Oh hey there! How are you? Welcome to the latest summer edition of The Best Books I Read This Season. I hope everyone near and far has done their best to keep safe as life continues to throw whatever shitstorm it pleases your way. Through thick and thin, and even the worst of reading slumps, books always have our backs. So please stop breaking their spines, if that happens to be a habit of yours.
I started to get back into reading fiction this summer after mostly not being able to focus on anything but non-fiction over the last year. This season’s list also includes several new releases from this year which you should definitely consider checking out before 2021 thankfully draws to a close. Without further ado, the best books I read this summer…
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox has vanished. When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces—which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are and the power of a daughter’s love for her mother.
I first read Bernadette back in 2016 and, despite largely mixed reviews, it became a new favorite. After seeing the film adaptation in theatres in 2019, the movie inexplicably became a quarantine favorite in my house. I wrote all about it for Book Riot here, and am delighted to share that the article made its way to Emma Nelson, a young actress from the film adaptation, who sent me a message on Instagram that I will cherish forever.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley
Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is honestly a bit out of his league. So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick’s brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of “Guncle Rules” ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting—even if temporary—isn’t solved with treats and jokes, Patrick’s eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you’re unfailingly human.
My Life to Live: How I Became the Queen of Soaps When Men Ruled the Airwaves by Agnes Nixon
Before there was Erica Kane, Adam Chandler, or Victoria Lord, there was Agnes Nixon, a young girl who dreamed up stories for paper dolls. Those tales she imagined—ones filled with ambitions, rivalries, and romances—would soon parallel her own path to success. In a memoir filled with as much drama as the soaps she penned, Nixon shares her journey from Nashville to New York City, as she overcomes the loss of her fiancé in World War II, a father intent on crushing her writing dreams, and the jealousy of her male colleagues on her way to becoming one of the most successful names in television. But My Life to Live is also a portrait of a pioneer. Driven to use her ratings power for good, Nixon fought and broke network taboos by wrestling with controversial social issues ranging from women’s health, interracial relationships, and the Vietnam War to drug addiction, LGBT rights, and AIDS. By infusing her characters with sensitivity, humor, and humanity, she enabled millions to examine an opposite point of view. And long before Shonda Rhimes launched a golden age of female showrunners, Agnes Nixon positioned ABC to become the media giant it is today.
The Barbizon: The New York Hotel That Set Women Free by Paulina Bren
The Barbizon tells the story of New York’s most glamorous women-only hotel, and the women—both famous and ordinary—who passed through its doors. World War I had liberated women from home and hearth, setting them on the path to political enfranchisement and gainful employment. Arriving in New York to work in the dazzling new skyscrapers, they did not want to stay in uncomfortable boarding houses; they wanted what men already had—exclusive residential hotels that catered to their needs, with daily maid service, cultural programs, workout rooms, and private dining. The Barbizon would become the most famous residential hotel of them all, welcoming everyone from aspiring actresses, dancers, and fashion models to seamstresses, secretaries, and nurses. Beautifully written and impeccably researched, The Barbizon weaves together a tale that has, until now, never been told. It is an epic story of women’s ambition in the 20th century. The Barbizon Hotel offered its residents a room of their own and air to breathe, unfettered from family obligations and expectations. It gave women a chance to remake themselves however they pleased. No place had existed like it before, or has since.
A Star is Bored by Byron Lane
Charlie Besson is about to have an insane job interview. His car is idling, like his life, outside the Hollywood mansion of Kathi Kannon. THE Kathi Kannon, star of stage and screen and People magazine’s worst dressed list. She needs an assistant. He needs a hero. Kathi is an icon, bestselling author, and an award-winning actress, most known for her role as Priestess Talara in the iconic blockbuster sci-fi film. She’s also known for another role: crazy Hollywood royalty. Admittedly so. Famously so. Fabulously so. Charlie gets the job, and embarks on an odyssey filled with late night shopping sprees, last minute trips to see the aurora borealis, and an initiation to that most sacred of Hollywood tribes: the personal assistant. But Kathi becomes much more than a boss, and as their friendship grows, Charlie must make a choice. Will he always be on the sidelines of life, assisting the great forces that be, or can he step into his own leading role?
Goodbye, Again: Essays, Reflections, and Illustrations by Jonny Sun
“You can’t outrun sadness because sadness is already everywhere. Sadness isn’t the visitor; you are.” Jonny Sun gives us a collection of touching and hilarious personal essays, stories, poems—accompanied by his trademark illustrations—covering topics such as mental health, happiness, and what it means to belong. The pieces range from long meditations on topics like loneliness and being an outsider, to short humor pieces, conversations, and memorable one-liners. Sun’s honest writings about his struggles with feeling productive, as well as his difficulties with anxiety and depression will connect deeply with his fans as well as anyone attempting to create in our chaotic world.
¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons by John Paul Brammer
The first time someone called John Paul (JP) Brammer “Papi” was on the popular gay hookup app Grindr. At first, it was flattering; JP took this as white-guy speak for “hey, handsome.” Who doesn’t want to be called handsome? But then it happened again and again…and again, leaving JP wondering: Who the hell is Papi? What started as a racialized moniker given to him on a hookup app soon became the inspiration for his now wildly popular advice column “¡Hola Papi!,” launching his career as the Cheryl Strayed for young queer people everywhere—and some straight people too. In ¡Hola Papi!, JP shares his story of growing up biracial and in the closet in America’s heartland, while attempting to answer some of life’s toughest questions: How do I let go of the past? How do I become the person I want to be? Is there such a thing as being too gay? Should I hook up with my grade school bully now that he’s out of the closet? Questions we’ve all asked ourselves, surely.
The People We Keep by Allison Larkin
Little River, New York, 1994: April Sawicki is living in a motorless motorhome that her father won in a poker game. Failing out of school, picking up shifts at Margo’s diner, she’s left fending for herself in a town where she’s never quite felt at home. When she “borrows” her neighbor’s car to perform at an open mic night, she realizes her life could be much bigger than where she came from. After a fight with her dad, April packs her stuff and leaves for good, setting off on a journey to find a life that’s all hers. As April moves through the world, meeting people who feel like home, she chronicles her life in the songs she writes and discovers that where she came from doesn’t dictate who she has to be. This lyrical, unflinching tale is for anyone who has ever yearned for the fierce power of found family or to grasp the profound beauty of choosing to belong. Madame Larkin was kind enough to send me a copy of The People We Keep following our 20 Questions interview earlier this year, which you can read here! Also, her book made me cry big fat tears once it was over!
If we aren’t already, let’s be friends on Goodreads! What were the best books you read this spring?