On summer reading.


I was on KUOW today to talk about my favorite subject: reading for pleasure. The theme was summer reading, which has always had warm and fuzzy connotations for me: I was a summer reading volunteer at my local public library during my teen years, and I have lots of pleasant memories of hot summer days spent in an air-conditioned library with good books.

What makes a book a summer read? I think that’s up to the reader. For some folks, it’s “guilty pleasure” books (although I think you should never feel guilty about reading anything) and for other folks, like Tom (who joined me on the show today), it’s about having extended time to invest in reading something deeply. Summer reading doesn’t have to be light and frothy, but I do  think summer reading is about whatever gives you escape and pleasure.

With that in mind, here are some books that might float your boat this summer.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

If you love comics and princes who wear fancy dresses, this graphic novel fairy tale is for you. Prince Sebastian is being pressured by his family to find a wife–but they don’t know who he is at night, when he transforms into fashionable Lady Crystallia. Dressmaker Frances creates gorgeous gowns for Lady Crystallia, but will she ever become famous in the fashion world if she has to continue keeping the Prince’s secret? This lovely book has a heartwarming conclusion. Keep an eye out for the forthcoming film from Universal Pictures!

Ship It by Britta Lundin

Lundin, a writer for the wildly popular series Riverdale, shows off her insider knowledge of the TV industry in her debut queer young adult novel. Claire is a 16-year-old megafan of TV show Demon Heart, while Forest is an actor on the show who dreams of bigger roles. Their worlds collide when Claire confronts the show’s actors at a comic con, demanding to know when her fanfiction fantasies will be portrayed in the show’s storyline. Bonus: parts of the story are set in Portland and Seattle, a nice nod to Lundin’s Pacific Northwest roots.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

I often use the summertime to catch up on books I feel like I “should” have read already. This is one of those quintessential classics that somehow escaped me and it’s next in my TBR pile.

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes

When I was at The Strand last week, I picked up this much-anticipated collection of poems. Hayes won the National Book Award for Lighthead so I am prepared to be stunned.

Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson

In a writing workshop once, the teacher asked us to write about something that other people find disturbing but that we find beautiful. Each of these essays feels like a response to that prompt. I listened to this collection of essays on audiobook and fell in love with Chelsea’s voice: both her physical presence in my earbuds and her sentences, which feel like they’ve been cut with an X-ACTO knife blade. Hodson writes about violent love in a graffiti gang, navigating the commodification of her body in her work as a model and an American Apparel employee, playing games like Purple Moon and Grand Theft Auto, and crushing on the Backstreet Boys.

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller

This is a picture book about Mike Pence’s gay bunny who wants to get gay married but a mean stink bug won’t let him so the other animals vote out the stink bug. Yes, all the words in that sentence are correct.

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Since we’re on the subject of picture books, I have to mention Julián is a Mermaid, which depicts a little boy who wants to join the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. His abuela helps him dress up, and the gorgeous illustrations will knock your socks off (and inspire you to put on a homemade mermaid tail).

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

If you like your summer reading a bit dark and gory, this is for you. True crime writer Michelle McNamara unexpectedly passed away in April 2016 and this book, the culmination of her endless pursuit of the serial rapist/murderer known as the Golden State Killer, was published in February 2018, just a couple months before the killer was identified. If you have a bit of willpower and you like the thrill of a big reveal, you can read the whole engrossing, terrifying book, then go and read the headlines about the killer’s capture and arrest.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This novel is one of my favorite books this year, and Oprah agrees with me (it’s part of her Book Club 2.0). Celestial and Roy are newlyweds whose lives are thrown into chaos when Roy is sentenced to twelve years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. After five years of incarceration, Roy is unexpectedly released early and returns home to see what’s left of his marriage. Jones said that she got the inspiration for her novel when she overheard a couple arguing in the mall: “You wouldn’t have waited seven years for me, Roy!” / “It wouldn’t have happened to you.” She was also inspired by The Odyssey — the idea of a husband having a long journey home, wanting to find a faithful wife waiting for him.