In most industries, summer is the time for the sugar-coated, mindless entertainment. There's the dance party anthems in the music industry; the blockbusters in film. It's not that different for books. With the expectation of beach vacations and weekend visits to the pool, you'll occasionally hear publishers talk about "light summer reading." At the Observer, we'd like to think you're better than that. You finally have time to pick up a book, don't you want it be a good one? That's why Caroline North and myself bumped our heads together to compile this list for you of books, new and old that will entertain you, break your heart, challenge your intellect and keep you hooked page after page.
The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
This summer, it's likely Nell Zink is going to sneak her way into your life one way or another. Let The Wallcreeper be your first introduction. Although, technically not her debut novel (Mislaid comes out this month), The Wallcreeper is a novella she wrote in correspondence with Jonathan Franzen, who deserves credit for pulling Zink from obscurity. The story goes something like this: She wrote him a letter about the plight of birds after reading an essay he'd written on the topic, which presumably Zink didn't think much of. Franzen was intrigued and they struck up a pen pal relationship. Which is probably the coolest story you'll hear this year. Besides it's not often you can catch someone at the beginning of what promises to be a prosperous career.
Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce
Another debut novel worth packing in your beach bag is last year's Love Me Back by local author Merritt Tierce. It's the fictionalized account of Tierce's time waiting tables at steakhouses in Dallas, and it's a heart-tugging story about self-destruction and young adulthood. The prose pulls you along on a journey through devastation,degradation and heartbreak. Tierce's writing is mesmerizing.
Blackout by Sarah Hepola
This memoir by Dallas author Sarah Hepola sends the author on a bit of detective work into her own life, to learn things about herself that were lost to the many times she drank too much and blacked out. Or as she puts it in her subtitle, "Remembering the things I drank to forget." It's an incisive, funny look backward at life. Hepola is a writer, much like Tierce, whose prose is addictive. Hepola describes drinking in a visceral language she paints a picture in your mind's eye. Releases June 23. \
Eat My Heart Out by Zoe Pilger
After reading book after book where the female protagonist seems compelled to aimlessly follow a man, the narrator in Pilger's debut novel novel was the best kind of shocking. Think the Broad City girls on acid. Young, dissatisfied Anne-Marie prowls the streets of London looking for love and inspiration. She's hellbent on desperation. Didn't finish university, can't keep a job, and eventually falls into a friendship with an icon of second wave feminism who pushes her to new extremes. Eat My Heart Out satirizes the restless, egomaniacal millennial lifestyle with such panache it's at once lubricious and fully believable.
I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell
This autobiography from one of the formative voices of punk – singing in such bands as Television and The Heartbreakers – is Hell's origin story. From Kentucky to New York, Hell writes about friendships with Patti Smith, and his exploration of poetry, music, art. It's a story that's likely to inspire you to set out on your own artistic journey.
Sphinx by Anne Garréta
Reading Anne Garréta's Sphinx - or any work by a member of the Oulipo, I imagine - is like unraveling a puzzle. Part of the Oulipian tradition is to impose a specific constraint on the writer. For example, you could write a book without the letter "e." Even without Garréta's constraint, which may be glaringly obvious for a contemporary reader, she's written a lively novel that sends her protagonist out of the church and into the world of underground dance clubs. Published by Dallas-based Deep Vellum Publishing, it's another example of the way works translated into English open up new worlds.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
The End of the Tour, a movie about the Infinite Jest book tour, comes out in July. So if you haven’t already, it’s a good time to crack open this dystopian novel about our cultural addiction to entertainment and irony. Don’t wait for a main character or anything resembling a traditional narrative arc to emerge, just enjoy Wallace’s genius writing. The novel constantly doubles back on itself in subtle ways and is littered with in-jokes, but it never feels like he’s simply out to impress you. Infinite Jest has a lot of heart. At 1,000-plus pages it’s not light summer reading, but if you follow the schedule at infinitesummer.org, you can finish before the first cold front.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Doerr spent 10 years writing this novel and it won a little prize this year: the Pulitzer. Have you heard of it? That alone is enough to recommend this engrossing story set in occupied France during WWII. It’s about the intersecting lives of a blind Parisian girl, Marie-Laure, and a German boy, Werner. He’s an orphan with a talent for building and fixing radios that’s useful to Hitler’s regime, and his journey ultimately lands him in the French city of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure and her family have gone to escape the Nazis. Read the book that’s made every list this year.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
A couple hundred years ago we tarred and feathered people who violated social mores — in 2015 we post humiliating videos of them on YouTube. The Internet and its cloak of anonymity can make the most passive person self-righteous and bloodthirsty, and victims are disparaged as quickly as they’re forgotten, leaving the online beast to seek out its next target. No one is safe. That’s the subject of Jon Ronson’s new book, which explores the psychology of these public shamings and their aftermath. He visits with Justine Sacco, the girl who lost her job, received death threats and was essentially forced into hiding after she tweeted a tasteless AIDS joke to her 100 followers.
The Familiar: Volume 1 by Mark Danielewski
Even avid readers will admit binge-watching TV series has cut into reading time. House of Leaves author Mark Danielewski is responding to this problem by publishing a series called The Familiar, which is meant to emulate television. Danielewski proved himself adept at experimental fiction with the uber-creepy Leaves — presented as a found collection of texts and dubbed by many the scariest book you’ll ever read — so if anyone can pull of this unusual and ambitious concept, it’s him. We got the first “episode” in May and the next is to come in October. It follows nine characters in settings all over the world, including Marfa, Texas, and the fate of the world is at stake. Twenty-seven volumes are planned, with full-color illustrations throughout each. Did we mention Danielewski is ambitious? Prepare for your reading to cut into your TV time.
Your Band Sucks by Jon Fine
Jon Fine had a 30-year-long career playing music with indie bands like Bitch Magnet. Maybe you’ve heard of them, maybe not — that’s beside the point. In his memoir about the indie-rock subculture of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Fine makes clear that fame wasn’t the objective for most indie bands of that era. A few — Nirvana, for example — crossed over, but it was more about relishing and cultivating their niche, and playing to a small set of enthusiasts. Even if you’re not a nerd about the bands Fine references, his book is an interesting portrait of a place in time that has ceased to exist; in the age of the Internet, the underground is never totally hidden from view.
Dead Wake by Erik Larson
Any story is made better by a “based on a true story” tag, and no one’s better at identifying a good one and placing you in it than Erik Larson. He’s most famous for Devil In the White City, about the construction of the Chicago World’s Fair and a serial killer who lurked in its shadows, and now he’s back with Dead Wake, which tells the story of the Lusitania, a luxury ocean liner that set out from New York for Liverpool during the height of WWI and came under the Germans’ attack. Once again the story is told from the perspective of multiple different characters, many of whom you might think you know — like President Woodrow Wilson — but Larson brings them to life in a whole new way. This is creative nonfiction at its best.
On the Move by Oliver Sacks
In a moving op-ed in The New York Times this February, renowned British neurologist Oliver Sacks shared his feelings upon receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Sacks is best known for his writings on neurological disorders — like visual agnosia in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat — which make the most advanced findings on the workings of the brain compelling and accessible to the general public. Now we have his autobiography, On the Move, offering us a chance to take a more intimate look into the life of one of the most cherished scientists of our time. Sacks discusses his childhood, a foray into addiction, his first years as a neurologist, his romances and much more.