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Summer reading 2017 Vox / Javier Zarracina

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Indie bookstores always have the best book recs. So we asked them what to read this summer.

Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

If you want a really good book recommendation, go to the critics, by all means — but don’t neglect your local independent bookstore. Booksellers have to stay on top of an enormous volume of books, and they have a unique perspective on what’s selling to whom. And really good independent bookstores will carefully curate their stock, so that the books on offer reflect the preferences and personalities of the people who work there: a Herculean task that requires enormous amounts of both taste and knowledge.

To prepare for this summer’s onslaught of new releases, I asked staff members from independent bookstores across the country to name the one book they’re most looking forward to sharing with the rest of us this summer. With their recommendations in hand, go forth and read.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle Spiegel & Grau

The Changeling, by Victor LaValle (June 13)

As a bookseller for 20 years, and an avid reader for twice that, I've enjoyed thousands of books, but the more books I read, it seems the fewer have the power to take me into unknown territory. I love Victor LaValle's books because they are able to do just that. His genre-bending writing is a well-crafted cocktail, balancing many potent ingredients to create something exciting and new. LaValle's unconventional style results in a smart, absorbing read that keeps me thinking long after the last page.

His newest offering, The Changeling, is no exception. It unfolds slowly, and covers a wide array of themes. LaValle initially seems to focus on immigration, family, and fatherhood, before revealing a terrifying supernatural underside to the city. I can't wait to share it with our customers!

— Bari Dulberg, Astoria Bookshop, New York

Kingdom Cons, by Yuri Herrera (June 13)

Yuri Herrera has made a literary career out of turning drug-trafficking stories into fables. This is not to say that he glorifies the narco world — far from it — but he writes what a former classmate of mine called “the-people-must-know” novels with the otherworldly beauty of myth. Kingdom Cons is the third of his books to be translated into English, and both the story and its translation are the best yet.

At the start, a struggling cantina singer named Lobo grabs at the chance to be a drug lord’s court musician, writing narco-corridos in exchange for a home. Soon, he’s transformed into the Artist, nameless but powerful, as long as his songs please the King. For the first time in his life, he’s respected, even loved. But then the King goes to war, and as the court fills with violence, the Artist has to decide how much he cares about art — and whether it’s worth his life.

— Lily Meyer, Politics and Prose, Washington, DC

Since I Laid My Burden Down, by Brontez Purnell (June 13)

I'm excited for Brontez Purnell's forthcoming Since I Laid My Burden Down. Purnell is a queer, black, punk musician from Alabama who now lives in Oakland. You may know him from the bands Gravy Train!!!! or Hunx and his Punx (he was Junx).

Now he makes music under his own name and writes hilarious, heartfelt books about family, sex, and death. Since I Laid My Burden Down is somewhat autobiographical, making the novel’s complete lack of self-pity even more remarkable. It opens with the narrator returning home to Alabama for a funeral. He visits his aunts and his mother while considering the men he's loved and lost. He flirts with a pastor, hooks up with his childhood bullies' brother, and binge-eats. It's a lot of hot, happy fun, the sort I hope to see a lot more from queer literature.

— Landon Gray Mitchell, McNally Jackson, New York

The Sarah Book, by Scott McClanahan (June 20)

With The Sarah Book, Scott McClanahan understands that, even with the good moments in between, life is about tragedy, about losing everything — it's death and aging and losing the people you love the most. He talks about this through the history of his dissolving marriage, and all the jealousy, paranoia, and loneliness one would expect. But he tells this story with an insightful self-awareness and self-deprecation that's welcomely (and sometimes uncomfortably) honest, incredibly funny, and strangely beautiful.

— Justin Souther, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville, North Carolina

Like a Fading Shadow, by Antonio Muñoz Molina Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Like a Fading Shadow, by Antonio Muñoz Molina (July 18)

Exploring the possibilities of auto-fiction, Spanish author Antonio Muñoz Molina lays down two different narrations that advance in parallel throughout the novel. One is the story of James Earl Ray's flight to Lisbon after murdering Martin Luther King. The other one is focused on his personal experiences in the late ’80s while he was in the process of writing his second novel, Un Invierno en Lisboa (Winter in Lisbon, unpublished in English). This is a brilliant dialogue between reality and fiction in which the author, smartly and full of empathy, recomposes those things that must have happened but we don’t know. The best thing of this book: the insightful reflections on the process of telling a story.

— Andrés de la Casa-Huertas, The Wild Detectives, Dallas

In a Lonely Place, by Dorothy B. Hughes (August 15)

A few of us are excited about In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes. This is a reprint of a classic 1947 noir, put out by the always wonderful New York Review Books. It’s considered one of the best (and maybe first?) crime novels to get into the consciousness of a serial killer, and Hughes is known for her taut, poetic prose. It also inspired a pretty good Humphrey Bogart movie.

— Joseph Poteracki, Joseph Fox Bookshop, Philadelphia

The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa (August 29)

One of the great masterpieces of the 20th century, The Book of Disquiet, an “autobiography of someone who never existed,” was discovered posthumously among Fernando Pessoa’s voluminous papers. Writing under the heteronym Bernardo Soares, Pessoa tells Soares’s story through mood and reflection, not fact and incident. The New Directions edition — the first to be arranged chronologically — promises to invite new readers, while deepening the appreciation and heightening the delight of veterans. A major publishing event!

— Jeff Deutsch, Seminary Co-op Bookstores, Chicago


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