most anticipated summer reads 2019

With summer rapidly approaching, and the last cold spell of spring seemingly past, I wanted to run through the five books I’m most anticipating being released June through September.

fullsizeoutput_31c5(1) Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (6/4)

The debut novel from poet Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous sketches a moving portrait of a gay son’s fraught relationship to his immigrant mother. Exploring Vietnamese-American identity, the story centers on the son’s coming of age, first love, and ongoing struggle to reckon with his family’s legacy. I loved Vuong’s debut poetry collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, and I can’t wait to kick off the summer with this.

(2) Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things (6/4)fullsizeoutput_3207

Another debut novel focusing on family, Mostly Dead Things follows Jessa in the wake of her father’s suicide. Jessa’s forced to assume control of the family taxidermy business, while also struggling to reign in her brother and mother’s erratic behavior. To make matters worse she harbors an intense crush on her sister-in-law and just has learned that her dad had a shocking secret life. Taking place in Florida, the novel sounds surreal, and Arnett’s already received high praise from writers like Alexander Chee.

fullsizeoutput_31c4(3) Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys (7/16)

Set in the early sixties in the Jim Crow South, The Nickel Boys tracks teenaged Elwood as he’s tragically sentenced to reformatory school, The Nickel Academy, in lieu of attending the local college as he’d always planned. The Academy, based on a real Florida reform school open for over a century, tortures and abuses its students, and Elwood’s forced to devise a way to survive. I’ve been interested in Whitehead’s work since having read many positive things about The Underground Railroad, and I’m glad to have had the chance to receive an ARC of this.

fullsizeoutput_31c2(4) Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror (8/6)

A debut collection of nine essays from everybody’s favorite New Yorker critic, Trick Mirror roams among a wide range of subjects, from “the rise of the nightmare social internet” to “the punitive dream of optimization, which insists that everything, including our bodies, should become more efficient and beautiful until we die.” Tolentino’s journalism is easily among the best currently out there, and this collection seems sure to be as incisive and sharp as anything she’s ever written.

fullsizeoutput_31c1(5) Leslie Jamison’s Make It Scream, Make It Burn (9/24)

Bringing together journalism, memoir, and criticism, Jamison’s Make it Scream, Make It Burn continues the author’s streak of blending genres in inventive and unexpected ways. Personal reckonings about becoming a stepmother and giving birth sit beside pieces devoted to social subjects as diverse as the eerie online community of Second Life and the landscape of the Sri Lankan Civil War.  The collection sounds sort of aimless compared to The Recovering, one of the best books I read last year, but Jamison’s always an interesting mind to follow, no matter what she’s discussing.

19 thoughts on “most anticipated summer reads 2019

  1. An interesting list. I want to read The Nickel Boys, but I still have to read the author’s The Intuitionist too. I hope The Nickel Boys will not be too traumatising – not that I mind, but I still remember reading Llosa’s The Time of the Hero about a cadets school in Peru, and relatively recently finished Yanagihara’s A Little Life, and am not quite ready to plunge into something similar any time soon 🙂
    The film that shocked me most in my life is also Sleepers (1996) which is about boys sentenced to a home for boys and the abuse they endured there.

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    1. Thanks! A Little Life’s also high on my list, though I’d agree that it helps to space out these kinds of books from each other, otherwise the stories are less impactful. Books about abusive childhoods sometimes can be more disturbing than impactful, but I’m hopeful The Nickel Boys will be different.

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  2. You always find books that sound interesting to me. I love the title of the poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds. Correct me if I’m wrong, but “exit wound” typically refers to the place where a bullet caused damage on its way out of the body. *shudder* Interesting imagery in the title alone.

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    1. It’s such a striking image, isn’t it? Vuong’s poetry is great. His poems aren’t difficult to understand, but he still does a lot of interesting things with imagery and language in them.

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  3. Excellent, diverse book list Michael, wouldn’t expect anything less from you. I saw your four-star rating of Ocean Vuong’s book on Goodreads and am curious to read your insights – while on one hand I can’t wait for it because I’m also a queer Vietnamese American, I heard the book has a more experimental/poetic form so idk how much I’ll be into that. Also I loved Jamison’s The Empathy Exams but found the Recovering kinda dull, glad you enjoyed it and hope we both enjoy this upcoming book. And, finally, thanks for putting Jia Tolentino’s book on this list, after doing some research it seems like she should be someone I know about but I hadn’t before seeing her on this list, the collection looks fab. Happy reading!

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    1. Thanks Thomas! I’m between 4 and 5 stars on Ocean Vuong’s novel – it’s one of the best debuts I’ve read this year or last, and I’d definitely recommend it. The sections about the narrator’s mom, grandmother, and family history were brilliant; I just thought the middle parts about his first romance were moving but not on the same level – romance as a coming-of-age trope feels a bit played out, though Vuong’s take on it is sharp. I’ll be looking forward to your perspective on it and Jamison’s book, hope you enjoy both 🙂 Jia Tolentino’s journalism is excellent, and I’m glad you’re introduced to her work now! She’s one of the few critics I enjoy reading in the NYer, and her reporting’s incisive and prolific.

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  4. Yes, please, to all of these. Although, like Diana said, I’ve got a few on Whitehead’s backlist to enjoy first as well. Although of course the lure of the new and shiny is at work. (Have added The Recovering to my TBR as well: thanks.)

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    1. Hope you enjoy The Recovering! The book has come across as unbearably privileged to some (she attended an Ivy, then the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in her early 20s, etc.), but I thought she did a good job of contextualizing her addiction.

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  5. Are you putting Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous off for the summer while you work on the reading project? My copy comes this week, and I’m excited for it.

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    1. I’ve already finished it! It was strong as a debut, though I think he’s a much better poet than novelist. The writing was flowery/pretentious at times, though perhaps self consciously so.

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      1. I have read several reviews that trashed it, but I love Vuong’s poetry, and having spoken with him several times can vouch for his being a nice guy. With that being said, I’m still excited to read this.

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