Summertime, and the reading is easy

Summer arrives this year on June 21, and with it comes my annual juicy-as-a-peach Solstice Book List. Here’s what you’ll catch me reading on the subway during the next couple of months:

“I’m Down” by Mishna Wolff.  According to the Publisher’s Weekly review on Amazon:

Wolff details her childhood growing up in an all-black Seattle neighborhood with a white father who wanted to be black in this amusing memoir. Wolff never quite fit in with the neighborhood kids, despite her father’s urgings that she make friends with the sisters on the block. Her father was raised in a similar neighborhood and—after a brief stint as a hippie in Vermont—returned to Seattle and settled into life as a self-proclaimed black man. Wolff and her younger, more outgoing sister, Anora, are taught to embrace all things black, just like their father and his string of black girlfriends. Just as Wolff finds her footing in the local elementary school (after having mastered the art of capping: think yo mama jokes), her mother, recently divorced from her father and living as a Buddhist, decides to enroll Wolff in the Individual Progress Program, a school for gifted children. Once again, Wolff finds herself the outcast among the wealthy white kids who own horses and take lavish vacations.

I lived in the Bronx, in a mostly black and Puerto Rican neighborhood, from the time I was 6 until I was 14 (from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s). I was one of about 7 white Jewish kids at PS 96 elementary school. There were fewer of us at PS 135 junior high. My mom married my step-dad when I was 12, and we moved to upper Westchester, NY — where in-ground backyard swimming pools and BMWs in the high school parking lot were commonplace — when I finished junior high. I’m curious to see how my experiences compare to Wolff’s.

“The Passage” by Justin Cronin. Are you fed up with sparkly, emotionally controlling, vegetarian, pseudo-religious, celibate, bad-Southern-accent talking, lame ass vampires? Do you want some government-experiment-gone-awry created, predatory, apocalyptic, scary ass vampires? “Hells yes!!!” you say? Here you go (from the Random House site):

“It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.

“Fly Away Home” by Jennifer Weiner. This is a book by Jennifer Weiner, which means reviewers will call it delicious, hilarious, wise, irresistible, and witty, and I will consume it in one sitting and then want to throw it out the window because I didn’t write it. Weiner is the author of “Good in Bed” and its sequel “Certain Girls,” “In Her Shoes,” “Little Earthquakes,” “Goodnight Nobody,” “The Guy Not Taken,” and “Best Friends Forever.” I have no idea what this book is about, but I love Jennifer Weiner (I have never met her, mind you) and all her characters with my entire Jewish, chubby, funny, quick-witted soul, so I will read it and you should too. You should also follow her on Twitter, because she is a force of wonderful in this world. (This ends my fangirl rant.)

“Overexposed” by Susan Shapiro.  Susan Shapiro is brilliant, funny, generous, and my favorite writing teacher. Her books are edgy, biting and poignant — she makes you laugh while you’re crying and shows you the razor edge in laughter. Her new book, which comes out on August 3, is about two women who switch lives. From the Macmillan site:

Eager to finally stand on her own two feet, New York photographer Rachel Solomon finally escapes the clutches of her crazy Midwestern Jewish family, and the twisted machinations of her kooky best friend, Elizabeth. All is well until Elizabeth marries her brother, moves to her hometown, and becomes the daughter Rachel’s mother always wanted: popping out babies named after her crazy dead Jewish relatives.

In this comic novel, readers who delighted in Speed Shrinking will find amusement in Rachel’s desperate actions to prove herself worthy in the eyes of her traditional family—and navigate the precious waters between best friends.

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was recently contacted by a love from long ago (damn you Facebook, you are such a double-edged sword). Hearing from this old boyfriend led — inevitably, inexorably, irresistibly — to thoughts of Jay Gatsby, to his beautiful shirts and the green light on Daisy’s dock. I haven’t read this book since I was a teenager, so I’m eager to experience it as an adult, a married woman, and a mother. I’m actually reading this as part of a vacation mini-book club with my best friend, Lisa, and her cousin Dara (with whom I’m extremely close), and I expect our discussion will include quite a bit of drunken exclaiming and long-lost love pining (which already makes it better than reading it in high school).

And there’s the preliminary list! I usually add to it as the summer progresses, so I’ll keep you updated on any new titles. Meanwhile, check back for my reviews of these summertime goodies, and leave a comment and let me know what you’re reading this summer.