My Aspirational Reading List

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One of the downfalls of reading numerous book reviews is that my list of books to read becomes ridiculous. Between professional review publications, blogs, newspaper reviews, and recommendations from friends, I add about five new books to my virtual list every week.  By the time summer rolls around, my stomach hurts from trying to figure out how many books I can squeeze in.

Below is a list of books that are my priority reads this summer – so far. One glowing review and the whole thing is subject to change.

A few notes: This list doesn’t even include children’s books, just adult and a couple of young adult titles. Also, I’ve included excerpts from reviews with each book. I haven’t actually read any of them, but talk to me in September!

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

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“[Atkinson’s] latest novel, Life After Life, is her very best… A big book that defies logic, chronology and even history in ways that underscore its author’s fully untethered imagination… Even without the sleight of hand, Life After Life would be an exceptionally captivating book with an engaging cast of characters… [Atkinson’s] own writerly cradle was rocked by a very sure hand indeed.” (Janet Maslin, New York Times )

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

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“One of the most engaging and gifted new voices in the genre. . . . The Cutting Season does more than exhume a body—it rattles the bones of slavery, race, class, and power to examine a crime that reverberates from more than a century ago.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution )

A Map of Tulsa by Benjamin Lytal

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“Fearless, serious, and impressive. . . . Masterly. . . . Captivating. . . . Lytal asks the essential questions: how to be good; how to be an adult; how to live outside one’s head; how to love unselfishly; how to understand if this girl, this town—any of it, anything at all—are indispensable, and if they’re meaningful enough to turn into art. . . .  Girl, town, youth and book are literary devices, as Jim—and Lytal—make clear. But the experience of love and place is not. In the tension between these truths, A Map of Tulsa finds its central insights and strengths. The girl may never have been ours to have. The town may be just a random place we’re from. Youth may be no more than a dream of possibility. But the book: the book is real. And the book, after all, is what we came for.”  (Gary Sernovitz, The New York Times Book Review)

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

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“Fowler’s Zelda is all we would expect and more…once she meets the handsome Scott, her life takes off on an arc of indulgence and decadence that still causes us to shake our heads in wonder…soirées with Picasso and his mistress, with Cole Porter and his wife, with Gerald and Sara Murphy, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Ezra Pound and Jean Cocteau. Scott’s friendship with Hemingway verges on a love affair—at least it’s close enough to one to make Zelda jealous. Ultimately, both of these tragic, pathetic and grand characters are torn apart by their inability to love or leave each other. Fowler has given us a lovely, sad and compulsively readable book.”  (starred review, Kirkus Reviews)

Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

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“Gewirtz veers away from melodrama, deftly capturing nuances of family dynamics in spare prose. … [A]udiences will appreciate this novel’s multilayered characters and touching message of hope and forgiveness.”  (School Library Journal, starred review)

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

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“Kushner watches the New York art world of the late seventies with sardonic precision and lancing humor, using Reno’s reportorial hospitality to fill her pages with lively portraits and outrageous cameos…[The Flamethrowers] is an achievement precisely because it resists either paranoid connectedness or knowing universalism. On the contrary, it succeeds because it is so full of vibrantly different stories and histories, all of them particular, all of them brilliantly alive.” (James Wood The New Yorker )

A Dual Inheritance by Joanne Hershon

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A Dual Inheritance is a big, captivating, multigenerational sweep of a romance, ranging from Africa to China to New England’s blue-blooded enclaves. With deftness and swagger, Joanna Hershon spins the intertwining of two Harvard men’s lives into a searching exploration of class and destiny in late-twentieth-century America.” (Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad)

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

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“It’s exhilarating to encounter such unrestrained vehemence in a work by this controlled, intellectual author. Messud’s previous novels, albeit extraordinarily intelligent and well-crafted, are characterized by rationed or distant emotion. The Woman Upstairs is utterly different—its language urgent, its conflicts outsize and unmooring, its mood incendiary. This psychologically charged story feels like a liberation. Messud’s prose grabs the reader by the collar…Reading Nora’s turbulent testament of belief and betrayal, you feel less like a spectator than a witness…In this ingenious, disquieting novel, [Messud] has assembled an intricate puzzle of self-belief and self-doubt, showing the peril of seeking your own image in someone else’s distorted mirror—or even, sometimes, in your own.” (New York Times Book Review)

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

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“A brilliant, madcap meditation on fate. . . . Walter’s prose is a joy-funny, brash, witty and rich with ironic twists. He’s taken all of the tricks of the postmodern novel and scoured out the cynicism, making for a novel that’s life-affirming but never saccharine.” (starred review, Kirkus Reviews)

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

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“I don’t want to insult Meg Wolitzer by calling her sprawling, engrossing new novel, The Interestings, her most ambitious, because throughout her 30-year career of turning out well-observed, often very funny books at a steady pace, I have no doubt she has always been ambitious. . . . But “The Interestings” is exactly the kind of book that literary sorts who talk about ambitious works . . . are talking about. . . . Wolitzer is almost crushingly insightful; she doesn’t just mine the contemporary mind, she seems to invade it.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

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“Suppose fairy tales came true. Suppose an ordinary teenage girl from a Missouri trailer park was suddenly on the cover of Vogue, dating a Hollywood hunk, and possibly in line to be the next queen of England? That’s what happens to 18-year-old Becky Randle in playwright/screenwriter Rudnick’s YA debut, an inspired mashup of familiar stories—commoner becomes princess, ugly duckling turns beautiful—made new. Instead of three wishes, Becky, rechristened Rebecca, receives three dresses from reclusive super-designer Tom Kelly, who knew Becky’s late mother. The ensembles transform Becky into nothing less than the most beautiful woman in the world…with a couple of catches. With writing that’s hilarious, profane, and profound (often within a single sentence), Rudnick casts a knowing eye on our obsession with fame, brand names, and royalty to create a feel-good story about getting what you want without letting beauty blind you to what’s real.”  (starred review, Publishers Weekly)

The Supremes At Earl’s All You Can Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore

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“Throughout the Supremes’ intertwined stories is one constant—meeting and eating at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, a place where relationships are forged, scandals are aired and copious amounts of chicken are consumed. . . . A novel of strong women, evocative memories and deep friendship.”  (starred review, Kirkus Reviews)

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

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(I loved Prep and American Wife – this was an automatic!)

There are also books of essays I want to read (The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon) and nonfiction (A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France  by Caroline Moorehead) and….

I should probably hope for some rainy days this summer!

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2 thoughts on “My Aspirational Reading List

  1. Thank you for your list of summer adult reading aspirations! Two books with the same title, Life after Life, were published this spring. The Harvard Book Store had them displayed side by side, the one by Kate Atkinson that you recommended and the other author I believe was Jill McCorkle.

    • Hi Valerie,
      I actually almost included both titles – Jill McCorkle is one of my favorite authors!
      What a coincidence! Two big summer books with same title….

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