Best Books Summer 2019
Every book on this list has been read and reviewed by yours truly: The What Content Chief, Gina Pell. I choose books I think are digestible for every palate. Many novels fall into our category of Smarter Beach Reads, not too unlike Yacht Rock, which means nothing too depressing or intense. We save those lists for the winter. I hope you enjoy these picks and share this page with friends. Also, if you’ve read anything spectacular, please let me know and I’ll give it a try. Must be published in 2019.
CREATIVE PAGE TURNERS
The Editor by Steven Rowley is an absolutely delightful, witty story set in the early 90s in New York about a young-ish, gay author whose first manuscript is singled out by the inimitable Jackie O. who becomes his editor at Doubleday, a position she held in real life from roughly 1977-1993. It’s a wonderful book about the endless mystery between mothers and sons; the Camelot days of the Kennedys and then the Clintons in the 90s; forgiveness, and loving and supportive partnerships. This book exudes charm, similar to Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk, but with the added bonus of droll conversations and magical moments spent with Jackie (a fantasy I’m sure most people share). This is a book everyone will love and a must-gift for every Perennial on your list.
Stay Up With Hugo Best by Erin Somers. Hugo Best is a David Letterman-like late night talk show host who has a penchant for the ladies that eventually catches up with him. Feeling unmoored after his forced retirement he spontaneously invites a young, brooding comedy writer on his staff (whom he barely knows) for a long weekend at his luxurious compound in Connecticut. Despite their age gap, they find themselves at the same crossroads. Both share a mindset of desperation and uncertainty about what comes next and muddle through their despair together (think Lost In Translation). The exceedingly clever, comedic banter between the two is fun to read and their struggle through feelings of irrelevance and hopelessness that comes at retirement age but also right before the 30s feels all too familiar. Erin Somer’s debut novel is definitely worth staying up for.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a fun, carefree beach book— a feminist twist on ‘Almost Famous’ that graduates the groupie archetype to a headlining hot mess with a heart of gold and a whole lotta talent. Daisy Jones is not just another rocker dude’s muse. Brava! The New York Times says “ that’s the most surprising gift of “Daisy Jones & The Six” — it’s a way to love the rock ’n’ roll of the 1970s, without apology, without cynicism, bell-bottoms and all.” If you don’t want something heavy, pick this one up. I read it in a day.
Museum of Love by Heather Rose is not exactly a page-turner or a breezy read but if you are intrigued by the question, ‘What makes something art?’ or ‘What is an artist?’ then this book is for you and it’s one that has stayed with me since I’ve read it. It’s a fictional story involving love, loss, and acceptance experienced by two very different characters living parallel lives. Central to the story is the real-life performance artist Marina Abramović’s intense 2010 installation called ‘The Artist Is Present’ which drew 800,000 visitors to the New York MoMA over the course of 3 months. For 8 hours a day, Marina met the gaze of 1,000 strangers, many of whom were moved to tears, and this book weaves together this unique exhibit into the fabric of the characters who go to witness it. Original storytelling on a forever-perplexing topic.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson is not your average espionage novel featuring death-defying James Bond types. The story opens with a terrifying battle in the middle of the night between a masked intruder and an African American special agent fighting to stay alive with her kids asleep in the next room. If you’re looking for a run-of-the-mill spy thriller, this is not it. Much of the story revolves around the character’s family dynamics and race and gender politics in American intelligence during the 80s and 90s, as well as the complications, secrets, and lies told between family, lovers, and nations. We especially love that author Lauren Wilkinson is deservedly being compared to John Le Carré. It’s about time we get more women of color into the spy genre, both as characters and authors.
The Plotters by Un-Su Kim is the story told from the POV of a North Korean highly skilled assassin who turns pensive and philosophical after living an isolated life as a hired killer. It’s a very filmic book that plays in your head like a spy movie but it’s also beautifully written, reminiscent of Haruki Murakami and Adam Johnson. It’s refreshing to read fiction set in Korea from a Korean author who crafts a story that is contemplative, nostalgic, but also darkly funny.
The River by Peter Heller begins as an adventurous canoe trip with two college friends, through the Canadian wilderness and turns into a survival nightmare with both nature and man as enemies. Harrowing and tense but also wondrous and meditative like nature herself.
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan explores the conundrum of living with human-like robots who look and feel like real people and can develop nuanced feelings but still have a binary understanding of the world and therefore have difficulty assessing right from wrong or making ethical judgments. It’s a fascinating meditation on the value of human connection and compassion in an age where technology is rapidly replacing everything.
The Farm by Joanne Ramos is a story about class, race, privilege, and the things we do for love set against the backdrop of an idyllic retreat for handpicked surrogate mothers for the super wealthy. This book explores the complex relationships between the privileged and the people they employ to keep their lives running, with exploitation from the bottom rung to the top of the helipad.
The Parade by Dave Eggers is a slim novel that tackles the weighty issues of western intervention, which is often perilous and clueless, in foreign lands. The Parade follows the story of two contractors given the code names Four and Nine, who are hired to pave a highway joining a rural area to an urban capital in an unnamed country in the aftermath of a violent civil war. What should be a straightforward job with a humanitarian aim unfolds into something different and the parade to celebrate the joining of the north with the south has unintended consequences.
COMING OF AGE
The Falconer by Dana Czapnik is a beautifully written story about 17-year old Lucy Adler, an ace basketball player who has always been one of the guys until her hormones start percolating and she starts to fall in love with her handsome bestie. It’s a love story and coming of age of both New York City in 90s (during its transformation from gritty city to big brand shopping mall) and a tough girl trying on the facade of a pretty woman. Czapnik captures the angst and struggle of that awkward period just before college and the co-dependent relationships teens need in order to establish their identity. It’s also a fun trip down New York’s memory lane when grabbing a slice followed by Guss’ Pickles was a rite of passage.
Normal People by Sally Rooney is a coming of age tale that starts in a small town in West Ireland and follows an unlikely pair of lovers to Trinity College in Dublin. Rooney captures the magic of how connecting with people who are different than us can open up a whole new world and feel like a parallel universe, which nobody outside of it can understand. We also love that Sally Rooney is called the Salinger of the Snapchat generation.