Summer Reading

Here's a quick rundown of the books that have taken up residence in my brain this summer.

  • Lisa Ko's The Leavers
    • This National Book Award finalist novel told from the points of view of a Chinese mother swept up in an INF raid and her son who comes to be adopted by an American couple came across my path quite by accident. I haven't read much fiction set in contemporary China, so I found that part of this story especially fascinating. It also made me resolve to read more books listed as finalists for the National Book Award. 
  • Sheldon Lee Compton's Dysphoria
    • I've been a fan of Sheldon Compton's short stories for a while now, but this was the first
      novel of his I'd read. It was the first book to come out on Cowboy Jamboree Press, which will be publishing my collection in the fall, so naturally I was eager to read it. It's one of the most memorable books on this list; the climax of this thing burrowed down into my psyche like a tick sinking its jaws into my most tender parts, and it's still with me. It also kicked off an accidental theme for this summer's reading, as it was the first of several Appalachian Gothic novels that made their way to me. 
  • Kristen Roupenian's You Know You Want This
    • I liked "Cat Person," the New Yorker story that became a viral sensation, but I was wary of reading a whole collection of stories about twenty-somethings with wretched sex lives in the Tinder age. Some of the stories here I found a little tedious for that same reason, but the best of the bunch ("Sardines" was my favorite) are great. 
  • Gabino Iglesias' Coyote Songs 
    • If you don't manage it right, Twitter is a dumpster fire of kneejerk reactions and idiotic hashtags, but this book is a monument to how it can be useful to writers (and readers). I might never have heard of this novel if it weren't for Iglesias' Twitter presence, and that would be a shame. It's a great book, a horror story set amidst the border crisis woven together from the threads of several voices united in way I can't reveal here without giving you a spoiler. It's as good as it is prescient. 
  • Adam Kovac's The Surge 
    • Like Tim O'Brien, who chronicled the lives of soldiers in Vietnam, Kovac writes with both compassion and an almost journalistic clarity about the lives of soldiers during the troop surge of the Iraq war. 
  • Taylor Brown's Gods of Howl Mountain
    • I bought this book last year when it came out and promptly lost it, only to find it this July. Thus continued the accidental summer of Appalachian Gothic that began with Dysphoria.
  • Laura Leigh Morris' Jaws of Life
    • This one had found its way to the shelf in my office with Gods of Howl Mountain and resurfaced at the same time. Funny how that happens. 
  • Jennifer Wortman's This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love.
    • This collection of stories examines relationships between desperate people in desperate times. It's also very good.  
  • Joe Lansdale's Freezer Burn and Mucho Mojo (Hap and Leonard #2) 
    • I've been a fan of Joe Lansdale since I read his B-movie-drenched horror novella The Drive-In years ago. I picked up Freezer Burn from the library, and it's classic Lansdale—pulpy, gritty, and plot-driven but with more soul than it wants to let on. That led me to watch the first season of Hap and Leonard, based on his series by the same name. Mucho Mojo is the second book in that series. 
  • Lauren Groff's Florida 
    • Another National Book Award finalist to cross off the list. I thought it was a little uneven, and a couple of the stories seemed to highlight everything that's wrong with quote-unquote literary fiction. But when it's good, it's great, and Groff is a sentence-level maestro. 
  • Jamel Brinkley's A Lucky Man
    • Yet another National Book Award finalist. These stories are mostly set in and around Brookyln, which seems a world away from the settings of so much of the other stuff on my plate this summer, so that was a good change of pace, and Brinkley does coming-of-age stories (check out "J'Ouvert") as well as anybody. 
  • David Joy's The Line That Held Us
    • Another Appalachian Gothic to round out the summer reading list. I hope all this murder and dread and good writing runs downhill and seeps into my own twisted little tales set down here in the sandhills and the swamps. 
On the to-read list for the near future: 

Benjamin Drevlow's Ina-Baby 
Chris L. Terry's Black Card
Adam Van Winkle's While They Were in the Field
Meagan Lucas' Songbirds and Stray Dogs 
Rion Amilcar Scott's The World Doesn't Require You
Matthew Sirois' Near Haven
Vern Smith's Green Ghetto
Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers 

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