Summer reads

Recommendations from some of the folks involved in Islanders Write.

Illustration: Kate Feiffer

As we lurch toward a return to “normalcy,” let us remember that the most normal thing to do during a Vineyard summer is to read a book. This summer, with attendance on the Island expected to peak, why not duck out of traffic, stop trying to get that dinner reservation, and start on your summer reads. Whether you’re interested in genre-spanning guilty pleasures, the books that got away, new releases, oldies but goodies, books that make you think, laugh, or cry, books that you couldn’t focus on last year because you were too stressed out, or for the past fourish years prior, because they were longer than a tweet, it’s time to relax and return to that most enduring of Vineyard summer pleasures. 

The MV Times reached out to Molly Coogan, manager and book buyer at the Bunch of Grapes, Mathew Tombers, manager of Edgartown Books, and some of the writers who will be speaking at Islanders Write in September and asked them for suggestions for summer reads. They generously recommend a compelling list of books to plunge into, and l suggest adding any book by Geraldine Brooks, Cole Brown’s debut “Greyboy,” Bob Drogin’s “Curveball,” John Hough Jr.’s newest “The Sweetest Days,” to tempt you before reading his other novels, Nicole’s Galland’s most recent book, “Master of the Revels,” unless you’re in the mood for her historical fiction or contemporary Vineyard lit, and as there are just too many gripping novels to recommend by Richard North Patterson, maybe start with the three that he set on the Vineyard.

Molly Coogan sent the list below and wrote, “I know this is probably way more than you need, but figured best to let you pick and choose.” Topping her list is John Hough Jr.’s newest release, “The Sweetest Days,” along with “Summer on the Bluffs” by Sunny Hostin, and “Songs in Ursa Major,” by Emma Brodie. 

Molly’s picks for fiction include: “Malibu Rising,” by Taylor Jenkins Reid; “Great Circle,” by Maggie Shipstead; “The Other Black Girl,” by Zakiya Dalia Harris; “While Justice Sleeps,” by Stacy Abrams; “People You Meet on Vacation,” by Emily Henry; “Falling,” by T.J. Newman; “Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch,” by Rivka Galchen, and “One Last Stop,” by Casey McQuisten.

For nonfiction, Molly suggests “How the Word Is Passed,” by Clint Smith; “All That She Carried,” by Tiya Miles; “Plague Year,” by Lawrence Wright; “Somebody’s Daughter,” by Ashley Ford; “This Is Your Mind on Plants,” by Michael Pollan, and “Crying in H Mart,” by Michelle Zauner.

Mathew Tombers also sent in a list of suggestions, and here’s a highlight. In beach reads, “People We Meet on Vacation,” by Emily Henry, has become the single most popular beach read of the summer, outpacing everyone else. A pleasant surprise is the popularity of “Red, White, and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston, a gay romance between the son of the president of the U.S. and the Prince of Wales.

Mathew’s picks include: “The Invisible Life of Addie Larue” by V.E. Schwab and “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig. Both are fantastical and fantastic reads. In “Addie Larue,” a woman lives forever, and no one remembers. In “Midnight Library,” there is a library at the end of the universe with windows into all that might have been.

“Song of Achilles” and “Circe” by Madeline Miller have returned to the bestseller lists, propelled by BookTok. They are flying off the shelves.

Also deserving mention in the Beach Read world is “Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Sunny Hostin’s “Summer on the Bluffs.” 

On the nonfiction front, the always provocative Malcolm Gladwell has come out with “Bomber Mafia,” a look at the generals who pushed for heavy-concentration, high-altitude bombing in WWII. Also doing well is Michael Lewis’ “Premonition,” a look at the CDC during the pandemic.

Because of interest in the upcoming film of the book “Dune,” it is doing very well, as is “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia Butler. Both older books, both doing very well.

Another interesting thing happening is a strong interest in classics. “Beautiful and the Damned,” by Fitzgerald, has been very popular. “Moby Dick” is popular all year-round.

Geraldine Brooks:

“The Stone Loves the World,” by Brian Hall. 
An intricate family saga that spans the American century, is about astrophysics, string quartets, video games, and brainy people who can do rocket science but can’t get their relationships right.

“The Other Black Girl” by Zakiya Dalila Harris. 
A scathing, brutal and at the same time funny takedown of the very white publishing industry.

“A Quantum Life” by Hakeem Oluseyi and, yes, my brother-in-law, Joshua Horwitz.
More astrophysics in this astonishing memoir that charts an unlikely journey from the streets and a crack addiction to Stanford and NASA. 

Cole Brown:

“Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Coates published his seminal work — an extended letter to his teenage son — in 2015, and I read it three times in as many days. This book changed my life. It showed me what I could aspire to in my writing. Early drafts of my book, “Greyboy,” read like bad knockoffs of Coates’ work. Few living writers are capable of cutting to the core of the Black experience like him. My only advice is to read it twice; you won’t catch everything on the first go.

“The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead.
Whitehead won his second consecutive Pulitzer Prize in 2019 for this, his latest novel. I haven’t read a better novel since.

Callile Crossley sent in a list of recommendations spanning genres:

“Just As I Am” by Cicely Tyson
“Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner

“Where Justice Sleeps” by Stacey Abrams


“Mergers and Acquisitions: Or Everything I know About Love I Learned On the Wedding Pages” by Cate Doty

Beach Reads
“Summer on the Bluffs” by Sunny Hostin
“Blush” by Jamie Brenner
“While We Were Dating” by Jasmine Guillory
“The Summer Seekers” by Sarah Morgan

Young Adult (YA)
“Firekeeper’s Daughter” by Angeline Boulley and soon to be adapted by Higher Ground, which is the Obamas production company with Netflix.
“Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry” by Joya Goffney
“A Pho Love Story” by Loan Le
“When You Look Like Us” by Pamela N. Harris boy
“Fat Chance, Charlie Vega” by Crystal Maldonado

“Welcome to the Party” by Gabrielle Union
“Whose Knees are These?”  by Jabari Asim
“I Am Loved” by Nikki Giovanni
“Ambitious Girl” by Meena Harris
“Fatima’s Great Outdoors” by Ambreen Tariq and Steve Lewis
“Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope”  by Jodie Patterson and Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (It is a companion piece to the memoir “The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation”)

Not new but really good:

“Yale Needs Women: How the First Group of Girls Rewrote the Rules of an Ivy League Giant” by Anne Gardiner Perkins
Adult Fiction
“An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones
Adult Nonfiction
“The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit’ by  Michael Finkel

Bob Drogin

“These Truths: A History of the United States,” by Jill Lapore.
Given the parlous state of our nation, she goes back to fundamentals to see how we the people have dealt with divisions from the start. It’s mesmerizing stuff: She offers fresh insights or startling details on nearly every page. 

“Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy,” by David Zucchino. He’s an old friend, and it deservedly won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize (David’s second Pulitzer!) for nonfiction.

John Hough Jr. 

“The Moon Always Rising,” by Alice Early. A doughty Scot, Eleanor (“Els”) Gordon, finds herself on the history-laden Caribbean island of Nevis, unemployed and in possession of the decaying home of a dead man. Els will wrestle her demons, learn humility and forgiveness, fall in love, and befriend the most delectable ghost in fiction since Jacob Marley. Five stars.

“Fair and Tender Ladies,” by Lee Smith. It’s difficult to cite any of Smith’s work as her best, but this epistolary novel, set as usual in the North Carolina mountains, is a good bet.

Nicole Galland

“The Phantom Tollbooth,” by Norton Juster. We are all, in this nearly post-pandemic era, about to drive into the unknown lands in search of Rhyme and Reason. May we all model ourselves on Milo.

“Ulysses” by James Joyce, because if you have survived 16 months of lockdown, you can easily, and finally, survive one day in Dublin, even if it’s written by James Joyce. Next year is its centennial; start now and finish in time for its bicentennial!