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A Reading List for the Start of Summer

Photo: Matt Knott

It’s unofficial: Summer is here. Here are the clues: The temperature exceeded 90 degrees in my Maryland hometown. Locals have fled for Memorial Day weekend. My partner installed our window air conditioning units. The cat willingly places himself near the two fans in our living room and avoids his favorite sun patches. My new Star Wars t-shirt was drenched equally in flume ride water and human sweat during my trip to Hershey Park last week. Finally, people enter the bookstore where I work anxious for my summer reading recommendations. I am all too happy to hand them my recent favorites. Time for flip-flops, sunscreen, and, of course, summer reading.

1. “5 Great Beach Reads, Wherever You Are.”(Bethanne Patrick, LitHub, May 2016))

This isn’t longform, but it is going to be a recurring column. You may know Bethanne Patrick from her delightful essay “I Am Jessa Crispin’s Problem With Publishing,” and her latest endeavor is summer reading recommendations that are actually fun. Her introduction is feminist literary criticism that’ll make you fist-pump.

2. “I Stayed at an AirBNB Bookshop and You Can Too.” (Dan Dalton, BuzzFeed, May 2016))

In Scotland, there is a town dedicated to all things literary. It’s named Wigtown, and you—yes, you!—can rent and manage one of Wigtown’s bookstores. On his trip, Dan Dalton meets an assortment of delightful locals, nips down the street for a pint, and even manages to sell a few books. Time for a working vacation!

3. “The Summer I Learned I Wasn’t the Exception.” (Jenny Zhang, The Cut, April 2106))

Writer Jenny Zhang also spent a stint in a bookstore abroad. Her best-laid plans transform into a love affair the moment she enters the historic Shakespeare and Company and sees Logan behind the counter: “It was a movie I wanted to watch again as soon as it was over, a movie I was sure I would one day write just so I could.” If you’re as entranced by Zhang’s frank poeticism as I am, check out The Selected Jenny Zhang at Emily Books and keep an eye out for Sour Hearts, Zhang’s forthcoming collection of short stories, published by Lena Dunham’s imprint.

4. “The Fierce Triumph of Loneliness.” (Helena Fitzgerald, Catapult, May 2016)

This piece isn’t about summer, exactly, but it brings to mind the stretches of school breaks I spent reading alone or walking to the library. My solitude always felt like an adventure, like I was transgressing some sort of nameless boundary. These are microcosmic examples of the lifestyle Helena Fitzgerald embodies and explores in her essay.

As Fitzgerald began to describe her choice to leave loneliness behind to live with her boyfriend, I had a visceral reaction to this quote in particular: “A paired life is not an aspirational state, but a compromised one. Loneliness is not the terror we escape; it is instead the reward we give up when we believe something else to be worth the sacrifice.” As a lumpy weird teenager in my parents’ home, my bedroom and its six distinct bookshelves were my sanctuary. I could close the door to focus on my schoolwork, read for hours, or shut out the chaos that comes with having a family. In all of the apartment I share with my partner, there are only two doors: the front door and the bathroom door. We live on the third floor of a historic house; there was no bedroom door when we moved in and we didn’t think to ask where it was. As my partner installs our window A/C units I am grateful we have this life together, but I readily admit it is a daily struggle for me to share space. I come back to Rainer Maria Rilke’s famous quote: “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.” I think Fitzgerald would agree.