Reading Lists

Summer Reading Lists - Katherine Forbes Riley

Each summer we like to invite authors to share their summer reading lists with us.

First up this summer is Vermont author Katherine Forbes Riley, a writer and computational linguist whose debut,The Bobcat, was released in June (Arcade/Skyhorse 2019). The Bobcat was recently picked by Ms. Magazine as a Read for the Rest of Us. Alexander Chee calls The Bobcat, “a heartfelt, revelatory, and moving novel about how the way back to our humanity and to the humanity of others leads us sometimes through the animal world. Surprising, precise, and full of love for the immeasurable possibilities of the human heart.”

Thanks for sharing your picks with us, Kate!


With summer in full swing, here are six great reads for the beach or lake. Each paragraph will stun and be savored, after which you’ll likely find yourself staring out at the endlessly repeating patterns of water and thinking about all that it might mean. That’s my idea of a great beach/lake read.

Naamah, by Sarah Blake

This book is built on a fantastic premise, plank by plank, and then let loose on us. What do you think about Noah’s wife? About that boat, those animals, their noise, their stench? You may not think much now but I can promise you’ll be thinking after you read Naamah. You’ll think about each phrase. I’m a fast reader, quick to skim if something doesn’t hold me, but this one forced me to read slowly, to listen like music and absorb every note, and I almost didn’t want to finish—not until I could get my hands on Blake’s next one.

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This book matched pace with me as fast as my thoughts could go. This author is dangerous, his mind brilliant and multi-faceted. I would love to hear him read or even just speak. These are images from a war we all by now think we know intimately, and so it’s amazing that he makes them new. He makes them bitter, funny, awkward, unexpected; he weds us to them newly.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

The first fifty pages of this novel should be required reading for every citizen of America. They could only have been written by one for whom such horror is truly alive in memory, but they should be read by us all, so those memories come alive for our whole country. So that we can all together almost not bear them.

There, There, by Tommy Orange

This book burns. Simply burns. The multiplicity of characters and voices is insane. How did Orange do it? I think he did what one of his protagonists does: he recorded voices. And then inside his head he muffled his own and let those others come through. And as unique as they are, still they resound with the lost and found in all of us. We must read them and think, these are my countrymen.

Milkman, by Anna Burns

I’ve never read something so internal. So amazing and disturbing and universal. I kept thinking, this sounds just like communism, like life behind the Wall, even though it’s Ireland. It reminds me a lot of Beckett as well. But it’s a woman, and the main character is a young woman, and she thinking about people, a town full of people that she thinks about as if it’s a net that holds her, also a spider’s web.

The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez

If I had to pick one book that’s made the deepest personal impact on me recently, I’d have to say The Friend. It’s such a paradoxical book, one that fabricates even as it acknowledges it, one that as a writer affirms my love of writing even while putting forth some pretty irrefutable reasons for why I shouldn’t be writing at all. It’s also got a dog, a big tough old dog. And it’s written by a very smart tough older woman, and that voice feels really good to me, mingling with all the others.

Summer Reading Lists - Julia Shipley

Julia Shipley is a a true friend, a blast of sunshine on any cloudy day, and a fantastic poet. We were so pleased she could participate in this year's Poetry & Pie.

Julia also happens to be a voracious and eclectic reader. Below she shares some of what she's trying to read this summer when she's not working on her farm. Thank you so much, Julia!

(Want more summer reading recommendations from Poetry & Pie poets? Check out Didi Jackson's beautiful list!).


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Between May and November, most of my days are devoted to food: raising it, growing it, harvesting it, and preserving it. On the one hand I’ll be honest: my subscription to People magazine is the thing you'll find me reading on summer evenings. However, I also long to grow intellectually and also to feel less alone in my fields and bean rows and so here’s who is keeping me company.

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The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food & Drink, edited by Kevin Young

Poet-farmer (wonder woman) Taylor Katz turned me on to this anthology which is, yes, delicious! There are six poems explicitly about potatoes and three devoted to onions. Young’s book is more than a potluck—every poem is intriguing, and happily some of my favorite poets—Yosef Komunyakaa, Campell McGrath, Rita Dove, and Ruth Stone—can be found herein bringing something great to the table.

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The Dream of Reason, by Jenny George

Jenny is one of my poetry crushes. I came across her work in lit mags and then yearned for her first book which came out in April. In Dream of Reason there are pigs and prairies and "the black structures of cattle that [have been] carried away in trucks." Her work is full of compassionate witness turned into elegant lyrics that alternately caress and sucker punch.

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The Eclogues, by Virgil

Yeah, I know, this sounds kinda pretentious, but this ancient Roman knew his stuff. His Georgics constitute a true “field guide” with lines like, “Don’t plant your vineyard sloping toward the sunset.” His Eclogues were the prequel to The Georgics. Also the word “eclogue" means approximately “shepherds conversing.” These poems were composed in times of political upheaval. Hmmm—rural citizens in duress testifying in crazy times? Why does that sound familiar?

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One Writer's Beginnings, by Eudora Welty

I recently re-read Welty’s story “Where is the Voice Coming From?” first published in The New Yorker in 1963 immediately after the murder of Medger Evers. Again, I am trying to understand these times by going to literature that tackles other specific mayhems. Ms. Welty wrote with the force of tornadoes and doves—I want to understand more about where her voice is coming from.

Summer Reading Lists - Didi Jackson

Poetry & Pie happened nearly a week ago and we're still riding on the high of the day. It was pretty much perfect. So perfect that we're reluctant to let the feeling go. Fortunately, we can read the poets' poems in their books and online, and we can take their advice about what beautiful things they are reading this summer.

Below is a summer reading list that Didi Jackson generously shared with us. We love her selections. Thank you, Didi, for everything!


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I’ve been traveling a lot this summer, so what I am reading has been picked up along my two-month journey away from my home in Vermont.

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Us, by Zaffar Kunial

I heard Zaffar read at the Ledbury Poetry Festival in England. Us, his most recent collection of poems, addresses the urgency of personal identity and the complexity of Zaffar growing up with an English mother and Lahore-based, Kashmiri father. My favorite poem, “Sparkhill,” details a school yard fight but ends with the act of writing:

Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight.

They’d begun to chant before we’d started. And started was the word.
He’s gonna start on you. After school. Over there. In Sparkhill Park.



And I look past my knuckles, at it — it, the black, up-tilted

keyboard, and on that back-      lit slope, these central blocks-
F — G — H . . . And I start      to type: Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight.
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Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction, edited by Judith Kitchen and Dinah Lenney

This collection is a fabulous gathering of voices in very short essays on various topics. For someone who is on the go this summer, I love that I am able to dip in and out of this collection as I please. The essays range from memoir to reflection, and each feels like a little gem or succulent morsel to savor. Because of the topic I am especially interested in, I immediately turned to Julian Barnes’ essay titled “Grief.”  It is probably no more than 200 words, yet I found myself needing to pause and steady my mind (and catch my breath and wipe away the tears) after every few lines. Another favorite is Dinah Lenney’s essay “Future Imperfect” about her stepfather’s death, memory, imagination, and the element of time in memoir.

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The Return Message, by Tessa Rumsey

I picked up Tessa Rumsey’s collection of poems while at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, on a road trip with my son. They then became the backdrop to the train ride we took on the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago. The length of her lines and the density of her poems initially intrigued me visually and, in a way, mirrored my journey by train. But once beyond the visual appeal, even better are the dialogues or (better yet) translations that occur from poem to poem. Rumsey’s poems are lush with language and image, and I fell in love with lines like this one from her poem titled “New World Cloud Forest:” “The question attached to his colonial cage: could you, like Audubon, kill your subjects. / To study them?”

Local Indie Bookstore Summer Reading Picks, part 2

Earlier this spring, we reached out to a handful of our favorite bookstores to discover their picks for the perfect summer read. To learn what the booksellers at The Vermont Book shop and The Yankee Bookshop are suggesting, keep reading below.

To find out what the booksellers at Left Bank Books and The Norwich Bookstore recommended, check out Part 1 of this series.


The Vermont Book Shop, Middlebury, Vermont

Whenever we happen to be in Middlebury, our first stop is always The Vermont Book Shop. We just love the vibe of this store. The Vermont Book Shop is one of the older bookstores in Vermont; they've been providing book recommendations to the local community since 1949. Jenny Lyons, their Marketing and Events Coordinator, selected six novels to share that will definitely appeal to fans of literary fiction. If you swing through Middlebury this summer, stop in and tell them Literary North sent you!

The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai has launched herself into a whole new category of literary achievement with this flawlessly written third novel, a lovingly told saga about the immediate toll of the AIDS epidemic on the gay community and the long term impact on its survivors and their families. Set in mid-1980’s Chicago and Paris in 2015, The Great Believers features characters whose lives have been indelibly marked by the virus. (Note: Rebecca Makkai will be at The Vermont Book Shop on July 11  at 6pm in conversation with local author Stephen Kiernan about this novel.)

Mad Boy, by Nick Arvin

Not only does this novel offer an insider’s view of the oft-neglected War of 1812, it also offers a smart, highly enjoyable, fast-paced, wholly original book reading experience. Pick it up, you will not be disappointed.

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Tin Man, by Sarah Winman

Loss and love figure prominently in this warm novel, sparingly yet richly told. Details of life, brief moments, words exchanged between friends and family, small kindnesses, grand gestures, memories recovered and re-lived—these valuable bits that make up a life are recorded as a testimony to human lives, their fragility and temerity and strength. It’s a love story, but an unconventional one, one sure to broaden the reader’s view on what it means to love another person.

Circe, by Madeline Miller

I devoured The Song of Achilles when it came out a few years ago and have been waiting, not so patiently, for the incredibly talented author Madeline Miller to publish again! Circe is smart, fresh, and authentic; a beautiful literary Greek mythology tale. I loved every word. Miller's depth of knowledge makes it possible for her to spin a rich and believable tale that readers will love.

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Florida, by Lauren Groff

Wow. That is all you really need to know. These short stories each have their own Floridian resonance and each touch on heartrending truths of life, family and humanity. Lauren Groff doesn't pull punches but also be prepared to hang on every word because she will surprise you with joy as well as hardship.

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

Sophisticated plotting and intricate storytelling in this redux of Rumpelstiltskin shed some much needed light on dusty preconceptions. The voices that tell the story are distinct and powerful, unforgettably unique. At once a tale of values, value and self worth, Novik also reminds us of our responsibility to our choices and reflects on the roles of honor and truth.  Along with these big topics and heavy-hitting truths, Novik tells an artfully enthralling story.

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The Yankee Bookshop, Woodstock, Vermont

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Have we told you how much we adore The Yankee Bookshop's new co-owners, Kari Meutsch and Kristian Preylowski? They are welcoming and kind, eager to collaborate, and full of excellent recommendations. We had a lovely event at their shop in the spring (Lady Sings The Blues book group) and were very impressed with the little changes they've made to Yankee. Hello, vinyl! Kari offers four picks that you'll definitely want to add to your summer reading list. If you haven't popped in to Yankee in awhile, make it a summer priority! You won't be disappointed.

The Electric Woman, by Tessa Fontaine

Few things make it feel more like summer to me than a carnival, and how many of us are consistently intrigued with the characters that make up the mythical traveling sideshow? Sword swallowers, fire eaters, death-defiers and all of their like. Tessa Fontaine spent a summer following the last American Traveling Sideshow and lived to tell the tale of learning their tricks and seeing their life on the road. Dovetailed with the story of her mother's recovery from what should have been a life-ending stroke, both women set out on adventures that teach them more about themselves and each other than they ever thought possible.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, by Cherise Wolas

This book is best gone into mostly blind, recommended by a trusted friend who knows you will love it—which is how I found it myself. Since we aren't that level of friends (yet), what I will tell you is this: Joan Ashby knew at a very young age that she wanted to be a famous writer. At one point, in an early journal, she set down a list of rules for herself to make that happen, two of which proclaimed that she should never fall in love and never have children. She does become a world-renowned short story author, but then proceeds to break her own rules and essentially falls off the face of the writing world. What happened to her? You have to read to find out. Side bonus: Throughout the book, Wolas shares bits and pieces of the fictional Ashby's writing that are so intriguing I wish Joan Ashby were real and that I could read all of her books. And also that we were friends and could go out for a glass of wine together. This story is amazing, and you will not be able to put it down.

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Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi

If you are looking for a new fantasy world to sink your teeth into, I highly recommend you give Orïsha a try. A world where magic had been beautiful and strong is taken over by a king who fears it, and ultimately drives all maji into poverty or hiding. After losing her mother, and discovering her own abilities, young Zélie must decide whether to back down or help lead a rebellion to bring the maji and their powers back from the brink of extinction. Adeyemi's magic system is borne out of West African mythology, her characters are fully fleshed out and engaging, and the scenery is so vividly brought to life. I loved it, and can't wait for book two!

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler

Written in the 1990s, but set in the ever-closer 2020s, this dystopian novel is disturbingly timely when read today. The story chronicles the experience of Lauren Olamina, a young girl with hyper-empathy, a condition that causes her to feel others' physical pain, as she tries to navigate an increasingly dangerous world and get herself and her loved ones to safety. Along the way, we also watch her develop a new religion, writing it down and sharing it with others she meets on her journey. If you are a fan of dystopia or speculative fiction, and intrigued by some comparative religion mixed in with your reading, this one will not disappoint.

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Local Indie Bookstore Summer Reading Picks, part 1

Earlier this spring, we reached out to a handful of our favorite bookstores to discover their picks for the perfect summer read. Whether you're in the mood for something light or serious, we've got you covered. We start off with summer reading picks from Left Bank Books and The Norwich Bookstore.


Left Bank Books, Hanover, New Hampshire

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If you've ever happened across Left Bank Books, you'll know what a special spot this is. A second floor, mostly used bookshop overlooking Hanover's bustling Main Street, Left Bank has a wonderfully curated selection of used books, hosts many unique events, supports Bloodroot Literary Magazine, and has been a loyal friend to Literary North. We are lucky to have Left Bank in the Upper Valley.

Left Bank's owner, Nancy Cressman, had these four selections to share with us:

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

This story, set in Italy along the rocky coast and moving on to glamorous Los Angeles, introduces you to characters whose temperaments match the terrain. You are immediately drawn in to the story because of the compelling characters who carry their loves and pains a lifetime. Surprises await!

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

This is a book with a light touch on some very deep themes including trust and how your life is sometimes more layered than even you know. Set in a bookstore with a book store owner as a main character and with its many references to literary masterpieces, this story with its novel construction will bring pleasure to book lovers of every age.

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Drinking the Rain, by Alix Kates Shulman

A memoir of a woman turning 50 who discovers in the yard and rocky shore frontage of her primitive cabin on the Maine coast an environment that nourishes her both literally and figuratively from the moment she returns for her summer retreat. She comes to write, but instead finds herself awakened to genuine curiosity, a feeling she had lost at great cost and, with great effort, regains.

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Evicted, by Matthew Desmond

This award winning nonfiction book published in 2016 is a study of housing struggles and the intersection of poverty and public policy on those struggles. Follow along with Harvard University sociologist Desmond as he delves into how eight families in Milwaukee struggle to keep a roof over their heads. You will be brought into the lives of these families, and his vivid prose paints a searing picture that will educate and build compassion.


The Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, Vermont

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The Norwich Bookstore is the quintessential, independent bookstore in downtown Norwich. Two floors of books, a dedicated bookselling staff that you'll quickly learn by name if you're a voracious reader, great customer service—they have it all! This bookstore is a definite must-visit if you find yourself in Norwich. Literary North has partnered with The Norwich Bookstore for author events in the past and will have The Norwich Bookstore provide books for our upcoming Poetry & Pie event. One of our favorite places to shop!

The High Season, by Judy Blundell

Beth's Tips for Summer Reading:

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  1. Pick up High Season and turn to page 76.
  2. Start reading at the bottom, "Summer is my favorite season..."
  3. Imagine yourself continuing in the sunshine, with a cool drink close at hand.
  4. Buy the book and read it while you ignore the rest of the world.
  5. Finish by having your breath taken away by the last line.
  6. Come in and tell us some of your favorite lines.

We love talking books with you, and *bonus* we can recommend another so you can start the whole process all over again. Summer should be about losing yourself in a book. This is a great place to start. —Beth Reynolds

 

Midnight Blue, by Simone Van der Vlugt

A story of 17th century Holland that reads like a Vermeer painting in depth and detail. Twenty-five-year-old Catrin hastily leaves her small village to take a job as a housekeeper in the home of a wealthy merchant in Amsterdam. Helping his wife finish a painting, Catrin shows an extraordinary talent, which ultimately takes her to Delft where the new blue and white pottery is sweeping the industry. But 1654 is a deadly time in Europe and ultimately tragic choices must be made. Colors are vivid. Smells are intense. This is an historical novel that heightens the senses. —Susan Voake

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Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje

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This is Ondaatje's first novel since the estimable The Cat's Table (2011) and, boy, is it worth the wait. The story follows two siblings who have been mysteriously abandoned by their parents in the aftermath of the Blitz in London. It has all the trademark Ondaatje themes: what parents owe their children (and vice versa), the seduction and destruction of war, memory and the "ravine" of childhood, what one does with the history and traits one inherits, and of course the endlessly fascinating elements of love. Ondaatje is an artist who paints with words and woven into this intricate puzzle of a book, are indelible images. Just read the first sentence and try to resist. —Carin Pratt


For middle grade readers:

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Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea, by Lynne Rae Perkins

Sisters Alix and Jools, along with their parents, spend a summer week at the beach. We have the pleasure of experiencing the sea for the first time through their eyes —and ears and hopes and fears! A refreshingly wonderful interlude in the otherwise tumultuous array of chapter books written for this age group. No parent dies, no one is abused, there are no floods: just caring and sharing, learning and growing with wonder about the world around them. —Liza Bernard

 

The Ensemble, by Aja Gabel

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It is always a joy to come upon a debut novel by an author who excels at her craft and is a good storyteller. The Ensemble is just that. This is a story of a young string quartet founded in San Francisco that moves through the lives of its members spanning their 20's into their 40's. These are complex lives, both individually and as members of an group who need to be so fine-tuned to each other that they play as one. Everything each individual does has ramifications within the whole. Being a lover of chamber music increased my enjoyment of this book, but it is definitely not a prerequisite. The Ensemble was one of those delicious novels that I did not want to end. —Penny McConnel