Ten Books To Read This Summer

These novels, memoirs, poetry collections and other page-turners will keep you entertained while looking smart while basking on the beach or sweating on the subway


Your Brain Is a Time Machine, by Dean Buonomano 

At the end of his life, Einstein wrote a letter of condolence to a late friend’s family to say that in quantum physics, there is no distinction between past, present, and future. Physicists now accept that the arrow of time is but an illusion; there is no consensus, however, as to why time feels the way it does, as an unfolding of events. In Your Brain Is a Time Machine, best-selling author and brain researcher Buonomano proposes his theory on how the brain constructs the experience of time as a linear, chronological flow, enabling us to “time travel” into the past and future. (W. W. Norton & Co., $27)

So Much Blue, by Percival Everett 

Experimental novelist Percival Everett has never written a book with a conventional plot, and that’s part of what makes his work worthwhile. In his latest, So Much Blue, a renowned painter named Kevin Pace toils over a secret blue painting that he won’t reveal to anyone, recalling Balzac’s short story “The Unknown Masterpiece.” The novel is a commentary, perhaps, on the exquisite torture of expressing the inexpressible, of never quite getting there. Set in Paris, El Salvador, and New England, this quiet, wise novel is like a flame: illuminating, and cool blue at the core. (Graywolf Press, $16)

The Leavers, by Lisa Ko 

Inspired by a 2009 New York Times story about an undocumented woman from Fuzhou who was detained at a Greyhound station and kept mostly in solitary confinement for a year and a half, Lisa Ko’s new novel is especially relevant for our times. Polly Guo is a firecracker of a woman, a village girl who makes it all the way to New York City with nothing but a fierce will to survive. Selected by Barbara Kingsolver for the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Award Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, The Leavers is a scathing critique of our immigration system and the hypocrisies of the American Dream. (Algonquin, $26)

Dear Cyborgs, by Eugene Lim

Lim’s third novel might be the most delightful read you’ll find all summer. Two Asian-American boys bond over their love of comic books in a small Ohio town; they disperse; and from there, their lives lurch from one possible world to another, as futures do when we can’t yet see them. Or maybe the future is all too clear, and the totalizing forces of capitalism are impossible to escape, but these superheroes refuse to accept defeat. Through seamlessly incorporated meditations on political protest and radical art, Dear Cyborgs is an effortless page turner that dares the reader to believe in the power of the imagination. (FSG Originals, $14)

Cool for You, by Eileen Myles 

It’s about time for a reissue of Eileen Myles’s cult classic, and this Soft Skull edition includes an introduction by Chris Kraus, making it a double pleasure. Myles’s narrator hails from working-class Boston and works at a state asylum for mentally disabled men; later we discover she’s trying to hunt down the files on her grandmother, who was mysteriously institutionalized for unspecified reasons. What does it mean to be a mad woman? As Kraus suggests, this book (first published in 2000) is not so much “about” female madness as it is a “writing-out”— in all its gory, intimate complexity. (Soft Skull Press, $17)

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, by Arundhati Roy

In the two decades since the publication of her Booker Prize–winning first novel, A God of Small Things, Roy has worked as an environmental and human rights activist and written mostly nonfiction. Now, with The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, she has found a way to combine all those years of witness with narrative fiction. From Old Delhi to the valleys of Kashmir, Roy zooms in on the lives of her characters—a transgender woman living in a graveyard; an architecture student in love with a freedom fighter—while contextualizing their struggles within the larger Indian tableau. Fortified with fact, this novel is definitely worth the wait.  (Knopf, $29)

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002), by David Sedaris 

The best-selling memoirist returns to the form that launched his career — the diary. Theft by Finding is composed of selections from a diary that spans twenty-five years, tracing Sedaris’s journey from his hometown of Raleigh to Chicago, where he studied art, to New York City, where he worked as a Macy’s elf, and finally to Paris and beyond. Throughout his journey, Sedaris never stops observing, recording, and making us laugh. Unlike most diaries, this narrative holds us in suspense, perhaps because we know how he’ll end up — famous — but not how he got there. It’s heartening to know that even famous writers struggle all the time, and with such humor and grace. (Little, Brown and Company, $28)

WHEREAS: Poems, by Layli Long Soldier 

The first word of the first clause of the U.S. government’s Native American Apology Resolution is “whereas,” signaling that whatever follows can not be officially cited as an actionable grievance, since one must “take into consideration that.” Layli Long Soldier’s important poetry collection riffs repeatedly on this word, interrogating it, challenging it, redefining it. Although indigenous history is filled with false apologies and equivocations, this collection of “short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers” stands as a reckoning. (Graywolf Press, $16)

Letters to His Neighbor, by Marcel Proust, translated by Lydia Davis 

A new trove of Proust correspondence has been discovered, though fans will have to wait until August to get a taste. Letters to His Neighbor, brilliantly translated by Lydia Davis, is a collection of beseeching letters that Proust wrote to his noisy upstairs neighbor, a dentist. The letters are inadvertently hilarious in their hyper-genteel poise; we see Proust at his most desperate, charming to the extreme, an effect no doubt amplified by Davis’s elegant prose. Proust famously spent the remaining years of his life writing in a cork-lined room, unable to tolerate any kind of noise; these letters endear us to him and his struggle for peace. (New Directions, $23)

Temporary People, by Deepak Unnikrishnan 

Winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, Deepak Unnikrishnan’s story collection is a tour de force. In twenty-eight linked stories, the author illuminates the plight of the countless foreign laborers who toil invisibly under horrific working conditions in the United Arab Emirates. The stories are surreal, Kafkaesque parables: “In Mussafah Grew People” portrays a man growing temporary, disposable workers intended to last only twelve years; in “Birds,” a woman bikes around stitching up men who have fallen from the high rises they’ve built. This is an incredible first collection that shouldn’t be missed. (Restless Books, $18)