What I’m Reading: Summer Reading List 2012

School is out. The boys are making snowcones. And, along with plans to head out of town or to the beach, with time suddenly available, it’s a reader’s tradition to ask: What were those books I’d been meaning to read?

Dress of books: often posted without credit, this pic was taken at the Dallas Home Show 2011, by Lori of Katie’s Rose Cottage Designs. The dress was part of a display, by a vendor unknown.

My list isn’t summer reading in the “beach” reading sense, but an accumulation of great books I’ve collected during a busy winter and can’t wait for summer’s freer days to savor.  Most titles are linked to Amazon; options for Indiebound.org or Powell’s Books are available on my Links page.


  1. Alice McDermott’s Charming Billy (2009, winner National Book Award for Fiction).  I had not read McDermott before, but began reading Billy a couple weeks ago to understand a comment Ann Hood made in workshop comparing the opening pages of my draft,Wake, to some aspect of McDermott’s writing. (Update this made my Favorite Reads list for 2012: I learned some interesting things about action/reaction in writing scenes from McDermott’s novel, which is rich in authentic character.)
  2. Aleksander Hemon, The Lazarus Project (2009). I first became curious about Hemon, a MacArthur award-winning writer, after reading his painfully beautiful essay, “The Aquarium,” in The New Yorker online, about the loss of his daughter. (Update: This made my Favorite Reads of 2013 list, as one of the most complex, subtle and sophisticated novels — well worth the praising comparisons to the like of Nabokov. Expect a slightly slow, even confusing start — but note quickly how two novels entwine in one, to create a haunting and very personally told story. I look to read anything else Hemon has written.)
  3. Jan-Phillip Sendker, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (2012). Billed as “a love story set in Burma,” this was named an Amazon best novel in February. I fell in love with Berlin foreign correspondent Sendker’s writing after reading a single description he gave of riding a train so slow he sometimes jumped off and walked alongside.
  4. Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2008).
  5. Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists (2011). Both Hedgehog (#4) and Imperfectionists won me over on a recent trip to Barnes and Noble, confirming them to be intriguing in the way I’d heard others speak of them.
  6. Thrity Umrigar, The Weight of Heaven. I have this 2010 novel downloaded onto my ereader, although others might be interested in Umrigar’s latest novel, The World We Found, which came out January 2012.
  7. Bradford Morrow, Fall of the Birds (2011). On a personal note, Bradford Morrow was the first editor to publish my work in a national forum. He is an acclaimed writer, and I was glad to discover this novella of his, available as a Kindle single.
  8. Margot LiveseyThe Flight of Gemma Hardy (2012). I first got to know Livesey as the Fiction Editor at Ploughshares, and have been eager to read her January novel, Gemma Hardy.  I’m equally interested in reading one of her earlier novels, Banishing Verona (2005).
  9. Emma Straub’s, Other People We Married (2012). Emma Straub is one of the writers I’ve discovered through Twitter.  I’ve come to trust her wit, so am eager to read anything she writes. Other People is a collection of stories.  Her novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, will come out in September and I believe will be featured as a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers selection.
  10. Laura Maylene Walter, Living Arrangements (2011). I can’t wait to read this collection of stories.  She is winner of the 2010 Chandra Prize for Stories.
  11. Adrian McKinty, The Cold Cold Ground (2012). Along with writers like Declan Burke and Stuart Neville, Belfast-born McKinty is among a group of edgy, intelligent writers who’ve turned the energy of post-Troubles Belfast to a new era of crime noir writing. If Cold Cold Ground is not yet available in the U.S., I’d consider reading Falling Glass.
  12. H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895). I believe Wells’ book just came into the public domain, as Time Machine is in the list of classics available as a free download.


  1. Ann Hood, Creating Character Emotions .  One chapter into this book of advice for writing emotionally authentic characters, I have filled the margins with notes provoked by Hood’s advice (which you can read about in blogs here and here).  (Update: this book made my Best Reads of 2012 list, and has provoked more immediate, effective results in my writing than any other writing book I can remember, so I highly recommend it).
  2. Kate Messner, Real Revision: Author’s Strategies to Share with Student Writers (2011). I’ve followed writer Kate Messner for awhile, and found out about this resource to teaching students revision from comments during the TeachWrite! summer challenge for teachers and librarians.
  3. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I first encountered Cheryl Strayed years ago as a participant at Poets & Writers’ Speakeasy forum. While changes in the forum have slowed participation, Cheryl was part of a vibrant and generous group of writers back in the day. I was therefore thrilled to see the immediate and rousing reaction her memoir Wild has received, and can’t wait to read it.
  4. Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2011). Skloot’s well-researched story of the scientific life of cells from Henrietta Lacks made the New York Times bestseller list as #1 for paperback nonfiction this week. Curious, I was blown away, reading this review of Skloot’s book from the New York Times, which describes her narrative as being “far deeper, braver and more wonderful” than just the scientific facts.


  1. Saeed Jones, When the Only Light is Fire (2011). Saeed Jones, a Pushcart nominee in 2010, has captivated me with his refined snarky wit on Twitter.

Young Adult/Kids Fiction:

Some of the best books I’ve read in the past year have been young adult fiction. The first 3 on the list below are books I’ve bought for my classroom library, and am “stealing back” to read myself.  I also read with my sons, who are rising 3rd and 6th graders, so the last three books are ones I’ll be reading with them.

  1. Nova Ren Suma, Imaginary Girls (2011). A novel about two sisters, which sounds magical and intriguing! I can’t wait.
  2. Alyson Noel, Shimmer (2011). I bought this during book fair, looking forward to reading when students were done with it.
  3. Sara Shepard, Pretty Little Liars (2009). Okay: guilty. I’ve caught a few episodes on tv and now want to read the book(s).
  4. Jean Craighead George, My Side of the Mountain (1959). This and #5 are assigned reading for my rising 6th graders, which includes my son this year. It’s a perennial favorite, about a boy who runs away from the city and creates a life for himself in the wilderness.
  5. Gloria Whelan, Listening for Lions (2006). I’ll be intrigued to read this book, set in British East Africa in 1919, and assigned as summer reading for my son and my rising 6th graders.
  6. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861). Not really YA or kid lit, but I’m up to chapter 4 of reading this with my boys, since they fell in love with the Masterpiece Theater version this spring.

Literary Magazines & Anthologies:

  1. Silk Road.  I downloaded vol. 7.1, to read Jennifer Kirkpatrick Brown’s story, “The Roots of Grass.” (Update: Jennifer’s story is fresh and intriguing – I was glad to get to read it, and look forward to reading more from this writer.)  Silk Road is a great publication. As much as I would love to have had a print edition in hand, it’s great to have such easy access to it via download.
  2. Best American Short Stories 2011. I am especially interested to read stories by two writers I follow: Rebecca Makkai (her 2011 novel, The Borrower, released in paperback on May 29th) and Megan Mayhew Bergman (whose acclaimed story collection, Birds of a Lesser Feather, came out in 2011).
  3. Back issues waiting, from Lit and Southern Review.

* * *

Want more information?

In keeping descriptions brief, I’ve mostly noted what drew me to the books. If you want to know more about a writer or book, let me know in the comments.

What are your recommendations?

I’d love to hear what makes your reading list this summer, or books you’ve read recently and would recommend.  Share them in the comments and I may update this list through the summer — especially as I am sure I have forgotten a couple from my own list!


Filed under Books, Reading, Teaching Writing

15 responses to “What I’m Reading: Summer Reading List 2012

  1. Veronica Roth

    I love that image! Have to make something like that soon. I admire your list Essisa; there’s only one on mine so far: When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman. That’s for the plane to England and once I’m home there’s a library of Terry Pratchetts, Terry Brooks, Alexander Kents and Dick Chaneys to re read and also weekly moochings at the Oxford Waterstones to see what’s on offer. I usually leave things up to chance. :)


    • Veronica, I love the suggestion of When God Was a Rabbit. Didn’t that make the short/long list in consideration for one of the big Brit book awards this spring? Thanks for sharing your recommendation. Enjoy the trip to England!


  2. Mel

    If you have not read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot–add that!
    Others to consider (Nonfiction):
    A place of My Own Michael Pollan (actually anything by him works)
    The Lost Daniel Mendelsohn
    The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
    The Writing Life, Anne Dillard.

    Anything by Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, David Sedaris, or Anne Lamott. I might also add anything by Poe, Tolkien, Eddings and Kurtz.

    I should stop. Although I haven’t added Shakespeare, Swift or Austen…


    • Mel, I had just discovered The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, yesterday, but was really stunned by the review I read in the Times Book Review, from February, so had considered adding that to my nonfiction recommendations. I know there’s also a lesser known writing how-to book I had written down, and need to add.

      I’m like you — my recommendations could go on forever, so I mostly limited it to books I actually have on hand, in line to be read. Thanks for sharing yours! E


  3. Elissa, I already sent you a couple of these via Twitter, but I’ll add them here, too: The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean and Elegies for the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen (poignant stories, lovely, searing prose). Other recent good reads: State of Wonder, Ann Patchett; Caleb’s Crossing, Geraldine Brooks: Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward; The Paris Wife, Paula McLain; Lord of Misrule, Jaimy Gordon; Accidental Birds of the Carolinas, Marjorie Hudson (short stories). For your nonfiction list: The Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (not for the faint of heart but a remarkable book about the war in the Pacific, WWII). On my list for summer: I’m reading Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow right now; Catherine the Great (can only tackle that one at the beach!); Russian Winter, Daphne Kalotay; One Last Good Time, Michael Kardos. Lit mags, too–recent issues of The Missouri Review, Ploughshares, Bloodroot, others. What a great idea to post summer reading. I’d love to follow suit and get some recs of my own. Happy reading!


    • Gerry, Tayari Jones Silver Sparrow has been on my reading list, too. I’ve heard only great things about her writing! Do compile your list — I think it’s worth doing a couple times a year, because you know we’re all always looking for reading suggestions. I just remembered a story collection I forgot to add… Thanks for sharing!


  4. Jennifer Kirkpatrick Brown

    Thanks for posting this, Elissa! I’m inspired to post a summer reading list of my own now! I second the Tayari Jones and Rebecca Skloot recommendations. I would also add 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami—it’s a huge monster, but oh so worth the time. And many thanks for the Silk Road shout-out! Much appreciated!


    • Jennifer, I can’t wait to read any lists you or Gerry Wilson (above) post on your sites. I haven’t braved the Murakami, yet, but have heard all good things. I really was excited to find your story in Silk Road so fresh and intriguing. I won’t comment more, to leave it fresh for other readers, but really was glad for a chance to read it!


  5. Pingback: Summer Reading List « Jennifer Kirkpatrick Brown

  6. Well it will take all summer to read those great books! I will want to join you on a few. I just finished The Queen Mother: The Untold Story of Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, Who Became Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother by Lady Colin Campbell. Not well written but great information (juicy tidbits) leading up to the current Diamond Jubilee of her daughter. Before that I read Children and Fire by Ursula Hegi (beautiful book) and I am now half way through The Dissident: A Novel by Nell Freudenberger. I am not sure how to describe the style or story, but I do know I can’t wait to get back to it….and that’s always a good sign.


    • Isn’t that the truth (about how long it will take to finish the list)? I feel guilty for some of the great books I left off my list, but knowing I am not a fast reader, I had to limit it to books I have on hand, piled and waiting, so really plan to read in the coming months. By the way, when I got certified to teach history last year, I realized that your love of biographies and visiting historical sites was the beginning of my love of history!


  7. I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks after hearing a storyteller tell Henrietta’s story. I went that very evening and bought the book. Then I went to a bookclub disscusion of the book. I was glad I did all three and glad the story was finally written.


    • elissa field

      Sabra, I’m glad you shared this. I have heard SUCH amazing things about Rebecca Skloot’s Henrietta Lacks — partly that the story is so compellling, but also that Rebecca brought such amazing writing quality to it, that I can’t wait to read it. For those interested in reading it and who do not otherwise have a fab indie bookseller to buy from, know that it is currently discounted at Target, on the NYT bestseller shelf.

      Thanks for commenting, Sabra — glad to have you here!


  8. Pingback: Teacher’s Summer Reading List 2013 | Mrs. T's Middle Grades

  9. Pingback: Summer Reading List | Jennifer Kirkpatrick Brown

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