I’ve read precisely 20 books this summer, which feels so good, you guys. It’s an accomplishment, but more importantly, it’s a round number.
It’s like petting a puppy. Or taking off your bra at the end of the day. The world is right and you are doing okay.
Of those 20, I’ve picked my top 5 for you to try. 5 is a nice, attractive digit. It has a sharp part and a curve.
Of the twenty, it is “one-quarter,” a phrase that sounds British somehow.
Without further dithering, I present my summer reads, which are, I suppose, going to have to be your fall reads.
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. A bunch of giant, ancient, metallic body parts turn up all over the world. Where did they come from? What happens when they assemble? Is humanity ready?
This book is mostly interview transcripts and journal entries, and the postmodern jumble works here.
I found out in my research for this post that there’s a sequel, which I hadn’t been expecting. The book works well on its own. You can read it without feeling compelled to get sucked into a series.
The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu. What happens you blend Asian mythology, science fiction, magical realism, and oodles of heart-rending emotion? Something much tastier than that paltry protein shake you’re drinking at home, that’s for sure.
This collection of short stories has a ridiculously good percentage of winners. I describe most short story collections as “hit and miss,” but this one was “hit, and hit, and hit, and hit, and I guess that one was just okay. Now back to more hits.”
All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. An awkward young teenage witch befriends and falls out with an awkward teenage genius. Years later, they find themselves on the opposite end of a war of magic vs technology in a quest to determine, you know, the fate of the Earth.
Usually books about the fate of the Earth reach too high and, like Icarus, become violently re-acquainted with the ground. Not so here. The ending is satisfying.
But What If We’re Wrong by Chuck Klosterman. This book features a section in which the author gets in a tiff with Neil deGrasse Tyson over whether another scientific revolution is possible. Their interaction alone is worth a read.
But the rest of the book is interesting too. It talks about how most of history is distilled down to simple ideas or representative figureheads for movements. And it’s not always the thing that’s popular at the time.
The writing of history is written, of course, after it happens. We’ll never know how we’re going to be remembered. We can guess, but we’d be wrong.
Klosterman’s points often get muddled by digressions, but I like that. You don’t go in there for answers. You go in there to plod through his head. You’re flipping up rugs. Sitting on the couch in the frontal lobes. Checking out the refrigerator behind the limbic system.
Grunt by Mary Roach. I’ve loved Mary Roach since Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. She looks into the science that’s less popular, and typically considered “icky,” if not outright offensive.
Her approach to the science of soldiers isn’t about guns, nukes, formations, etc. It’s about the off-kilter, unsung science you don’t consider about war. Reducing insects. Controlling diarrhea. Replacing injured penises.
Sure, you thought about prosthetic legs. But have you considered prosthetic schlongs? What about transplanted ding-a-lings from corpses?
You haven’t. Until now. You’re welcome.
This book is compulsively readable. You will also enjoy reading it aloud to the people around you. If you have to know about these things, so does everyone else.
It occurs to me that I’ve given you these recommendations as school is starting. Think of them as your anti-syllabus to complete while you’re avoiding your actual duties.