It’s summer! That means if you’re lucky, you’ll have extra time to read a book while you're sitting on the beach, laying poolside, or after sneaking out of work early.
Recently on Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live, host Lucy Nalpathanchil interviewed Petra Mayer, an editor at NPR Books. Mayer went through the best books for you to explore this summer across multiple genres--from this year’s latest releases to upcoming new titles.
Along to give her thoughts for the summer reading cheat sheet, is Chandra Prasad, a Connecticut native, whose debut novel Damselfly is generating buzz in the young adult genre. And rounding out the panel is Clifford Johnson, a theoretical physicist at the University of Southern California, and writer and illustrator of the non-fiction graphic novel The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe.
Together they give insight into what inspired their debut books and give some recommendations as well. To read excerpts from both Prasad and Johnson’s books, click here.
The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe By Clifford Johnson
Johnson: “I found that doing a set of dialogues allows you to really get into the science that is more accessible to more people. It doesn’t feel like a lecture and since you’re seeing a conversation, you get to see the [interconnectivity] of the science.”
“I feel that showing how ideas develop in conversation is important to do--it’s not done enough. You’ll see all kinds of people--a very diverse selection of people in familiar situations, talking about science.”
“I didn’t want the conversations to be detailed lectures, so as you go page by page, you might find at the end of the chapter, notes that expand on that particular aspect. The book is a resource to other books.”
Clan Apis By Dr. Jay Hosler
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
Petra Mayer: “There are two science-related graphic novels because comics are a great way to teach science. One is a classic: Clan Apis, originally published in 2000 by Dr. Jay Hosler, a biologist. Everything I know about bees I learned from Apis! The other one’s a little more fun: Lovelace and Babbage, which imagines what would’ve happened in an alternate universe where Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace built a working computer.”
Damselfly By Chandra Prasad
Prasad: “In eighth grade in public school, I read Lord of the Flies and my teacher said the author, William Golding created the perfect microcosm. And I thought to myself that is not true, because there are no girls in this books and there is no diversity. All the boys were pretty much from the same socio-economic status and background so since that time I wanted to write a Lord of the Flies type book--not a retelling--but a book that had the same settings and the same themes, but I wanted to put a lot more diversity that modern readers can relate to.”
“I’m half Indian. Growing up, I remember looking for characters that I could relate to on that level, and finding nothing. Sadly not much as changed in terms of mixed-race books. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center tracks diversity in children’s lit. The good news is there has been more diversity in characters and authors of color, but not as much as we would like. Mixed raced kids are the single fastest growing population right now. It’s a huge demographic and it’s not being served, and the book industry is just getting around to that now.”
The People of Sparks (The City of Ember Series) By Jeanne DuPrau
Chandra Prasad: “We’re living in a terrifying time and it’s hard to explain things that are happening in the U.S. that are horrible and cruel. I find that fiction can be a tool to explain things now [to children]. This book allowed my kids to understand what is happening in the U.S. with refugees. The author handled the situation in such a delicate, perceptive way that it allowed my kids to understand what’s happening now in the United States.”
There There by Tommy Orange
Petra Mayer: “This is his debut. The book is about a group of Native Americans in Oakland and he writes about the not-typical experience when you think of Native Americans. He talks about the smells of gasoline and rubber instead of the smells of sage and cedar. It is a propulsive, fascinating novel about a Native American experience that doesn’t get as much play.”
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Petra Mayer: “This has been a buzzy book this summer, and it’s really good. Hoang is on the autism disorder spectrum and she uses her experience to build her main character who’s an econometrician--not that I know what that is--but it is something that is very smart involving numbers. The character Stella, who’s on the autism spectrum uses it to fuel this career she loves with numbers and she hires a male escort to help her with her intimacy issues. And of course, since it’s a romance novel, they fall in love. It’s a wonderful book.”
God Save Texas by Lawrence Wright
Petra Mayer: “Wright wrote Going Clear, which was about Scientology. He is from Texas and every chapter explores a different aspect of Texas life and its history. He’s an amazing journalist and non-fiction writer and if you want to get some insight into Texas, it’s a great book to pick up.”
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Petra Mayer: “She has lately turned to doing fairy tale reworkings. The most recent one was a few years ago, Uprooted, and it was one of my favorite books that year. This year, she has a new one called Spinning Silver, which is her reworking of Rumpelstiltskin. She [writes] amazing female characters, amazing female friendships, wonderful world building--they’re one of the few books I keep paper copies of so I can hand to people and you know that means something.”
The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Petra Mayer: “It’s set in this fantasy analog of old France and there’s magic, intrigue, and drama. It’s great. I ripped through it in an evening. She recently wrote an essay for us on how she feels authors of color [often] write about trauma and difficult things. She called it the “Trauma Buffet”. She wrote this roundup of beach books by authors of colors and there are a lot of good suggestions in there.”
The Cabin At The End Of The World by Paul Tremblay
Petra Mayer: “This is a horror [set] in real life. It’s not supernatural at all. It’s about a couple and their young daughter, and they have a cabin in the woods. I’m not going to spoil it, but one day, some very nicely dressed people show up at the door and say the world is going to end and only you can stop it if you do this terrible thing. It’s not ghosts or ax-murders, it’s terrifying because it can possibly happen to you. Tremblay is more of a recent author, but he’ll scare the bejesus out of you. My reviewer said he didn’t sleep for a week.”
If you’re looking for more horror then this is going to be a great summer for you. NPR is letting listeners vote in their favorite horror reads while reviewing new books in the genre. You can find the curated best on NPR’s Summer Scares.