Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

11 Summer Reading Recommendations from Jezebel Staff

Jezebel recommends Claire Vaye Watkins, Martha Wells, Kate Clayborn, and more
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All summer, we’re having guests stop by to recommend books for Jezebel readers; this week, however, we’re sticking closer to home, with selections from Jezebel staff. We’ve got murder, we’ve got memoir, we’ve got swimming and gay bars and romance and the dark side of supermarkets. We’ve got it all, in other words.

The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, Sara Gay Forden

By now, you have probably seen the photos of Lady Gaga and Adam Driver doing their best Italian glamazon cosplay on the set of the movie based on this book, and perhaps you were also inspired to buy a copy to prepare for what is sure to be a camp bacchanal. If not, let this small blurb encourage you: The House of Gucci is my preferred pool paperback for this season. It’s a rollicking guide through a salacious murder interwoven with the history of the brand. Great for people who like Gucci, and even better for those who want context before sitting in a movie theater and watching Lady Gaga swing for the fences while dressed like a young Strega Nonna. Ciao bella! Bellisima! Viva Italia. —Megan Reynolds

The Yellow House, Sarah M. Broom

Sarah M. Broom’s book about the New Orleans house she grew up in is technically a memoir, though it might more accurately be described as a particularly moving geographical history. Through archival research and interviews with family members, Broom reconstructs a sprawling account of the intersecting forces that left large swaths of the city precarious and rotting long before Hurricane Katrina brought the city’s infrastructural racism to national attention. Assiduously researched and beautifully written, Broom’s book is a tender multi-generational history that paints systematized neglect as a character as real as any other. It’s a good book to read slowly, on long hot days when you can give it all the attention it deserves. —Molly Osberg

The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells

“I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites.” That’s the memorable opening to this wonderful, funny, and also thoughtful science fiction series about a deeply cranky cyborg who calls itself Murderbot, as a sort of ironic joke. You see, Murderbot is a literal killing machine made of both organic and technological parts, who just wants to do as little killing as possible and the absolute bare minimum at its job (which is essentially outer space rent-a-cop) and then watch human TV shows, particularly a soap opera called Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon. But that description makes Murderbot seem a little static as a character, which is the furthest thing from true. Murderbot meets a group of humans it grudgingly comes to like, in no small part because they treat Murderbot like the sentient, autonomous being with feelings that it is. I am genuinely slightly alarmed at how much I relate to this cyborg, as somebody who wants everyone to leave her alone to read her stories and would also just like the small human for which she is responsible to please stay out of dangerous situations. —Kelly Faircloth

Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins

Depending on your constitution and appetite for doom, it’s either the worst or the best time to read Claire Vaye Watkins’ accounting of a believable Californian apocalypse. Personally, I’m revisiting it (as well as her excellent story collection, Battleborn) as I wait for the writers’ second novel, out this fall. Watkins, whose equal attention to violence and splendor in the West has been described as “Nevada Gothic,” turns her attention to a fossilized Los Angeles in the aftermath of the climate-induced desertification of the state. The characters who populate her novel are just as selfish and ill-prepared as you’d expect the average person to be in the midst of a preventable catastrophe, and her descriptions of the social impact of such an event—from journalists parachuting into the dry zone to Libertarians digging in to their ruined towns—are chilling in the way only believable science fictions are. —Molly Osberg

A Certain Hunger, Chelsea Summers

I read this as 2020 became ’21, and I haven’t enjoyed a more delicious novel since. Funny, since the dishes Summers’s serial killer protagonist Dorothy Daniels cooks up are made of human flesh (“Kill one man and you’re an oddity. Kill a few and you’re a legend,” notes the cannibal). Summers ingeniously gets away with lofty novel voice by making Dorothy a food writer prone to brilliantly florid prose (manslaughter is “insufficiently ambitious homicide”) in which she rattles off wisdom so sharply and frequently it’s as if she’s driven by compulsion (“From my mother, I learned that beauty was armor. From my teenage friends, I learned that femininity was junk. They were both right.”) Here is yet another sentence I loved: “…We fucked so much, so long, and so often, we passed a yeast infection back and forth like a joint.” Half a year later, I still think about this book all the time and laugh. — Rich Juzwiak

Waterlog, Roger Deakin

When it is the temperature of Satan’s sauna outside and I am plastered to my couch in front of the A/C, I want to be in the water. When I can’t, however, I look to books that replicate that feeling of ease, of lightness, of solitude. Roger Deakin’s beautiful meditation on swimming in nature was just published in the United States, and it is everything I’ve ever wanted in a summer book. Deakin takes the reader on a journey through the waterways of the British countryside, swimming in weed-choked ponds, the moat in front of his house, tidal pools, the open water—really any body of water is fair game. “Wild swimming” as this is called, is really just swimming as it existed before pools, chlorine, and the ritualized nature of a day at the beach. He writes with sensitivity and a great appreciation for the world around him, and all I want to do is get on an airplane and sink my weary flesh into the waterways he depicts, one gentle breaststroke at a time. —Megan Reynolds

Love Lettering, Kate Clayborn

Calligrapher Meg meets Reid when she is commissioned to hand-letter his wedding invitations, spots that he and his fiancée are wildly unsuited, and (somewhat compulsively) encodes a warning into her design. Months later, Reid returns, wanting to know what she knew that he didn’t. They’re oil and water—or so they seem at first. I read this one in the early days of the pandemic, and Reid’s faint chlorine smell from his lap swimming nearly made me cry from longing. Plus there’s a pretty good twist at the end! —Kelly Faircloth

Gay Bar: Why We Went Out, Jeremy Atherton Lin

With a subtitle like Why We Went Out, Gay Bar’s February release couldn’t have come at a better time. In the throes of lockdown, it seemed more crucial than ever to examine what we were missing and why it mattered. That said, I didn’t get to Lin’s memoir until about a month ago and it knocked me on my ass all the same. If you’re going to write a memoir without having some kind of storybook/heroic/celebrity/political life story under your belt, this is how to do it: Lin speaks of his own experiences coming and going out in a way that contextualizes his gay experience in broader gay history. His own life is a thread from which topics like trade, camp, the history of homosexuality, and of course nightlife branch. Filthy and profound, this is an extremely convincing argument for the importance of personal narrative to get at bigger cultural phenomena. Gay Bar is as much a story as it is a textbook. Unmissable. — Rich Juzwiak

Second First Impressions, Sally Thorne

The latest romance from the author of The Hating Game takes a sweet himbo tattoo artist and an anxious preacher’s daughter and puts them together at an elder care facility that is absolutely overrun with endangered tortoises. Honestly, if that’s not enough of an endorsement, I don’t know what to tell you. —Kelly Faircloth

The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket, Benjamin Lorr

In the thick of the pandemic, grocery shopping became an exciting ritual for me. Like many others, I cooked a lot more than usual while being sequestered at home, and my social life dwindled to Zoom hangs and TV binge watches. But groceries were a necessity, and it was clearer than ever that the people who make these stores run are frontline workers. I found myself thinking a lot about where my food comes from, who handles it, and how the hell it gets from the ground and onto the misted shelves of my local supermarket. Enter this book by journalist Benjamin Lorr that came out last year, about the history of the grocery store. The book is structured into themed sections, sort of like long non-fiction essays, that span a wide range of topics: the history of Trader Joe’s in-store product line, the schedules of truck drivers who transport food, the daily reality of Whole Foods store workers. The book can be queasy to read, such as in passages about seafood workers in Thailand (you might not want to ever eat shrimp again!) but overall fascinating, like when Lorr describes the sleazy payment system brand take part in to get their artisanal food products great placement in stores. If the grocery store mesmerizes but also sort of terrifies you in its never-ending assortment of choices, this is the book for you. — Hazel Cills

The Kissing Bug, Daisy Hernandez

It can be difficult to write about science and medicine in a way that feels vital, but Daisy Hernandez’s new book manages to move deftly between research facilities and grieving families. Over 300,000 people living in America have been infected with chagas, a parasite carried by an insect commonly known as the “kissing bug.” Left untreated, it can cause a host of debilitating organ failures and lead to death. The question of why this disease, which disproportionately affects immigrants from Latin American countries, is so neglected by doctors in the United States is the subject of Daisy Hernandez’s investigation, a question she took up after a beloved aunt suffered a long illness and painful death. The book starts small and personal and expands to trace some of the most pressing questions about race and the institutions that purport to save lives in the United States, all of it held together by Hernandez’s complicated love for her once-vibrant aunt. —Molly Osberg