Do you love a great read? I'm guessing that great books — whether in paperback, eBook, or audiobook format — are one of the many reasons that you have a library card. Have you always been a reader, like me? Did you sneak a flashlight under the covers as a kid? Have you ever carefully chosen books for a vacation to set the right tone for the beach vs mountains vs backyard chilling?
And what about genre preferences? Though I waver a bit based on my mood, I generally crave fiction, often with a splash of horror and a dash of chick-lit. I love entertainment, escape, narrative hills, and valleys, losing myself in fantastic or chilling worlds. I bet you might be the same, finding yourself in the same genre aisle just to see what’s new and next! I compare it to loving Mexican food, for example; I’ll take a delish enchilada 75% of the time and never, ever be disappointed.
But lately, I’ve been having a serious flirtation with non-fiction, a bit of travel here and there, and some current event tomes. But my new, recent obsession is suddenly memoirs because truth really is stranger than fiction.
Non-Fiction: Tales of Celebrity, Horror & Renewal
Curling up with Jenny Lawson’s latest, “Broken (In the Best Possible Way),” is much like reading her blog but with better editing. Lawson (known online as "The Bloggess") is constantly delightful. Reading this book was like sitting down and catching up with an old friend over a wonderful weekend. It hit all my high marks (parenting, marriage, and politics) and every page is riotously funny. If you do not finish the book and feel immediately moved to pass it along to a friend, you might need more friends. Let Lawson be yours.
I picked up Charlie Gilmour’s “Featherhood” knowing nothing about it except that it had something to do with a bird in London. Sometimes that is enough. Luckily, Gilmour’s beautiful ode to fatherhood (get it?) and family is a lyrical memoir of a formative time in his life. I was halfway through the book before I realized Charlie is the stepson of Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour. Not that this mattered to the story, but in retrospect, sure, more of his tale makes sense now. There is something “behind the curtain” about listening to the adult child of a celebrity (or in this case, two – read the book) ruminate on their childhood. But you will learn more about magpies than you ever thought possible and will never look at those birds the same way again.
Sometimes I read memoirs the way others read true crime. I want a close-up look at a horrible situation but remember to keep some distance and not to internalize it. Michelle McNamara’s obsessive, brilliant reporting in “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” — her quest to uncover the Golden State Killer — possibly led to her untimely death before finishing it, and shows exactly why such distance is necessary. Tragedy is often what makes a memoir compelling.
Another example of this is Vince Granata’s “Everything is Fine,” his moving memoir about grief, mental illness, and the bonds of family. He tries to understand the violence of his schizophrenic brother, which resulted in his mother’s murder. This was not light summer reading but Granata is a gifted writer and this, his first book, is about a subject so near and painful that I am amazed he was capable of writing it. Yes, after I finished I needed hugs and chocolate. But I am still grateful that Granata shared that sharp, awful piece of his life with the reader. I wish more readers would open themselves up to the understanding he shares. We could all use a touch of empathy and he has so much of it to share.
Finally, Michelle Zauner’s “Crying in H Mart” reflects on her complicated relationship with her mother in this coming of age memoir. The book has everything you could want: family, love, food, identity, culture, food, community, and did I mention food? In the aftermath of a year where we have all longed for those connections, “Crying in H Mart” is especially poignant. Beware: you might find yourself attempting to make some of her mother’s delicious Korean dishes, such as pajeon or gimbap (or order takeout) in an effort to immerse yourself in, and prolong, this read.
Fiction: Dangerous Summer Parties, Space Drama & Murder Most Foul
For some more fabulous summer reads, I couldn’t ignore my love of fiction! To spread the love around, I asked my fellow librarians for some can’t-miss titles, and they enthusiastically shared the following:
"Project Hail Mary" by Andy Weir — The author of "The Martian" delivers another space drama where the fate of the planet lies in the hands of one resilient scientist.
"The Lost Apothecary" by Sarah Penner — NPR described this as “a poisonously good read ... An enthralling work of mystery, murder, trust, and betrayal …. that flows skillfully from past to present, revealing the heartaches and lost dreams of three captivating main characters in a page-turningly tense drama that surprises right up until the final paragraph."
"Malibu Rising" by Taylor Jenkins Reid — Author of "Daisy Jones and the Six" offers up a true summer read. Four siblings throw an epic end-of-summer party that goes dangerously out of control.
"The Final Girl Support Group" by Grady Hendrix — The girls in question are six survivors of massacres and the support group meets regularly to deal with their trauma….until one week, only five girls are present. Hendrix’s novel is clever, chilling, and satirical summer fun.
"Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams" — This historical thriller set in Cold War Europe is the perfect antidote to a hot summer.
Thanks for taking time to indulge me and my fellow librarians. We love hearing from you so please send us your favorite summer fiction vs non-fiction titles at ASK@LVCCLD.org!