Books! Do they need an introduction? Hardly! Even in this particular world, with all its bells and whistles, you'll still need (some say deserve) personal time with a satisfying novel. So here are ten of them, all contemporary, and all worth your time, energy, and whatever beach, blanket, or bed you bring them to.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism – Grady Hendrix
Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism is the perfect read for book nerds who also dig a classic horror film — who want a beach read but still care about craft. Set amid 1980s Satanic Panic, the book follows the best-friendship of Abby and Gretchen as they navigate hallucinogens, demon possession, and high school. No spoilers here, but Hendrix really knows his horror tropes and his '80s nostalgia and he wields both with a subtle yet satisfying hand.
Happiness - Aminatta Forna
I picked up this book because it had a small, cute fox on the cover. (Don’t judge me, the cover delivered.) This is a novel to become immersed in, with a collection of charming characters to juggle and a narrative that crosses continents and bounces in time between 1834 and 2014. Aminatta Forna, a Scottish and Sierra Leonean writer, keeps all these puzzle pieces straight, delivers an eye-opening tale of a marginalized people, and builds in a kismet mystery to boot.
The Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi
Think about this: Zélie and Amari live in a magical world, post magic. In her debut novel, Tomi Adeyemi tells the story of a young maji who has had that which should make up her life’s work taken out of her world, and her unique friendship with the daughter of the king who banished magic in the first place. The story is carefully crafted and the book well imagined, steeped in West African mythology and appealing to adults and younger audiences alike. Yes, there is already a movie deal.
Florida – Lauren Groff
In Lauren Groff’s story collection, Florida, danger slinks in every animal shape, snake to human, not to mention wind and land. You can taste the air coming out of this book, and it’s as lush as the state it serves as an ode to. The stories are vivacious and intense, a collection to be gobbled up or savored, one story a week, over the summer.
Tiny Crimes: Very Short Tales of Mystery and Murder – Lincoln Michel
I was so excited when I heard about Tiny Crimes. It’s a compilation of flash crime fiction, and it’s packed with favorites from my bookshelf including Carmen Maria Machado (author of Her Body and Other Parties, that book everyone was talking about last year), Maine’s own Elizabeth Hand (author of the creepy, punk rock Cass Neary novels, among so much else), Charles Yu (How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe), Amelia Gray (Threats, Museum of the Weird), and two dozen others.
In The Time of PrEP – Jacques J. Rancourt
In his new chapbook In the time of PrEP, Jacques J. Rancourt presents a sequence of poems that give perspective to how the AIDS crisis has shaped and continues to shape the queer community. Jacques’ poetry has always been thoughtful, sweet, funny, and poignant. In this collection he explores a more minimalistic style that beautifully complements his subject.
Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give – Ada Calhoun
Ada Calhoun’s essay collection, Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, is a rumination on the reality of marriage — not as a happy ending, but as an imperfect reality that is worth it only if you work at it (and even then, not all of the time). This is just the right book for a time when we continue to let go of the idea of perfection in love as a goal. It is an ode to marriage and a reality check in one. Also, funny!
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays - Alexander Chee
This one's for readers of novels who feel guilty if they don’t fit a non-fiction book into their summer schedule. Chee’s collection of essays is personal and engaging, with perspectives on identity both as an outsider and an insider, on family and sexuality, and on the gravity of the written word. If you were a fan of Chee’s (autobiographical) novel Edinburgh, you’ll want to read this (and if you haven’t checked it out yet, reading this book will make you want to read that one — win/win!).
The Recovering – Leslie Jamison
There’s a long held myth that substance abuse is okay (and maybe even necessary) if you’re a writer. This didn’t start with Fitzgerald and Hemingway, but they certainly didn’t help. In The Recovering, Leslie Jamison writes on addiction and it’s literary limitations, for both writer and character, on alcohol as charismatic and cliché. She writes earnestly and at length as a literature connoisseur and as a self-identified former addict.
Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches – John Hodgman
Vacationland is a beautifully told love story of Maine and Massachusetts. Though his first three books are compilations of made-up facts, Hodgman has reinvented himself here in careful, true narratives of his life and weird thoughts. He has carefully paired legitimately laugh-out-loud takes on dumps, various animals, and the purpose of a mustache alongside sweet moments in realizing his roles as a son, husband, and father. A must for Mainers...and weird dads.