This is going to be a bit longer than usual, because I need to add a section of books I highly recommend and/or need to read, in honor of the Black Lives Matter protests happening in the US (and beyond) this week. I’m going to start with my regular 5-book TBR for June, then follow up with the new releases I’ve got my eye on this month, and end strong on the Black lit I’m challenging myself to read this summer.
To start off, my June TBR:
- My Dark Vanessa by Elizabeth Russell. I was hoping to hit the blogger-built alternate Women’s Prize list hard this month, which includes this book. It’s a 2020 release I was highly anticipating and bought soon after its publication. This is the story of a woman looking back on relationship she had as a minor with an older teacher at her high school, reevaluating whether she believes it to have been sexual abuse and why or why not.
- The Body Lies by Jo Baker. Another title from our alternate Women’s Prize list that I have on hand, have been eager to read, and would love to pick up as soon as possible. It follows a writer with a student who has written her into his book- and given her a “horrifying fate.”
- Supper Club by Lara Williams. An alternate Women’s Prize book that no one from the group has read yet! It’s about a secret society of women who seek to reclaim their physical space by feasting, unrestrained. I’ve had a physical copy sitting around for months and need to pick it up.
- Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. One of my 20 in ’20 books. I read Machado’s memoir In the Dream House back in March and really liked it. I’ve had her short story collection unread on my shelf for far too long, and having just finished another short story collection in May I think the time is ripe to work through another one. Thanks to In the Dream House I also know that Machado is an LGTBQ+ author, and with June being Pride month I am hoping this can be a sort of springboard to picking up more LGBTQ+ work/content throughout the month.
- Four Past Midnight by Stephen King. I know this is hardly the time to be reading from old straight white dudes with a lot of blatant prejudice in their writing, but I’ve had this one lined up as a buddy read for a while. It’s a collection of four novellas, and I expect I’ll be reading one per week throughout the month. I’m working on a slow read-through of all of King’s books, not becauase I particularly like him but as a sort of reading experiment, to eventually compare a prolific author’s work over the course of several decades. I’ve got a great post in mind to cover Stephen King, but I’ve got plenty of reading still to do before I get there, and this one’s next on my list.
To be honest, I set this list a couple of weeks ago already and in light of recent events my focus has shifted; I don’t at present expect to read all of these in June, but I’m hoping to catch up on all of my 5-book TBRs before the end of the year so I’ll keep this list and get to what I can when I can.
Without my regular library visits, my new release reading has majorly suffered these past couple of months, but there are quite a few new books I’m looking forward to among June’s publications! I can’t guarantee I’ll get to any/all of these within the month, but I am looking forward to reading them eventually and want to acknowledge what I’ve got my eye on.
- A Burning by Megha Majumdar. Literary fiction set in India, following three characters who become involved (intentionally or otherwise) in rising political extremism. Out May 2nd
- Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan. Literary fiction in which a woman leaves Ireland for Hong Kong where she becomes entangled in two complicated relationships- one with a man, and one with a woman- that eventually force her to make a difficult choice. Out June 2nd
- The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett. Historical fiction featuring twin sisters who grew up in a small southern black community but lead entirely different lives as adults- one returning to her hometown to raise her black daughter, the other passing as white and burying her past. Out June 2nd
- My Calamity Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. YA fantasy retelling of a historical girl trying to become a legend in the Wild West. 3rd in a series of companion novels. Out June 2nd
- Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier. Literary fiction coming of age story about a pregnant teen pizza delivery girl obsessed with a single mother on her delivery roster. Out June 9th
- Stranger Planet by Nathan W Pyle. Humorous/satirical comic collection in which alien “beings” narrate relatable experiences echoing the ironies and nuances of human life. 2nd volume in set, though these don’t need to be read in order. Out June 16th
- The Lightness by Emily Temple. Literary fiction that takes place at a summer camp for troubled teens, where our young MC falls in with a trio of girls determined to achieve enlightenment and master levitation before the summer’s gone. Out June 16th
- The Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty. Adult fantasy honoring aspects of Middle East culture, in which a handful of young men and women each work with whatever powers they possess to bring their chaotic magical city into an era of peace. 3rd in a trilogy. Out June 30th
- Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh. Dystopian fiction in which young women receive a ticket to their adult lives- either into marriage and motherhood, or a career and personal freedom; the story follows a woman who questions the fate her ticket has dictated. Out June 30th
- Home Before Dark by Riley Sager. Mystery/thriller featuring a woman who returns to the house featured in her father’s horror memoir, to discover whether the place is truly haunted and if so by what/whom. Out June 30th
- Thin Girls by Diana Clarke. Literary fiction following twin sisters with a close bond that’s both supportive and destructive; through their relationship the novel examines body image, queerness, diet culture and more. Out June 30th
And now. I’m putting this at the end of the post not because it’s the least important to me, but because I’ve always been a big believer in the prospect that your ending is more important- and speaks louder- than your beginning. I am appalled at the blatant racism on display in the US right now and the treatment that protestors are receiving. So I’m taking this opportunity to do everything I can to support those in need, which includes furthering my own education on the subject of racism, celebrating and promoting Black voices (particularly through reading and reviewing here, as this is a book account), and encouraging others to do what they can as well. (Sign petitions! Donate! Amplify Black voices!) To this end, I’ve recently purchased some books by Black authors that I fully intend to read this summer:
- How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
- Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown
- Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
I’m also aiming to pick up this summer some (or preferably all) of the Black-authored books that are already on my shelves:
- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
- The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- The Mothers by Britt Bennett
- Real Life by Brandon Taylor
- Lot by Bryan Washington
- A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley
- On Beauty by Zadie Smith
- The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil
And in case you also find yourself looking back at your reading year so far and finding Black voices lacking there, I want to recommend a few other books that I’ve already read and really liked. These are books I highly recommend checking out sooner rather than later, if you haven’t gotten to them yet! These are primarily fiction; non-fiction by Black authors is an area I still need to work on. Some of the titles I wanted to buy this week have been harder to get ahold of (which is great! It means this is a topic people are focused heavily on right now!) so I’m hoping to pick up more later on as well. But for now, here are a few suggestions that I’ve read and appreciated, and hope you have or will as well:
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
- Hunger by Roxane Gay, and Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay
- Letter From Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.
- My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
- Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
- Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
It’s vital (especially for those of us who are not Black) to read the non-fiction and racism-centered fiction first in order to understand as best we can the scope of what is wrong and what we can do to change the status quo. But I think there’s more to Black Lives Matter than recognizing that racism is happening, and celebrating Black authors who write “less serious” genres are also an important way of showing support because it helps show that we’re interested in Black stories for more than our own education on racism. We want Black authors to be free to create whatever art is in their hearts, and only reading non-fiction about racism fails to support that desire. Reading fiction is a necessary step in making sure non-white authors will get the same opportunities to write about whatever they want to write about, which is a freedom that’s been too limited to white writers for too long.
In sum, I’ll be making time to read, review, and recommend books by Black authors this month, alongside and in place of some of my other readings. I’m postponing my May wrap-up and other scheduled reviews temporarily because I just don’t have the time and attention to spend on those posts at present.
Feel free to drop any Black author recommendations below!
The Literary Elephant