non-fiction

Summer Reading Lists - Ben Cosgrove

Ben Cosgrove is an amazing composer, musician, and writer. As you might know, we’re big fans of all he does. After he performed at our very first event, the Mud Season Salon, we quickly found out that we share similar taste in books. We love these recommendations that Ben shared in his summer reading list and hope you do too.

p.s. We’ll be announcing a special project with Ben soon. Stay tuned!


Horizon, by Barry Lopez

Barry Lopez has long been one of America's finest and most well-respected living nature writers —Of Wolves and Men was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1978 and the peerlessly wonderful Arctic Dreams won it in 1986 -- and Horizon reads like a sort of capstone to a long career spent poking around the corners of the world, thinking hard about what they are like and how they are connected. Its sweeping, dreamlike narrative follows him nonlinearly across time and space, and we catch versions of Lopez in Africa, Australia, Antarctica, South America at a variety of different ages and stations. Its concerns are ultimately not just ecological but philosophical: what is the relationship between time, place, and experience, particularly in a wounded world?

Normal People, by Sally Rooney

Different friends of mine kept recommending this book to me for months, and I finally got my hands on a copy in June. I loved reading it. Rooney's writing isn't soaring or fancy; rather, it articulates with needle-precision the confusing and complicated internal dynamics of the sometimes-romantic-sometimes-not relationship between the novel's two main characters, a boy and a girl from a small village in western Ireland whose friendship grows, shifts, and readjusts as they head off to Dublin for university and then beyond. Her eye for detail is unbelievable, and lends a shattering realness to the novel. I thought it was wrenching and lovely, and frankly, as a fellow millennial, I felt extremely gratified to read about these people and their Byzantine, tortuous romance/nonromance.

Underland, by Robert Macfarlane

Macfarlane writes thoughtfully and beautifully about the natural world, but is especially remarkable for the special attention he pays to how people engage with it. Previous books of his have considered the language we use to talk about the landscape, or described the experience of traveling long distances on foot. His latest project, Underland, is a thrilling and often dark foray into the fictional and actual spaces beneath the ground, and winds up a thoughtful consideration not only of how humans tend to interact with the underground, but of Earth's journey through all-but-unimaginable expanses of time.

The Weather Machine, by Andrew Blum

Andrew Blum's last book, Tubes, was a detailed exploration of the physical structure of the Internet, and similarly, this follow-up is an engaging examination of the machines and methodologies undergirding our surprisingly detailed understanding of how weather works and where and when it will happen. As with Tubes, Blum is able to lend light and humanity to a story about infrastructure, and he elegantly traces the process by which a vast system of models and careful measurements have literally enabled us to predict the future.

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

Powers's most recent novel, the winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize in Literature, tells a sprawling, powerful story about people and trees. It moves an enormous cast of characters through an staggeringly vast timeline, but its narrative momentum never weakens and it grapples meaningfully with the fundamental alienation precipitating human civilization's coming existential crisis along the way. Few books have reoriented my literal view of the world as thoroughly as this one: I have actually found that I look up more often now.

The Favourite Game, by Leonard Cohen

This is Leonard Cohen's first novel (he wrote two), and it was published in the early 1960s, several years before its author found a career as a folk singer. Its lyrical narrative centers around the adventures of an extremely Cohenlike protagonist named Breavman, who ambles around Montreal wracked with internal torment and all but consumed by a broad set of spiritual, existential, artistic, and sexual concerns. Cohen's original Canadian publisher rejected the manuscript outright after finding it "tedious, egotistical, disgusting, and morbid in its preoccupation with sex," and the English house with which he finally placed it required that he cut it in half, but the result is a beautifully written coming of age story and an introspective, uncomfortably honest rendering of what it's like to be an anxious young man trying his best to figure out just how one ought to be in the world.

Summer Reading Lists - Angela Evancie

Continuing down the path of asking our favorite podcasters for their summer reading lists, we knew we must ask Angela Evancie, the host of Vermont Public Radio’s Brave Little State. If you want to learn more about the great state of Vermont, this podcast is a must-listen. Vermonters across the state ask questions and the Brave Little State team digs in to search for the answers. It’s thoughtful and often fascinating look at topics from old growth forests, to issues of race in Vermont to Vermont’s aging hippies. Don’t miss the episode What Draws So Many Writers and Poets to Vermont? Thank you so much, Angela, for sharing your summer reading list with us!

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I work with sound for a living, and as a result do a lot of listening in my free time. Less so in the summer. Come June weekends, I try to recapture the experience I had as a graduate student at the Bread Loaf School of English, in Ripton: me, an Adirondack chair in the shade of a maple, no cell service, and selection of books just fetched from the library. “[W]hat a morning — fresh as if issued to children on a beach,” Virginia Woolf wrote, and that is exactly what a stack of summer reading feels like.

The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante

Halfway through the first installment of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend, I concluded that the exalting blurbs were hyperbole. By the time I finished the book, I was in a panicked state, so invested in the lives and the piercing friendship of Lenù and Lila that I had my bookstore special order this, the second book in the series, the very next day. It’s even better than the first, and now I’m on to the third.

Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje

My friend Xander needed to talk about this book with someone, so I picked it up and immediately got lost in it. A narrator, Nathaniel, tries to decipher the odd turns in his childhood in post-war England, after his parents leave his sister and him in the care of a cohort of mysterious drifters. An exquisite rendering of the pain of not knowing, and the canals and switchbacks of memory.

Amy Foster, by Joseph Conrad

A migrant bound for America is shipwrecked, and washes up in a provincial English village that has little tolerance for foreigners. First locked in a shed, and then shunned for singing in his native language, the man Yanko is cast away many times over. Joseph Conrad wrote this short story in 1901, but it demands to be read as a modern parable.

The Far Away Brothers, by Lauren Markham

Also on the theme of migration—this time contemporary, as we follow the epic journey of twin brothers who migrate from El Salvador to California—Lauren Markham’s book is a work of nonfiction that comes to life like the most addictive novels. It’s also the most exacting and sensitive reporting I’ve read on this issue.

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

A story that traces the shifting fortunes of four generations of an ethnic Korean family, and one that taught this reader a great deal about Korea and Japan’s intertwined history. Min Jin Lee comes forth with so many deeply feeling, fully formed characters — even minor ones, who appear late in the novel — that you get the sense she can’t help herself.

Outline, by Rachel Cusk

The prose in this book glitters with sunlight off the Mediterranean. A woman travels to Greece to teach a writing class, and falls into a series of very random and strangely engrossing conversations with strangers. “What is it about life?” I was left wondering.

Summer Reading Lists - Christopher Hermelin and Drew Broussard

So Many Damn Books is the book podcast that we are most excited to see show up in our podcast feed. Drew and Christopher take reading seriously. Each show starts off with a themed cocktail in honor of the show’s guest, book purchases are discussed, there’s an author interview, and book recommendations. It’s a celebration of all things bookish and it’s just darn good fun. We know you need a new book podcast in your life. This is the one! Trust us. We were over the moon when Drew and Christopher agreed to send along their summer reading lists. Thank you so much, guys!

 
 

Christopher’s list

Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo

For those looking for a heady summertime fling, Three Women is fantastic, conscientious gossip (amongst other excellent attributes).

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith and Costalegre, by Courtney Maum

Two books about growing up in crumbling estates, both told through a teenage girl's diary. You get the feeling that these two could be best friends.

Aug 9 Fog, by Kathrynn Scanlan

Good, poetic beach fare—a perfect hot afternoon of a book.

The Instructions, by Adam Levin

I'm going to be dipping into The Instructions next, a huge maximalist novel about a pre-teen who believes he’s a messiah—it seems like it'll pair well with an air conditioner's hum.

And of course, you can also just zone out in the sun and listen to past episodes of So Many Damn Books instead, and let us do your summer reading for you.


Drew’s list

I love my spooky books in October and my mysteries in the early months of the new year, but there's nothing quite like Summer Reading. The world slows down just enough, whether for a long weekend or a trip somewhere or even just because it's hot where you are, and you can sink into a book like sliding into a pool. Here are some great ones to throw in your bag—but be forewarned, you'll want to be working on that beach bod because several of these are heavy.

The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durrell

You can start (and even stop) with Justine, a wonderful standalone reading experience, but give yourself a month to read all four books and your life will be changed. Heat, sand, politics, sex, death, writing so ripe it practically falls off the page into your hand—these books are Summer, to me.

The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson

Jeff VanderMeer, a literary idol of mine, has stumped for this book for ages and I finally picked it up just this past week. It's a cool, slim book, essentially a novel in stories about a young girl and her grandmother on an island in Finland. Things happen, but it's really just about life—particularly the beginning and end of it. Good for a palate cleanser while you're reading other things!

Lanny, by Max Porter

For the English fantastists out there, here's one full of textual trickery (read it on the page or at least as a PDF and not on an e-ink reader, seriously: Porter's typesetters pull off some truly incredible things) and the lush spirit of woods dark and deep. Pairs particularly well with a pint, Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, and the faint sounds of people performing A Midsummer Night's Dream nearby.

Democracy May Not Exist, But We'll Miss It When It's Gone, by Astra Taylor

Summer is supposed to be break time from all our troubles, but let's face it: nobody's really getting a break these days, because our troubles are all too consistently present to be avoided. So, what to do? Astra Taylor's remarkable (and easy-breezy) read is your best bet. This book changed the way I think about this country, about politics, about the world. It's a must-read for everyone, particularly heading into the inevitable madness of the upcoming election cycle. Read it now, so you are better prepared—and you can have practice convos with your relatives now, instead of awkward ones at the holidays!

Prelude to Bruise, by Saeed Jones

These poems swelter, sweat, sizzle, and shimmer. They are heat (sometimes sexual, sometimes literal, sometimes just fire-emoji) incarnate and not a summer goes by where I don't pluck this off my shelf, usually to read softly to myself with a cool bourbon in my hand. Saeed's got an incredible memoir (How We Fight For Our Lives) coming out this fall and, if you don't know him yet, this is a perfect appetizer for what's to come.

Friday Reads - April 26

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My husband, knowing how obsessed I’ve become about whales since reading Moby-Dick last year, gave me Philip Hoare’s Leviathan for my birthday. If you have the same fascinations—Melville and his novel; the history of whaling and the economies that depended upon it; the delicate relationship between whales, the ocean, and the climate; and the miraculous private lives of the great animals themselves—I think you’ll love this book, too. Part memoir, history, biography, literary criticism, and nature writing, this beautifully written book ticks all the boxes. —Rebecca

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Elizabeth Rush’s book, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, is harrowing, thoughtful, personal and important. Her description of “endsickness” is something I think about daily. “What I used to call climate anxiety has become more like a disease. I call it endsickness. Like motion sickness or seasickness, endsickness is a physical response to living in a world that is moving in unusual ways, toward what I imagine as a kind of event horizon.” —Shari

Friday Reads - April 5, 2019

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I’ve enjoyed picking up Daily Rituals: Women at Work by Mason Currey each morning to read about the creative habits of a fascinating, talented woman. It’s the perfect inspiration I needed for spring.—Shari

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Reading Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic is like reading a grim fable that has come true. These poems speak of horror and love, of war and heartless policy, and of real and imagined humans suffering and finding comfort from each other. Once I started reading it I found it impossible to stop until I’d reached the end. Many of you may have already read the unforgettable first poem in the book, “We Lived Happily During the War.” The final poem acts as a perfect bookend to the first. I won’t link to it here. You have to earn it by reading the book—Rebecca