Summer officially arrived on June 21 and it’s finally feeling that way in the Upper Midwest as sunny skies and 80-degree temperatures laugh at us from the other side of our office windows.
And with summer is supposed to come “more time to do things we want to do.” These could include anything from walking outside without all the layers of clothing or even sitting down and READING A BOOK!
Summer reading, after all, has been a thing for a while, going back to the last days of school when some of us lucky students got the list of books we should finish before returning to the classroom in the fall. (Side bar: Lazy summer days were not made for reading “Moby Dick.” Insert eye roll and sleepy emojis here.)
Hopefully, your summer reading scene is a lot less stressful than the days of “required reading” in middle school and high school. I recently heard a very refreshing discussion about summer reading on the Washington Post’s “Post Reports” podcast. During that conversation, book critic Ron Charles exclaimed: “You don’t have to succumb to the tyranny of the Book Club!”
Right on, Ron!
That’s correct; reading is supposed to be fun! After all, you’re not staring at your computer screen. You are, in fact, conjuring up the scene on a page in your head. How cool is that? Personally, I’m a really big fan of fiction. Over the last several summers, I’ve found a few gems that really stuck with me.
Three of my favorites:
May 2019: “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered” by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the duo behind the hilariously insightful “My Favorite Murder” podcast. This easy-to-read “self-help dual memoir” was as delightful as their podcast. It was also as funny as their live shows, one of which I caught in May at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee. A few of my favorite quotes from the book:
Georgia: “Stupid people are optimistic. Positivity is for cheerleaders and youth group leaders. I’m negative and cynical, man. It’s part of who I am. It’s punk rock and Gen X, and it’s someone who can’t be fucked with. But it turns out it’s a defense mechanism so I’m never disappointed, just pleasantly surprised when good things happen.”
Karen: “The only way we can evolve and grow is by accepting our flaws and doing our best to grow out of them.”
July 2017: “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. The imagery conjured up by Whitehead’s masterful prose is something that has stayed with me long after I finished the book. A cramped attic space, gleaming subways tiles, a dark town lit only by torches of angry white men and women. Those are just a few scenes that I can think up two years after reading this book. Following Cora’s odyssey to escape slavery was incredible. A few of my favorite quotes from the book:
“The previous night in Tennessee, Ridgeway had called Cora and her mother a flaw in the American scheme. If two women were a flaw, what was a community?”
“The only way to know how long you are lost in the darkness is to be saved from it.”
“The whites came to this land for a fresh start and to escape the tyranny of their masters, just as the freemen had fled theirs. But the ideals they held up for themselves, they denied to others.”
June 2012: “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. It’s okay. You can go ahead and scoff at this one, but man … my love of this author and this book runs deep. It can’t be undone by calling it a “beach read.” And it definitely can’t be undone by the movie that followed a few years later, starring my one-time Hollywood boyfriend Ben Affleck.
This book was so, so good. Flynn has an incredible ability to tell a deep, dark story (see exhibits A and B: “Dark Places” and “Sharp Objects”). And you guys: Flynn’s riff on The Cool Girl in “Gone Girl,” I think, is among the best things I’ve ever read. It’s so good, and I’m so glad they weaved a portion of it into the movie, that I’ve added it here:
"That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants: the Cool Girl. Men always say that as the defining compliment, don't they? She's a cool girl.
“Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers in her mouth like she's hosting the world's biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are all hot.
“Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don't mind. I'm the Cool Girl."
So what does your summer reading scene look like? Let me know as I’m reading two books right now, including “Career of Evil” by Robert Galbraith (AKA J. K. Rowling) and “The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery” by Bill James. Yes, a lot of murder.
Amy Bailey was a member of the Michigan Capitol Press Corps from 2000-2006. She lives and works in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with her husband, son and an easily excitable Australian Shepherd. Amy's guest column, Something to Say, will publish the first and fourth Wednesday of every month. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.