Push aside memories of summertime required readings and dive into these recommended books by some of the brightest female writers of our time. This summer, let books take you from rural Ireland to 1960’s New York, Central London to an imagined village in West Africa, and make friends with complex characters, from rock stars to child prodigies, normal people to poets.
Put on your pajamas, light an incense or your favorite candle, and get to know the work of these authors, all living female voices with a gift for compelling storytelling.
The Dream Street Journal's 2020 Summer Reading List:
This book starts with a story that might make you nostalgic for a summer of dance classes with your childhood best friend and then takes you into the world of both posh pop stars and an all girls school in a rural West African village. Woven together in the expert way that only Zadie Smith can, the story of two British biracial friends and how their lives diverged is perhaps her best book. Don’t be surprised if you finish it and find yourself reaching for one of the others - you’ll have eight to choose from. Nine, if you count her forthcoming book, Intimations, her impressively quick turn around of essays about life during quarantine.
Patti Smith may have been born in 1946 and the story of Just Kids may unfold during the late 60’s, but the story will make you feel as if you’re a part, with each page you turn, of some of the most brilliant bohemians of our time. The memoir centers around Smith’s relationship with the iconic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and the different roles they play for each other as muses, lovers, friends and artistic partners. It’s a story of young love that will remind you of your first true love - even if you didn’t grow up to write one of the most important rock albums of all time.
You’ve possibly heard some buzz about Sally Rooney’s Normal People, the Hulu show based on the book premiered in late April and sent devoted fans of the book spiraling back into the world of Connell and Marianne. If you haven’t seen the show yet, start with the book. The richly told language of Sally Rooney dives into the world of two teenagers from different backgrounds in a small town in Ireland, and then traces their complicated relationship into adulthood. Rooney, who is not yet 30, is a literary prodigy of our time who has the enviable skill of writing beautiful prose that is accessible, charged and sexy - definitely, sexy.
Elif Batuman’s The Idiot was her debut novel and it was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. In some ways it’s a book for readers, the language can feel wandering, bleak and vague, but for those who grew up in the era of online profiles, instant messaging, constant emails and non-stop texts, it’s a refreshing meditation about how rocky the road to get here was. The book is centered around Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, and her first year at Harvard - at the dawn of the internet.
If you like food shows and you Google Ruth Reichl, it’s likely you’ll recognize her face. The former editor of Gourmet magazine looks back on her time at the flagship food publication. Reichl doesn’t shy away from exposing the gluttony of the magazine industry at the time and stares down the end of the iconic food publication, under her leadership. She’s an endearing narrator, who came from the California food scene where the farm-to-table movement was developing, and was thrown into the cutthroat world of New York media. Given the conversations going on right now around the current food world darling, Bon Appetit, Save Me The Plums is a prescient way to look back at the industry.
If you blast Fleetwood Mac and know every single word, Daisy Jones & The Six is a must read - our guess is you’ll do it in five sittings or less. The book is told through the voices of an imagined band, retelling the story of how the band fell apart, particularly around the relationship of Daisy Jones, our protagonist, and Billy Dunne. In the world of the book, the band produced an iconic album and then fell off the face of the earth. In our world, we’ll see the band come to life soon, with a smart bit of casting that puts Riley Keough (Elvis’ granddaughter) in the role of Daisy Jones for Amazon Prime Video. Get a heads up and read the book before it’s the show everyone is talking about.
Ottessa Moshfegh has a way of writing the repulsive in an endlessly compelling way. If you are looking for something that feels a world away from perfect fairytales, aren’t afraid of looking at the dark side of being human, and like a good laugh from something that others might find very dark, Ottessa Moshfegh is the writer for you. In her novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, the protagonist, if you can call her that, decides to sleep through a year in her comfortable New York apartment, a kind of self-imposed hibernation. If you’ve ever thought, “I wish I could just sleep and wake up in a better world,” this is a fiction book that explores someone’s best effort to do just that.
At first, this memoir, told in a series of funny essays that are woven together by the endlessly talented Samantha Irby, will make you laugh. What appears to be the internal musings and thoughts about The Bachelorette audition process from a very, very funny, young Black woman living in America, turns into a meditation that touches on everything from race, class, disability, mental illness and more of the complexities of modern life in this country. Samantha Irby manages to be funny, insightful, self-deprecating and a wildly talented observer in this 2017 release. Her latest, Wow, No Thank You, came out just a few months ago, so you can roll right into the next one, when you decide you want more of this distinct contemporary voice.
If you’re all out of true crime podcasts (hello, My Favorite Murder fans) this novel is the perfect hold over. Unfortunately, it won’t hold you over for too long, it’s an engrossing read that makes you want to finish in just a few sittings. In My Sister, The Serial Killer, a Nigerian woman keeps covering up her sister’s unfortunate habit of killing her boyfriends. Ayoola and Korede, the two sisters, have a compelling dynamic that will keep you turning the pages of Oyinkan’s book that’s both the wild ride of a murder mystery and a moving novel about the lengths we go to protect our families.
In a nod to our Florida-based roots, we had to include Swamplandia!, Karen Russell’s haunting novel about the Ten Thousand Islands and a family who lives on at an alligator wrestling theme park. Karen Russell, who was born in Miami, paints a picture of Florida as an enchanted land of folklore and legend, her novel is a blend of mythology while being based in a world that feels entirely real and completely fantastical. If that all sounds hard to do in a novel that is still a fun and engrossing read, it’s a testament to the talent of Karen Russell who was 31 when she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for this novel.