Lately, reading has been difficult for me; my attention span and my desire to focus on really anything have been lacking. At night, which is my preferred time to read, I will optimistically settle into the warm embrace of the sofa with two books and then play Candy Crush on my phone for hours until a hand cramps and I must retire to bed. This is not my usual state, and it has been depressing for myriad reasons, not least my fear that I am now incapable of reading anything other than the blogs I edit for this website and, every now and again, a pithy Instagram story. I blame the internet for my brain’s inability to read, but I also blame books. Maybe there’s nothing interesting out there for me or maybe I’m done reading.
When this sort of malaise grips, I am inconsolable. But summer’s arrival means that I am finally free from my self-imposed prison of temporary illiteracy: it is beach and pool time and that means I can read again.
There’s no real focus to my summer reading strategy, though I suppose most of the books I’ve read so far since summer began fit into my ideal of a summer book: transporting, quiet, and, if they are fiction, heavy on plot. Under these loose guidelines, I somehow devoured Taffy Akner-Brodesser’s Fleishman Is In Trouble on the beach and then, sweating, in a beach chair on the blazing hot roof of my apartment. It was... fine? Not necessarily deserving of the rapturous reviews it received, as it read a bit like what would happen if Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom lived in 2019. But it was readable and engaging. It also broke the seal on my inability to read, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Over Father’s Day weekend, I sat on the porch at my dad’s house and tore through Sarah M. Broom’s forthcoming memoir The Yellow House, because I am a sucker for books about New Orleans. Broom tells the story of her family and the city of New Orleans by recounting the history of the house she grew up in, in New Orleans East—a part of the city that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina and largely forgotten. I truly love a memoir, but only if the person’s life is interesting or they are good at their job, which is writing a book that I would care to read. Broom delivers, writing about New Orleans absent any mysticism or gumbo-stained sentimentality. The book is out in August and deserves a place in the dubious canon of Hurricane Katrina literature, if such a thing exists, next to 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose and Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum. In the same vein of books that are not out yet but will be soon, Mary H.K. Choi’s second novel, Permanent Record, got me through one solid weekend slumped in a chair in front of a fan, drinking ice water and thinking heavy about snacks. Choi is perhaps unheralded as a food writer, but her work on deli snacks in Permanent Record is some of the best around. I loved it so much that I was moved to purchase beef jerky, peach Haribo, and a mango seltzer to consume while I read. Bliss!
There are many books that I have almost finished but set aside due to inertia or simply disinterest. I will eventually finish these books, because I am now capable of reading again. Robert MacFarlane’s Underland is soothing and oddly engaging for a book about the underground—good summer reading that evokes the damp cool of a basement or the catacombs of Paris when it’s 90 degrees and humid. Never did I think I’d care about a sweeping saga about people who really love trees, but The Overstory by Richard Powers worked for me? I started Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test on a train and will finish it eventually; the same goes for Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise, America Is Not The Heart by Elaine Castillo, and Ann Beattie’s A Wonderful Stroke of Luck. I plucked Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth from my father’s bookshelf on his recommendation, read about 30 pages, and set it aside—it’s not bad, but it’s not right for right now. I’ve made some headway through Mysteries of the Mall by Witold Rybczynski, which reminded me that, for a brief period in college, I wanted to do something about architecture and urban spaces as a career. Still not sure what that means, but that’s why it never happened.
My best reading, however, takes place in the shallow end of the public pool in my neighborhood. After surrendering my phone to a locker, showering briefly under the watchful eye of a Parks Department employee, and shaking my towel out, if I hustle, I can snag one of the 10 available chaise lounges and drop my ass right in the shallow end with a book in hand. The best books to bring to the pool for reading are books that I don’t particularly care about messing up. The first weekend, it was a water-logged copy of Joan Juliet Buck’s The Price of Illusion, which is a memoir that I found only moderately entertaining. “That lady’s reading,” a child said to me as I paced back and forth near the ladder. “She’s brave.”
After enduring an hour and a half of splashing, the cover of this book gave up the ghost, so I pressed on, returning to my second book, Midnight in Cherobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham. I didn’t watch the show! I’ll read the book instead. Submerged in the shallow end again, I tore through most of Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins— a book that I wrote off because my college nemesis said it was her “favorite,” which meant that I would never, ever read it. Finally, on a quiet Friday over the holiday weekend, I read almost all of it. I also managed to tear through The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I am often struck with panic at the idea of bringing only one book to the pool or the beach in case I hate it, but this time, I threw caution to the wind in an attempt to force myself to read one book and finish it. Congratulations to me, for I did.