A Dozen Books for the Summer (Make that Fall) Months

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Editor’s Note: Gina Balibrera composed this wonderful post in time for our original summer solstice publication date. Please blame her editor (that would be me), and not her, for any wonky bits of (un)timeliness, and enjoy her lovely offerings. —Ashley David

Four I’ve Read this Summer (and bits I loved):

Kingdom of Rocks, Consuelo Saint Exupéry. Memoirs of a post-armistice artists’ colony in a Provençale Roman ruin, from a exquisite, mysterious character who was called “Surrealism made flesh.” Next week, I’ll be traveling to France on a research grant this summer to explore Consuelo’s world, and this book fanned the flames of my nerdy desire. “In the sweep of its two wings, the huge mass of the castle mingled with the crests of the supporting rock; it lost itself, farther down, in the rugged surface of a cliff which dominated a broad stretch of ruins like the path of an avalanche; houses and terraces, here, could be seen clinging to the side of a hill whose base was already bathed in shadow. The whole pile of giant stones seemed unbelievable, looming in the sunset light against the horizon blocked by the clear blue lines of the Lubéron. This was Oppède.”

In Search of the Duende, Federico García Lorca. The poet’s reflections on Spanish guitar, dance, and poetry, and the elusive quality of that transforms these arts into something darkly, passionately moving.  “The duende works on the body of the dancer as the wind works on sand. With magical power he changes a girl into a lunar paralytic, or brings an adolescent blush to the broken old man begging in the wineshop, or the odor of a nocturnal port to a woman’s hair, and he works continuously on the arms with expressions that give birth to the dances of every age.”


Paris Stories, Mavis Gallant. The stories in this collection, edited and with a wonderful foreword by Michael Ondaatje, take place all over Europe: Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria and France, though in the places they find themselves, Gallant’s characters are displaced from other homelands, as the author puts it, “shipwrecked.” Behold Agnes, for example: “Here is Agnes–small, mole-faced, round-shouldered because she has always carried a younger child. She watches the ice wagon and the changing amber of the child’s eyes. The child is Peter. He has seen the grain of the cement sidewalk and the grass in the cracks, and the dust, and the dandelions at the edge of the road.”


Short Stories by Latin American Women: The Magic and the Real, Ed. by Celia Correas de Zapata. This freshly released, dismal pie chart  (i.e., the missing persons of book-world) is just one of many, many reasons to read this incredible collection of stories. I found a new favorite short story in Mexican writer Elena Poniatowksa’s “Park Cinema”: “I do not know whether my memory makes me exaggerate, but in the cabaret scene there was no reason for you to half-open your lips in that way, to let your hair down over your shoulders, and to tolerate the impudent manners of that sailor who yawns as he leaves you, abandons you like a sinking ship after he has drowned your honor on the bed.”


Four I’ll Read this Summer (and why):

The Lazarus Project, Aleksander Hemon. I’ve been wanting to read this novel by Bosnian author Aleksandar Hemon for some time now–it’s described as “lovingly composed,” “prodigious,” and containing “profound tender paragraphs,” so how is a reader of my predilections to resist such a book? Hemon will be reading in Michigan in November.


The Green Shore, Natalie Bakopoulos. Historical fiction is tough. The process of writing a bygone world can feel dry, lonely, and uncertain. When I heard Bakopoulos read the story of a elderly, drunken, lovesick poet, from her opening chapter, I was inspired by how this well-researched novel, set in Greece’s turbulent 1960s, is so deeply rooted in the desires and heartbreak of her characters. I’ve lent my copy to A.L. Major, and I’ll be demanding it back upon my return from France.


The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald.  I adored Sebald’s gorgeous, quiet, false document-novel, The Emigrants. Am told I might love this one even more.

The Famished Road, Ben Okri. I’ve been wanting to read this Booker Prize winner by Nigerian author Ben Okri since the beginning of the year 2012, when a distinguished writer-friend recommended this book in a vehement tone, while drinking two different-colored beers at once and speaking of spiritual wonder. The time is ripe!


Four to Recommend this Summer (and reasons to read them now):

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov. Lush, limpid prose, ideal literary companionship for that illicit cross-country road-trip you’ve been meaning to take. Also, perfect beach reading while enjoying a kingdom by the sea.

The Transit of Venus, Shirley Hazzard. Astrologically topical! And simply brilliant.

How Fiction Works, James Wood. Take the long summer months to engage in some bracing yet meditative writer’s craft real talk. Free indirect discourse and so-forth.

In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now’s the time to read this multivolume masterpiece: the ultimate Big, Fat, Serious, Summer Project. Carry the box-set to the coffee shop with you to make new admirers. Order madeleines. Demand that at least two friends read it with you all summer long. Break down the 4,211 page count into approximately 351 manageable pages each week from now until Labor Day. If not now, when? Good luck.

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