Summer Reading 2018

Even though we’re busy planning BBF 2018 (mark your calendars: October 13!), Team BBF is still finding time for a little summer R&R, from visiting mountains and islands to exploring beaches, pools, and parks closer to home. And you know we’ve always got a book in our backpack or beach bag! Our staff has compiled some of our favorite summer reading recommendations to accompany you on your own summer adventures—happy summer, and happy reading!

Debbie Porter, Founding Executive Director

If you like family sagas and immigration stories, Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee, is a good choice for a summer read. It’s the story of a young Korean woman who marries and moves to Japan with her missionary husband, circa 1939.  It reminds me of the James Michener novels I loved as a kid.


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For more of a layered novel of ideas, I recommend Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday. It has been declared the book of the summer and has been written about extensively so I won’t say more—but it’s good!


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I have just started reading The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and it feels important and original.


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Next on my list, I look forward to reading Kudos, the third in Rachel Cusk’s trilogy.  It takes place at a literary festival!


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Norah Piehl, Deputy Director

This year, anytime I talk with someone for more than about three minutes, I’m likely to start enthusing about Richard Powers‘s magnificent new novel The Overstory. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this novel–which plants trees at the center of a rich and multilayered narrative–will alter not only the way you view the woods but also how you think about the nature of time and our human story. Perfect for a hiking or backpacking trip–though in that case you might want to opt for the e-book, since at 500+ pages, it’s monumental in more ways than one!


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If you’re still around after I’ve waxed rhapsodic about The Overstory, I’ll probably next recommend Aminatta Forna‘s Happiness. A love story that opens with a chance meeting between a wildlife biologist studying urban foxes and a recently widowed trauma specialist, Happiness is also a beautifully rendered portrait of contemporary, multicultural London, and a glimpse at the vitality and interconnectedness of its immigrant communities. Pick this one up if your summer plans send you across the pond–or if you just wish they did!


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I’ve finally gotten around to reading (or listening to) Boston favorite Mitali Perkins‘s YA novel You Bring the Distant Neara big-hearted novel about three generations of women in a Bengali American family, each navigating her own journey across borders and boundaries both real and symbolic. I definitely recommend the audiobook version of the novel–the voices of five different narrators further enliven the characters Perkins has so lovingly created. Add this one to your list if your summer plans include a family reunion!


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I intended to read Chad Sell‘s juvenile graphic novel Cardboard Kingdom to myself, but my four-year-old immediately demanded that I read it aloud, and it’s since become a full family favorite. Sell and his coauthors navigate issues like bullying, gender identity, divorce, and neurodiversity in completely age-appropriate ways, all while telling a series of interconnected stories about a group of kids who creatively transform their neighborhood into a summertime fairyland. I vote this one best choice for summer camp care packages.


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Finally, in recent weeks, my thoughts have increasingly turned to a book I read last year. Valeria Luiselli‘s brief but powerful Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions recounts her experience as a volunteer interpreter for unaccompanied minors during the surge of arrivals in 2015. Luiselli’s book is essential reading for those wanting to gain historical perspective and to understand the differences between Obama and Trump-era border policies. It’s also both intimate and urgent, illustrating the human cost of the ongoing refugee crisis. Summer reading is often about escapism, but this year, we can’t afford to tune out.


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Raquel Hitt, Director of Operations

Because Mermaids in Paradise: A Novel by Lydia Millet is about a honeymooning couple (who, you guessed it, find mermaids), I purchased it to take on my own honeymoon…nearly two years ago. I recently tossed it into my beach bag and am so glad I did. What a romp! Not only was it fun and sarcastic in the way Millet’s novels tend to be, it also questions corporate greed and humans’ impact on the environment.

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An oldie but goodie, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley was published in 1982 and is a Newbery Honor book. I found it on the “staff pick shelf” at Innisfree Bookshop, an adorable store in the Lakes region of New Hampshire overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee. The desert setting, strong female lead, beautiful horses, and magic–“Kelar”–make for an excellent escape.

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In preparation for the movie (coming out August 2018), I’m re-reading Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. It’s a delicious combination of society drama, international glamour, and family politics. Imagine if Gossip Girl, The OC, and Sex in the City came together to create the ultimate telenovela set in Singapore. Cheers!

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Bella Cartularo, BBF 2018 Intern

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib
This brilliant collection of essays explores Abdurraqib’s experiences when confronted with feelings of intrigue, confusion, love, and loathing. When I started this book I didn’t put it down until I reached the last page. I highly suggest this book not only for those interested in new age voices but also for those who are explore the limitations of genre, specifically the limitations (or limitless potential) of the essay form.


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Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Ward is a force whose writing is reminiscent of James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and William Faulkner. Her work is endlessly compelling and honest and this book really lets that shine through. Set in a fictional town in Mississippi, this novel explores the fault lines between families and identity.


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Katie Montgomery, BBF 2018 Intern

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but Meg Wolitzer’s newest novel’s bright and bold cover art alone might just make you stop and pick it up. The storyline, however, I’m sure will seal the deal. The Female Persuasion follows Greer Kadetsky, a woman figuring out her path in life through college, careers, and children. Wolitzer’s novel shows, through Greer, what it’s like to be a feminist in today’s world when there is no clear definition or strong support system. This is a story that you’ll read, tell EVERYONE to read, and won’t accept no for an answer.


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Robin by Dave Itzkoff
In a time where mental health is mostly misunderstood or altogether ignored, Dave Itzkoff’s Robin brings light to the topic and to the Robin Williams that was under all of the masks, accents, and hilarious characters. When reading, you’ll feel like Williams is sitting right next to you to help tell his story. Itzfkoff paints the complete portrait, highlighting the light, the dark, the publically perceived, and the privately unknown sides.


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