July Reads & How I Pack For My Summer Vacation

How to design the optimal reading series

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July Reads

Happy Friday! As predicted, I read a bunch of books on vacation, and as also predicted, when I didn’t have a beautiful deck available to me, my reading pace dropped. I’ve also had a gratifying amount of work to do in the last few weeks which naturally takes up a bit of time. The tally for July is eleven books, which brings me up to thirty-three books read since April. I wasn’t really keeping track at the first part of the year. Last year I got up to 98 before the end of the year! Let’s see if I can hit that again.

Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard
The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson
Block Chain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside by Xiaowei Wang
Exit Strategy by Martha Wells
Beach Read by Emily Henry
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark
Praying with Jane Eyre by Vanessa Zoltan
People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry
Rebirth of a Movie Star by j112233
Dooms Day Book by Connie Willis

I’ve written about Praying With Jane Eyre and talked a lot about Dooms Day Book in here, so I won’t revisit those. I’m going to talk briefly about a few standouts from this month:

The Box in the Woods is a standalone sequel to Maureen Johnson’s Truly, Devious series, the continued mystery-solving adventures of true-crime addict Stevie Bell. In Truly, Devious, Stevie solved a famous historical murder at her elite private school, and in this sequel she and some of her friends from the previous series are enlisted by a tech guru to solve a famous murder at a summer camp. Johnson is great with character and humor, and Stevie’s struggles with anxiety and relationships felt painfully relatable. It’s probable that you could read this one on its own, but it’s so much richer if you check out the first series before you do. It has a twist that I, for one, did not see coming!

My Brilliant Friend is the first book in the Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante, a series of novels praised by seemingly everyone under the sun. Ferrante has guarded her real identity very closely, and efforts to unmask her have been meet with criticism. My Brilliant Friend is truly a masterwork and also one of the most stressful books I’ve ever read. It follows Lenu and Lila, two friends from a hardscrabble neighborhood outside of Naples, as they try to build lives for themselves in a deeply misogynistic and violent postwar society. The book is a compulsive read permeated with an air of absolute dread - you know from the start that Lila has disappeared later in her life, and even this knowledge doesn’t keep you from wanting to know what happened. I didn’t think I was going to read the rest of the series but like a clown I went out and got the sequel, The Story of a New Name.

Beach Read is exactly that: an absolute perfect vacation book. It’s a single-POV romance novel (a romcom, really) about two writers, one a romance novelist unable to write her way to a happy ending and the other a literary novelist unable to write, period. They make a bet while living in adjoining beach houses that each of them can break out of their writing ruts and SURPRISE, THEY FALL IN LOVE IN THE PROCESS. Endlessly charming with real chemistry between the two love interests, Beach Read is a terrific story and an effortless read. Highly recommend (along with her latest book, People We Meet On Vacation, which I also read … on vacation.)

How to Choose Vacation Books

The perfect book selection for a trip involves knowledge and honesty about two things: what you actually enjoy reading (versus what you feel obligated to read) and how long it takes you to read a book. As for the first, I often hear people talk about the books they’ve brought to vacation as chores to be gotten through rather than things they’re genuinely looking forward to. You won’t read the books you’ve brought if you’re looking at them and thinking “Ugh, the New York Times said this was good but what if I die while reading it? Do I want this to be the last thing I read?” Pick things you know you’ll enjoy, even if it’s a reread, or a genre typically considered a “guilty pleasure.”

As for the second, I often joke that reading quickly is my only real skill, so my suitcases are generally saddled with somewhere in the neighborhood of a book for every day that I’m on vacation. Keep in mind what you and the people you’re traveling with have planned. Do you have lots of free time on a beach or on a deck or by a lake where you won’t be interrupted? Are you going to be in charge of the health and safety of small children? Are there lots of days planned at theme parks? Be realistic about what time you have and how fast you can read during that time, or else you’ll be looking at your suitcase at the end of the trip feeling guilty and resentful of the heavy reading material you have to haul back.

Keeping these two things in mind, my optimal mix for vacation is usually broken down in a ratio of one part SFF, one part nonfiction, one part literary fiction, and one part romance, with variation for age category. And since I’m a goblin for whom book purchases are tax deductible, I usually supplement whatever I’ve brought with me with trips to local indies. Sometimes I save books to read on trips, knowing that I’ll have uninterrupted time to blow through a big Tome or a series that has finally released enough entries for me to binge. I’ll also try to mix up new releases and older books that I’m just getting around to.

Regardless, vacation is for fun: your reading pile should be, too!

HOUSEKEEPING

Do you have a question about writing, publishing, books? Is there something you want covered in this newsletter? Do you have a burning desire to hear my thoughts on  Evander Kane being investigated for Pete Rose-ing his games? Leave it in the comments or in a reply to the newsletter!

THIS WEEK IN HOCKEY

He’s back! Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander the Great, the Gr8est of all time, has re-signed with the Washington Capitals in a five year, $47.8 million dollar deal that will likely see him end his career in DC. Next stop: Wayne Gretzky’s goal record. Elsewhere in the league Connor Carrick, a man who has run out of parts of his life to optimize, signed with the Seattle Kraken. We wish him, his dog, his new baby, his crippling caffeine addiction, and his wife well in the PNW. I’m sure other stuff has happened, but it’s summer; all the hockeys are getting engaged, having babies, or, if you’re Tyler Seguin, have gone in full Thot Summer and are advertising your cologne, Sexual Noir. I wish that last one was a joke.

LINKS

A dark room on the other side of the world by Brandon Taylor (Sweater Weather)
It all sounds very abstract, I know. But for me, it comes down to this: moral fiction is not fiction that affirms your ideology about power systems and oppression. It does not make you feel like a good and righteous person. It may have no lessons for you to tweet about or put on Instagram or explain readily, wittily at dinner parties. You can’t wear it like a hair shirt and you can’t always articulate its particular force or power upon you. Moral art is, I think, hard to describe. Instable. It is art that implicates and complicates your notions of good and bad. Moral art may call you a liar to your face. It reveals the shallowness of your thought. It challenges you, but not in the way of an all-fiber diet. In the way gravity challenges you. In the way the thin air at the top of a mountain challenges you. In the way the pressure of the deep seas challenges you. Moral does not mean good or lawful. Moral means true. Moral means you take your finger off the scale.

Tracing Octavia Butler’s Footsteps: An Interview with Dr. Ayana A.H. Jamieson (LARB)
What was the most surprising thing you discovered while going through the archives at The Huntington?
The thing that has surprised me most was really how cash poor she was. She’d journal just about every single day. She would write something in her journals and then she would work on her novels or a story or whatever. She would be doing calculations in the margins — word counts and how much she would be paid per word for something, how much money she had to get through the week, or how much or how little food she could purchase. Her shopping lists down to the penny. Which meant she had to go without a lot of things to produce the writing that we have been gifted. And it was kind of heartbreaking. And I wouldn’t use the word surprising.

A Brief History of “Indian Romance” by Steve Ammidown (Romance Has A History)
It’s really important to know that these books have not disappeared. They are not just some relic of the past. Kensington Publishing still sells the books of Janelle Taylor and Cassie Edwards, which is shocking considering that the company was on the vanguard of publishing the stories of Black and Latinx love. A review of Goodreads will show that people are still reading these old books, and giving them 5 stars. And inspirational publishers like Bethany House have clearly gotten in on this as well, with Kate Witemeyer’s At Love’s Command landing an RWA award this past weekend. Witemeyer’s book doesn’t strictly match the relationships of the books of Edwards and Taylor, with both protagonists being white, but the fact that the plot revolves around a revisionist (and white supremacist) history of the Wounded Knee Massacre and the hero’s involvement in killing Lakota peoples, I see no issues with lumping them together.

LINKS, REDUX

As hikers vanish in Southern Australia, these mountains hold on to their mysteries. | Neil Gaiman has hit the bestseller lists in China for the first time, thanks to a tweet from a danmei star | Inside the military’s pervasive culture of disordered eating | The feed stations are the best part of the Olympics | Watching Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’ inside a movie theater | My wife divorced me because I left dishes next to the sink

This has been A Faster No, a dispatch on publishing, writing, books, and beyond. Is there something you’d like me to talk about? Leave it in the comments or reply to the email! You can support the newsletter here. If you purchase a book from any of the links to Bookshop.org I get a small commission at no cost to you. I am available for developmental editing and editorial assessment services via Reedsy.