devote an afternoon to.
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