Summer reading is for adults, too. When you’re lounging poolside or at the beach, or if you simply want to get cozy on the couch, a good book can make your vacation — or staycation — even better. We turned to booksellers across the South to find out what’s on their summer reading list. Whether you’re looking for an easy, breezy read, something to make you think, or stories to make you feel all the feels, they’ve got you covered.
Your 2021 Summer Reading List
Emily Tarr, bookseller at Thank You Books in Birmingham, AL
Emily Tarr, a bookseller at Thank You Books in Birmingham, Alabama, believes that summer reads are special. “The books I’ve read during the hottest months are always the ones I can recall with blazing clarity,” she says. And in a summer stacked with hot new releases, there are brilliant books upon brilliant books, something new and fresh every week.”
First up for Emily is Second Place by Rachel Cusk. “Everything Rachel Cusk pens turns to molten gold as it snakes its way through my feelings, and Second Place is so crisp and shocking and unparalleled,” Emily says.
She’s also a huge fan of Brandon Taylor’s work, from his debut novel Real Life to his newsletter of literary and social commentary. “In June, I can’t wait to get my paws on his short story collection Filthy Animals,” Emily says.
In August, you’ll find her grabbing a copy of Savage Tongues by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi. “The story is set on the fiery shores of Spain and features such a true narrator, wrestling a deeply personal trauma, and a fantastic depiction of female friendship,” she says.
And Emily will close out her summer reading with Matrix by Lauren Groff, set to be released September 7. “Her short story collection Florida is probably my favorite summer fiction, and I’ve bought more copies of it than I can count for my fiction-loving friends,” Emily says. So, she’s sure Matrix will not disappoint. “Her recent New Yorker story ‘The Wind’ has haunted me for months.”
Lindsay Lynch, Inventory Manager at Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN
Lindsay Lynch, Inventory Manager at Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN, was won over by Casey McQuiston’s debut novel Red, White and Royal Blue, so McQuiston’s follow-up One Last Stop is at the top of her list. The story follows 23-year-old August, who discovers the love of her life on the train. “There’s only one issue — the girl of her dreams appears to have time-traveled from the 1970s,” Lindsay says. “This is the perfect summer novel!”
Another novel Lindsay will be diving into this summer is The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris. This tale follows Nella, who is a young editorial assistant at a publishing house where she’s the only black employee — until Hazel shows up. Nella finds herself vacillating between kinship and rivalry with Hazel but soon begins to suspect something more sinister might be happening. “Zakiya Dalila Harris’s debut novel is a searing satire of race relations in the workplace,” Lindsay says.
As for non-fiction, Lindsay has been counting down the days for the release of Ashley Ford’s memoir Somebody’s Daughter, which tells the story of her relationship with her family, including her father who has been incarcerated for most of her life. “Like many others, I’ve been following Ashley Ford’s writing online for years and hoping for a book-length project from her,” Lindsay says. “I’m so glad it’s finally here!”
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Maggie Henriksen, bookseller at Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, KY
Maggie Henriksen, of Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, KY, says her summer picks aren’t very “summery,” but they deserve your attention nonetheless. Variations on the Body by Maria Ospina, due out July 6, is a translated collection of six powerful short stories focused on women in Colombia and their interactions with society and each other. In the collection, which Maggie describes as “beautiful, snarky, and intense,” the city of Bogota becomes as strong a character as each woman.
Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi, set to be released June 8, is a unique and powerful memoir written in letters and depicts Emezi’s struggle with bodily and mental autonomy and a long-fought battle to find peace in this life. “Take your time with this one,” Maggie says. “You’ll regret it if you don’t absorb every word.”
Seek You by Kristen Radtke, due July 6, explores loneliness — something many of us became all too familiar with in 2020. “Radtke perfectly captures what it’s like to live in a lonely body, as well as examining loneliness in a historical, scientific, and cultural context,” Maggie says. The book also features haunting illustrations. Maggie says Seek You is “devastating and vital” and delivers “gut-punching truths about humanity and desire in many forms.”
The Hollow Inside by Brooke Lauren Davis is a young adult read that follows Phoenix as she attempts to get revenge on a man who ruined her mother’s life as a teenager. “But she finds herself in the center of a web far more tangled than she ever imagined, Maggie says. “This is an excellent fast-paced read for fans of gritty and unstoppable female characters.”
Lillian Kay, bookseller at novel. in Memphis, TN
“There are many new titles from authors I always look forward to reading coming out this summer,” Lillian Kay, a bookseller at novel. in Memphis, Tennessee. One of those authors is Jennifer Weiner whose new novel That Summer, interconnects the stories of two women named Diane, whose stories overlap in a surprising, twisty way when busy run-down mother, Diane “Daisy” Shoemaker starts receiving accidental emails intended for a more sophisticated Diane, and she begins to envy her glamorous life. “Weiner knows how to add substance, social relevance and realisticity to all of her splashy beach reads,” Lillian says. “Expect Weiner’s signature inclusion of tantalizing food descriptions, scenic beach scenes and juicy surprises.”
With Malibu Rising by Taylor Reid Jenkins you’ll be invited to the messy but beautiful Riva family’s annual star-studded party where their past, present and future will all be set ablaze, Lillian says. “Taylor Reid Jenkins never fails to dish out a retro, fun-loving and unforgettable novel.”
Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand, who Lillian calls the queen of the summer read, is set half in Nantucket and half in the afterlife. “This is the perfect story for anyone who has lost someone they love,” Lillian says.
If you haven’t read Jenny Lee’s Anna K: A Love Story, a modern retelling of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina set in New York City, add that to your weekend plans. Then pick up the sequel, Anna K Away. “The full cast of characters continues their stories, following the aftermath of some major incidents and dramas in the last installment,” Lillian says. “Both these installments will keep you entertained and engaged with the characters that you will grow to love.
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry will take you on a summer vacation with Poppy and Alex as the pair tries to fix their fractured friendship. “The sexual tension is just as strong as the witty banter between the two friends,” Lillian says. She adds that all of her picks pair nicely with “some cool sheets with the AC on full blast and a tropical drink, sitting under an umbrella on vacation or on a plane en route to your travel destination.”
Enjoy all of your summer literary adventures!
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