We asked various members and friends of the K-State English Department a couple of key summer questions. For example, can we start wearing our all-white Tom Wolfe-inspired suit again?
Nobody, sadly wanted to weigh in on that, but everyone had big, splashy ideas for these two questions:
- What makes a great summer read?
- What summer read do you recommend and why?
Read on to jump into some terrific summer reading.
When I think of a great summer read, I imagine a book with sunscreen fingerprints. I imagine using receipts for those fruity drinks as bookmarks. Sand trapped between the pages. I imagine a book you set down next to the soda machine of your summer job while you’re deep frying frozen chicken wings. A book you dog ear and shove in the pocket of the seat in front of you while the plane ascends. A book wedged between mimosa ingredients as you drive to the beach (it will smell like orange juice for years). I won’t tell you what to read because I guess some folks want to brood about Anna Karenina while sipping a coconut, but if it’s a book of mine there’s a high chance it will have witches. Or aliens. Or witches AND aliens.
To be honest I’m reading a book that so far has neither: Annihilation, the first novel of Jeff Vandermeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy. It’s about an all-female group exploring a mysterious ecosystem called Area X. Even though I saw the movie adaptation starring Natalie Portman, I know very little so far, and I think that’s how Vandermeer wants it. So far, the group has discovered a tunnel (or tower? There’s been a bit of debate despite the fact that it burrows into the ground), and everyone is anxious about their belts, each of which has a box that, should it light up, signals immediate “quarantine” (Chekhov’s belt, I guess). The writing is fantastic, and I can’t wait for the biologist to find out what’s at the bottom/top of the tunnel/tower.
— Kira Frank (M.A. ’17), University of Alabama M.F.A. candidate
I want to come at this question from a bit of an angle. Typically, when we think about summer reads, we think about books that are fun and engaging, books that just pull you along and along. I love those books—any time of year, really. One of my favorites lately is Truly, Devious by Maureen Johnson. I’m not always one for a mystery, but I read this book in one sitting. Was I on a plane? Yes, but still. Fair warning: it’s the first in a series and only the first two books are out right now. (I did NOT know that when I started, and I’m still not over it.) I’d also recommend Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’; it’s not a mystery, but there are some fabulous characters in it, and who doesn’t love Dolly Parton references? I was also surprisingly caught up in Simon Winchester’s story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, The Professor and the Madman. I know that the history of a massive dictionary doesn’t sound like a compelling read, but it really is. No, seriously. Trust me.
But summer is also when most faculty get to dive into theoretical and/or pedagogical reading that we haven’t had time to do during the academic year. This summer, I have a massive stack of books that I’m excited to tackle, including Gut Feminism; What the Best College Teachers Do; Rhetorical Touch: Disability, Identification, Haptics; Living a Feminist Life; Teaching with Tenderness: Toward an Embodied Practice; A Dissident Voice: Essays on Culture, Pedagogy, and Power; Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope; and Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement. Will I get through them all? Probably not. Okay, definitely not. But what is summer for if not for grand plans? Bring on the summer reading!
— Abby Knoblauch, Associate Professor
Many describe a great summer read as breezy and light, but that’s never been my thing. I think of great summer reads as quick and short, leaving me with a sense of accomplishment after I’m finished—under 300, maybe even under 250 pages. Using that criteria, I would recommend these books: Grace Talusan’s The Body Papers made me tear up. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is terrific and readable in a couple of hours. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle knocked my socks off. Riots I Have Known by Ryan Chapman is very funny and just 128 pages. Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis is lovely. And to throw in a classic: I found a copy of Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, and it was unputdownable.
I’m spending part of my summer in the mountains — we got 8 inches of snow last week — so I’m defining a great summer read as one that holds me rapt, through bright mornings, long afternoons, and cozy evenings. The trick, of course, is that a great summer read also needs be one that you can lay face-down on your chest while you take a cat nap. I guess I’m saying versatile. Or maybe a great summer read is the ability to read two books at once.
So here are two very different summer reads, for the different moments of your summer days. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is a beautiful, devastating, massive novel—both in its length and its scope. It’s somehow a page-turner while also mainly being a story of a 40 year friendship. I would have given up everything else just to read it all day long. Then, My Private Property is a collection of short essays and poems by Mary Ruefle, so it’s perfect for those extra 10 minutes you run into while waiting for water to boil or waiting to make sure the fire catches
— Maddie Pospisil (M.A. ’19)
Often when we think about summer reads, we consider fluffy, beach reading, rather than something dense and complex and serious to bog us down during these hopefully relaxing months. Curiously, it’s far more socially acceptable to carry around your genre fiction and celebrity memoirs, with their bright and alluring covers, during June, July, and August. Though summer is not my time to pick up Faulkner, I still like when my summer reading requires at least a little bit of thinking. No matter the genre, or level of seriousness, I want a summer read to make me feel all the things. I want to be moved by characters. I want to be invested in the tension and drama. I want a page turner that I both desperately desire to finish and simultaneously need to never end.
Karen M. McManus’s Two Can Keep a Secret successfully quenched my thirst for a contemporary young adult thriller. With a small town setting, multi-generational mysteries, and plenty of red herrings, the story and characters had me reading nonstop. Plus, the vibe helped me gear up for the second season of HBO’s “Big Little Lies” that’s airing this summer.
— Noelle Braaten (M.A. ’20)