A Summer Reading List
Featuring Cree Myles' tips on making time to read and plenty of recommendations.
Our collective migration to the great outdoors has arrived. Is your tote bag ready? I’ve already started to collect my summer essentials: SPF, petty cash for Mister Softee, a few spare hair ties, and a stacked holds queue at the Brooklyn Public Library.
Reading has no season, but my own cadence always skyrockets in summer. I could blame this on the after effects of mandatory middle school summer reading or the booming “beach read” industry, but really, it comes down to the weather. Reading in the park is one of my most treasured hobbies, especially in New York. It’s an opportunity to sit in the sun, people watch between chapters, and try to ignore the bugs feasting on my ankles.
If the weather is warm, a book can provide a premise for the whole afternoon. How wonderful that it can also fill in the gaps between running errands and happy hour or act as novocaine for a packed A train home from Rockaways.
I suspect most of my taste in books comes from my mom, who gets nervous if the stack on her bedside table dwindles below three. She shared all her favorites with me: Ann Patchett, Jeffrey Eugenides, Donna Tartt. I still love novels above all else, but often find myself overwhelmed with buzzy new releases and still unread “classics,” wondering what to read next. So I spoke with Cree Myles, a great literary content creator, about how she gets it done. Read on for her approach and summer reading recs, plus a few of my own.
Finding space to read
Reading as a regular hobby involves some logistics: finding new books, making time to read them, and continuing the search again. Here’s Cree’s approach:
How do you keep track of what you want to read? I'm sure there are so many books on your radar.
So, I actually created a 2021 reading list at the end of 2020. Being a literary content creator, you can fall subject to FOMO watching new release after new release. You can forget what you want to learn and why you got into the space in the first place. My reading list has a healthy mix of new and old releases to keep me focused. You can find the list here: https://bookshop.org/shop/creemyles
I'm thinking a lot about cultivating time to read. When do you read, and how do you set the vibe?
This has been an ever-evolving adventure as my youngest has quickly gone from an infant taking 3 naps a day to a very busy two-year-old. I make reading during his nap non-negotiable. I also read for at least 45 minutes before bed (though I try to do an hour). My favorite space is when our home library is clean and I can snuggle up in our papasan chair. Also hammock reading during camping season, right?
What are you looking forward to reading this summer?
A brand new edition of Ralph Ellison’s “Juneteenth” was just released that I’m excited to dive into. Also Akwaeke Emezi’s memoir comes out June 8th! Also I’m going to spend some time with Jasmine Guillory’s stack before “While We Were Dating” comes our way in July.
Head to the library
If I ever ran for mayor of New York, a core part of my platform would include unifying the city’s library systems. There are three across the five boroughs, and none of the library cards are accepted at the other. This makes me feel cranky in a very Fran Lebowitz kind of way.
Still, I love living by a branch. I’m allowed exactly 10 holds in the Brooklyn Public Library, and I strategize about the best way to use them all at once to ensure a steady flow of new reading material. This is because the holds queue is an extremely reliable hype barometer, with an immediate correlation between glowing glossy reviews and months-long waits. I try to game the system by balancing a few holds for newer releases with several more attainable books (read: anything non-fiction or published before 2019). I’m currently number 165 of 261 for “Crying in H Mart” but only 1 of 3 for “Weapons of Math Destruction” a book about the societal impact of algorithm).
I place holds by scanning the mega list on my phone’s Notes app. It’s way too many recommendations with zero content or descriptions, culled six years of any conversation, bedside table, or article I’ve read over the past six years with a trustworthy taste level. It’s not an ideal situation, so I also turn to the experts: Read Like The Wind, Molly Young’s book recommendation newsletter for New York Magazine, is an all-time favorite. It’s deliciously written, and every recommendation I’ve tried has been a winner. I also love following Noname Book Club, IG stories from my old boss Carey Polis, and everything Cree posts on her Patreon.
A few of my recommendations for your summer enjoyment
In no particular order:
Lizzy Goodman’s anthology of the booming NYC indie music scene from 2001-2011 is a treasure trove of interviews (read: lots of recounted shenanigans) from the likes of Karen O, James Murphy, Julian Casablancas, etc. If there’s such a thing as reading to pregame a night out, this book is it. Fun fact: Maggie Rogers and I both served as research assistants for this book.
Read if you like: Just Kids, putting The Strokes or LCD Soundsystem on every party playlist, nouveau historical fiction.
Everything Samantha Irby writes is hysterical, and her latest essay collection doesn’t disappoint. I’d say her raw, relatable takes on making friends at parties (difficult, overrated), Hollywood (difficult, overrated), and getting confused for Roxanne Gay (hysterical, happens all the time) feel like texts from your funniest friend, but really, who has a friend as funny as Irby?
RILYL: Dorothy Parker, dirtbag humor, French fries as a meal.
Chelsea G Summer’s story of a chic food journalist who murders and eats her ex boyfriends is pure gore-meets-camp. I found it easier to digest (sorry) than American Psycho (the book, which I admittedly couldn’t finish) but it’s still not for the squeamish. Still thrilling!
RIYL: Kill Bill, stilettos as a lethal weapon, trussing a brisket.
I gulped down Brit Bennett’s story of once-inseparable Black twin sisters whose paths diverge when one chooses to pass as white. The plot winds over four decades, looping through generations and states to muse on varying questions of identity and belonging. It’s luminous. Read it now before it comes to HBO.
RIYL: The Bluest Eye, Southern accents, family resemblances.
Kevin Wilson has the sharpest voice I’ve read in a minute, and his story about a woman enlisted to help a privileged old friend contend with an unsavory problem (children that burst into flames! for real!) does not disappoint.
RIYL: Dry humor with a sprinkle of magical realism, class consciousness, a good comeuppance.
Richard Powers’ ode to trees and humanity is epic in every sense of the word. First, it’s very, very long. But if nine storylines, each centered around a tree and a person, that ultimately converge sounds like your shit, get this now. Everyone I’ve met who has read this book seems to love it, and I’ll join the chorus (and the 2019 Pulitzers) in saying it’s truly beautiful and well worth your time.
RILY: Feeling small in the vastness of the world, activism that borders ecoterrorism, culinary and/or psychedelic mushrooms.
Okay, you know I haven’t read this yet. But I feel confident making the recommendation because Michelle Zauner’s viral 2018 New Yorker essay (which led to the creation of this memoir) is one of my all-time favorites. It focuses on caring for her dying mother and her connection to her Korean heritage, largely through food. I can’t wait to read it.
RILY: Family bonds, tearing up in public, tteokbokki.
What are you reading this summer? Let me know.
A few of my recent stories:
A Vintage Sailboat Is Ferrying Local Goodies From Hudson to Brooklyn (NY Mag/ Grub Street)