THE BEST SUMMER READS
Colson Whitehead, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, creates a stunning portrayal of turmoil in 1970s New York City in Crook Manifesto, the follow-up to 2021’s Harlem Shuffle. In Silver Nitrate, Silvia Moreno-Garcia combines historical fiction and the supernatural to tell a compelling story about Mexico City’s film industry in the 1990s.
Some of the top books to read this summer are listed below.
Rita Chang-Eppig’s gritty debut paints a captivating portrait of legendary 19th-century pirate queen Shek Yeung, the Scourge of the South China Sea. Told from Yeung’s point of view, this lyrically written high-seas adventure opens with the death of Yeung’s husband, commander of the feared Red Banner Fleet, during a botched raid on a Portuguese ship. From there, the novel traces Yeung’s struggles to secure control over the crew she believes she is destined to lead, navigate life as a new mother in a dangerous position, and defend her armies against the Chinese emperor’s push to eradicate piracy.
Pageboy, Elliot Page
Elliot Page is one of the most famous trans people in the world. In 2021, he became the first openly trans man to appear on the cover of TIME. And now, he has written his first book. Pageboy is a memoir about navigating queer love, fame, and identity. Page digs into his past in candid terms, from his childhood in Halifax, Nova Scotia to his career-turning performance in Juno. In reflecting on his success, he also reveals the challenges he faced as a queer and trans person in an industry that creates strict boundaries around how actors can look, dress, and be—and how he forged a path to the life he’s living today.
Be Mine, Richard Ford
After four novels and almost four decades in the world of Frank Bascombe, Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford is set to publish the final installment in his celebrated series. At 74, Frank is getting up there, and he’s facing mortality all around him. His first ex-wife is gone, and the child they had together, Paul, is dying. Frank became Paul’s caregiver after he was diagnosed with ALS, and now the two of them are off on a road trip from the Mayo Clinic through South Dakota to Mount Rushmore. Frank, always an oddball and never the deepest thinker, reflects on happiness—especially at the end of life. “Not every story ends happy,” Frank says. “Out in the gloom you can find some lights on.”
Holding Pattern, Jenny Xie
After getting dumped by her longtime boyfriend, dropping out of her graduate psychology program at Johns Hopkins, and moving back into her childhood home in Oakland, Calif., 28-year-old Kathleen Cheng discovers that the mother she thought she knew has become a new person in the wake of falling in love. Once plagued by depression and alcoholism brought on by her move from China to the U.S. and subsequent divorce from Kathleen’s father years ago, Marissa Cheng has discovered a new zest for life amid preparations for her wedding to a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur. Feeling unmoored by the uncertainties of her own existence, Kathleen takes a position at a “cuddle clinic” startup founded on the health benefits of touch therapy. As Jenny Xie’s tender debut novel progresses, Kathleen comes to reexamine all her relationships through the lens of her new job, particularly the maddening and affectionate bond she has with her mother.
With its wisecracking protagonist—Kathleen Deane, still reeling from her husband Tom’s declaration that he was unhappy with their Kansas life and marriage—Save What’s Left brings a tongue-in-cheek tone to the beach read genre. “Never buy a beach house,” Kathleen advises. “Don’t even dream about one. Don’t save your money or call real estate agents or pick out a white couch. If you must do something, pray for the people who do own beach houses.” It’s a perspective Kathleen develops after she moves from Kansas to a “beach house” (read: oyster shack) in Long Island, where she joins forces with her new neighbor Rosemary against the Sugar Shack, a McMansion that’s looming next door.
Ripe, Sarah Rose Etter
Ripe, Sarah Rose Etter’s second novel, has a dark, delicious edge. Thirty-three-year-old Cassie toils away at a Silicon Valley tech startup, accompanied by her own personal black hole, which hovers above her head. Only she can see it, and it may be a metaphor, or the first sign of psychosis, but it grows and shrinks depending on her moods and anxieties. Cassie’s job demands a breakneck pace (which she fuels with cocaine), her so-called friends don’t seem to care, the man she’s seeing has a girlfriend, and she might be pregnant. Blatant economic inequality and a crushing culture of ambition weigh down the city in a tale about corporate greed in the modern world.
Silver Nitrate, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Despite her talents as a sound editor, lifelong movie buff Montserrat has found it difficult to make any real headway in the male-dominated film industry of 1990s Mexico City. But when her childhood best friend Tristán, a fading soap opera star for whom Montserrat has long harbored deeper feelings, befriends his new neighbor, disgraced horror director Abel Urueta, the pair is offered what seems like a chance to turn their lives around. According to Urueta, the silver nitrate stock used for the unfinished final film that tanked his career was imbued with a luck spell by the Nazi occultist who wrote the movie’s screenplay. Urueta claims that if they finish the film, the spell will bring them all exciting new opportunities. But their foray into dark magic has unexpected consequences. From the best-selling author of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau and Mexican Gothic, this heart-pounding paranormal thriller melds real history with things that go bump in the night.
Crook Manifesto, Colson Whitehead
In his highly anticipated 11th book, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead returns to uptown Manhattan for a sequel to his 2021 best seller Harlem Shuffle. Set in a masterfully recreated 1970s New York City, Crook Manifesto continues the saga of furniture store owner and now former hustler Ray Carney. The story opens in 1971, when crime in the city is at an all-time high and tensions between the New York Police Department and militant groups like the Black Liberation Army are exploding. Carney has bid goodbye to his criminal ways—but he needs Jackson 5 tickets for his daughter, so he decides to get in touch with his old contact Munson, a crooked cop who promises Carney first-rate seats in exchange for his help moving some stolen jewelry. With two subsequent sections set in 1973 and 1976, respectively, Whitehead’s darkly funny literary crime novel serves up scenes from Carney’s life that illustrate an era of upheaval in New York’s history.
Prom Mom, Laura Lippman
With more than 20 novels under her belt, Laura Lippman is a seasoned pro at crafting mysteries and crime fiction. New to her list is Prom Mom, about cold commercial real estate developer Joe Simpson and the women in his life, including Amber Glass, the “prom mom” in question. More than two decades ago, the pair went to the big dance together. Amber had concealed her 28-week pregnancy until the night of the event, when, barely conscious, she delivered a preemie in a hotel bathroom (a story that’s reminiscent of a real case). The baby died, and Amber was accused of murder. Now, she is drawn back to her hometown of Baltimore, where she can’t seem to untangle her path from Joe’s—and soon she’s roped into his scheme to escape financial ruin.