Is reading in the summer sun better? You tell us. We’ll be checking #alwbookclub to see what you think of the new novels, story collections, and memoirs on this season’s reading list.
We would probably give a five-star review to Lauren Groff’s grocery list. Her language is beautiful, surprising, and always unfolding. Florida is a visceral story collection about the state where she’s lived for over a dozen years and the conflicted feelings that come with our relationship to home. It’s told through a series of rich, layered characters. In the first story, she writes: “On my nighttime walks, the neighbors’ lives reveal themselves, the lit windows domestic aquariums. At times, I’m the silent witness to fights that look like slow-dancing without music. It is astonishing how people live, the messes they sustain, the delicious whiffs of cooking that carry to the street, the holiday decorations that slowly seep into daily decor.” And this is the intimate effect that Florida has on the reader: It’s as if you’re eavesdropping the whole time, peering in on lives vastly different from and yet so familiar to your own.
Meg Wolitzer has written over a dozen books, and The Female Persuasion, the latest #alwbookclub pick, follows her best-known novel, The Interestings. (But a lot of Wolitzer fans will tell you to begin with her 2003 novel, The Wife, which was recently made into a film by Swedish director Björn Runge, starring Glenn Close.) All of Wolitzer’s books explore big life questions. In The Female Persuasion, a college freshman named Greer Kadetsky is faced with a life-changing moment. After meeting a revered figure from the women’s movement of the past, Greer imagines the kind of woman she could become. Producer Lynda Obst and Nicole Kidman have already signed on for a film adaptation.
Maria Shriver’s I’ve Been Thinking is an uplifting collection of life meditations that brings the reader on a journey to deeper meaning. Each chapter begins with a quote that Shriver has found meaningful at one point in her life—from thinkers like Maya Angelou, Saint Ambrose, and Louisa May Alcott—and ends with a personal prayer. Drawing on Shriver’s own life experiences, the chapters are intimate and thought-provoking and make space for reflection, empowerment, or simply a moment to pause and come back to center.
Amanda Stern’s can’t-look-away memoir of living with anxiety is annotated with doctors’ notes and the results of the many cognitive, behavioral, and other tests that she endured throughout her childhood as a team of experts tried to figure out what was different about her. Combined with Stern’s curious and self-critical eye, these illustrate a point that should be obvious but often isn’t. To borrow from one of Stern’s chapter titles: There’s no one right way to be a person. There’s something magnetic about Little Panic. And that’s the picture of 1970s and 1980s New York City that Stern re-creates from her childhood, split between Greenwich Village, where she walked barefoot with her mom, and uptown, where she visited her dad’s pristine home every weekend.
This book will gut you within fifty pages and make you wish you could forget it all and read it again for the first time. Celestial and Roy’s promising if imperfect young marriage is blown apart when Roy is convicted of a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. One of the most powerful sections is told through the letters Roy and Celestial exchange during his years in prison. That’s also when Celestial’s career as an artist takes off and she grows increasingly close with her childhood friend, who was the best man at their wedding. We’ll leave it at that. And tip our hat to Jones’s rare ability to make every character compelling, allowing the reader to see the world through multiple sets of eyes.
The catalyst of Sam and Penny’s love story in Emergency Contact is a panic attack, which leads to an awkward exchange of phone numbers. From there, Sam and Penny build a relationship by the glow of their smartphones and the late-night trading of text messages. In her debut YA novel, Mary H. K. Choi brings to light the anxiety, loneliness, and longing that mark modern courtship—and, in so doing, proves herself a highly talented and skilled writer. Evoking a modern relationship in the digital sphere with any kind of gravitas is no easy feat and Choi does it with grace, wit, and beautiful prose. Anyone who was ever young and in love will recognize themselves on these pages.
You Think It, I’ll Say It explores how we interact with people when we have only an imperfect, incomplete understanding of who they are. In ten stories, Curtis Sittenfeld gets the message across: Everyone we know is living a life as vivid and messy as our own. Her writing is sharp, and her characters, as petty and shortsighted as they may sometimes be, get stuck in your head. The stories average twenty pages or so each, so it’s an easy book to pick up and put down—but mainly pick up.
Charming and fun, Jo Piazza’s latest book has a fast plot that we hope will become less novel in time: Charlotte Walsh leaves her Silicon Valley job and moves her family back to her small Pennsylvania hometown to run for Senate. It’s a pivotal midterm election in which nothing goes exactly according to plan.
Journalist Glynnis MacNicol has written one of the most frank and refreshing stories about turning forty without a husband or a baby. She manages to both entertain and challenge the reader as she grapples with the best and worst parts of choosing not to build her life around a traditional family. It’s smart and hilarious and exactly as nuanced as you want it to be.