Editor's note: As our literary scene continues to grow, we wanted a place to highlight the books, events, zines and everything in between that is putting Austin on the literary map. For the debut “What To Read” column, here are seven carefully curated picks perfect for summer.
Since summer is all about spontaneity, and hardcovers can really weigh you down, these are all of the paperback variety. Plus, we’re kind of suckers for the ways paperbacks look after a vacation — sea-salted, turned-up pages and sand in the spines.
I spotted the naked bike guy (okay, fine, wearing a thong isn’t technically naked) riding down Second Street the other day, which means there’s no denying it — it’s officially summertime here in Austin. While many of us may have mixed feelings about the upcoming three months of 100-degree days, the heat is at least a great excuse to do what we already do well here in Austin: indulge. And the only thing that makes a lunchtime margarita or playing hooky at Barton Springs feel more luxurious is doing it with the perfect book under your arm.
An Untamed State, Roxane Gay
If you missed Roxane Gay at BookPeople last Monday it's a shame, because she is pretty much the best. She talked about her writing and teaching styles, ambition and the Knowles-Carter family elevator drama. In between entertaining, she read from her stunning debut novel, An Untamed State. It's the story of a Haitian-born American’s kidnapping in Port Au Prince that grabs you from its very first line:
Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones. They held me captive for thirteen days. They wanted to break me. It was not personal. I was not broken. This is what I tell myself.
An Untamed State is a book to be read in the dog days of summer, with AC on full-blast and absolutely zero obligations, because you’ll ignore everything else around you until the last line.(Also, if you missed her at BookPeople, there are still copies of Gay’s novel left. If you hurry, you may be able to snag a signed edition.)
The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach
The joy of being at a summer afternoon Major League Baseball game is incomparable. Unfortunately, it’s a luxury that us Austinites have to drive a few hours to experience. One alternative to driving to Houston to satisfy our longing is to let a novel transport us there. Chad Harbach’s first novel, The Art of Fielding, does just that in a magical, youthful way.
More than just a baseball book, The Art of Fielding already has a place among classics like Bernard Malamud’s The Natural. (Which, by the way, belongs on every literary and baseball fan's shelf.)
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, Anton DiSclafani
Summer has a weird way of turning you into a teenager again. That is probably why I feel like the pages of coming-of-age books are best turned in the summertime, with sticky SnoBeach-covered fingers.
Set in the 1930s at an all girl’s equestrienne boarding school, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a lush page-turner full of secrets, romance, southern debutantes, horses and class issues. And it’s more than just that; beyond the alluring sexiness of the novel is real substance, rooted in a firm sense of place and propelled by the fierce, complex and skillfully portrayed heroine, Thea Atwell.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is DiSclafani’s debut novel, and she’ll be at BookPeople next Wednesday, June 4 at 7 pm, promoting and reading from the paperback release.
Cartwheel, Jennifer duBois
Austinite Jennifer duBois’s novel Cartwheel was just released in paperback, which is important because it’s the kind of book that reads with such urgent momentum and intensity you will take it with you, everywhere you go, until it's finished. Inspired and based loosely on the Amanda Knox trial, Cartwheel is a psychological thriller, a dizzying tale driven by the minds of each central character, from the young and sometimes infuriating Lily Hayes to her worn-out and sometimes oblivious father.
Cartwheel can only be read at a manic, stay-up-all night kind of pace, but the questions it raises about our culture and how we construct our collective narratives will stick with you long after summer fades. Just don’t forget to take your head out of it long enough to reapply sunscreen.
Dreamz Zine, Raw Paw
When the heat (and ice-cold beer necessary to quell said heat) inevitably fries our brain, it’s nice to have some illustrated text at hand that isn’t US Weekly. Local publisher/record label/creative platform Raw Paw’s annual eclectic, badass zine is being released on Saturday, May 24 at Empire Control Room with a big party to celebrate, featuring music by Mother Falcon, live paintings and screen printing. The party starts at 7 pm and tickets are available for $10 presale and $25 for admission and zine.
The Dreamz Zine will be Raw Paw’s first perfect-bound zine, and each issue comes with a mixtape featuring music by a bunch of local artists — the perfect creative inspiration for your own summer daydreaming. Even if you can't make it out this Saturday, you can still order the zine online.
Misadventure, Nicholas Grider
The second book published by newish local indie press A Strange Object, Misadventure is far from your conventional summer romance story. A debut collection by Grider, the stories delve into the depths of human relationships and sexuality with quirky, even playful writing that hits hard and skillfully, from the very first lines of the opening piece, “Millions of Americans”:
Millions of Americans do strange or extreme things without quite being able to articulate why. Gary can’t quite articulate why he does a lot of things. When George ties Gary to the chair, he promises Gary he won’t get bored. On the phone, George reassures his former lover Allen that their breakup had nothing to do with Allen never wanting to go anywhere or do anything. Allen is an agoraphobic. Agoraphobia is a condition that can be debilitating and affects millions of Americans. Sometimes people from all walks of life can be afraid that if they go out into the throng they might somehow vanish.
Issues of desire, control, power, eccentricity and love are all explored under the covers of a crisp, 5 x 7 paperback that is so beautifully designed it makes us happy just holding it.
Trillin On Texas, Calvin Trillin
This is technically not a paperback, but it is very lightweight and manageable. If you're like me, unread stacks of the New Yorker are perpetually growing in your living room. Longingly, you look at them and fantasize about catching up on them “this summer,” which somehow never happens. A book like Trillin on Texas — a collection of the New Yorker's Calvin Trillin’s previously published essays on all things Texas — is a much more efficient approach.
The 18 pieces cover everything from crime (like “Mystery Money,” where two teenagers dig up a ton of cash in an ice box on a South Texas ranch) to politics to, of course, barbecue. Trillin’s wit and astute observations shine throughout, and while the stories date back as far as the early eighties, they still feel relevant, and many of them conjure up serious Lone Star State wanderlust. Consider this the perfect companion to a Texas summer road trip.