Summer in Paris means only one thing: taking August off. We're sharing our summer reading list before we head out.
We also want to extend a special thanks to our members for their support and especially for their contributions! At our last gathering, Roses Gabor treated us to a sound bath, and today, Kristi Cameron treats us to her fiction recommendations. If you prefer non-fiction, like me, then read the full article for mine.
Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid
There are two schools of thought about summer reading--one, you finally have time to read the tome that's been waiting patiently in your TBR. But having just spent 6 months slogging through a novel that shall not be named, I'm more in the mood for that second kind of summer book--the one that practically reads itself. Carrie Soto Is Back fits the bill. I'd read a couple of books by Reid before and not been smitten the way so many others seem to have been. But this portrait of a cutthroat competitor is brilliant, with all the pace and tension of a great tennis match. And you don't have to love the game to love this book, though I do, and nothing puts me in a summer state of mind like witnessing a tennis match--even on the page.
The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
Written in 1913, reads like it was just published. Ambitious social climber Undine Spragg uses her looks, her style and anyone in her path to get what she wants. Spragg flouts convention and pivots from scandals that would bury the average woman, propelling herself further upward. I defy you to read it without a certain reality TV star or royal outcast in mind. Like theirs, Spragg's story is hard to turn away from.
The Searcher by Tana French
Honestly, you could pick up any one of French's novels--they're all engrossing with loaded plots and complex characters. But The Searcher, her more recent, is slightly different from the others. It features American cop Hal Cooper, who has retired to a village in Ireland. I always like a good mystery, though they tend to stretch credulity in some fundamental way. That doesn't happen with French. In this case, the Irish village and its people were so vividly rendered, I felt like I was living among them--and I was every bit as committed as Cooper to getting to the bottom of what's been plaguing the place.
Replace Me by Amber Husain
If you didn’t read our recommendation for this the first time because it was buried at the bottom of an AI-generated email, the notion of which filled you with disgust, then I’m sorry you missed the joke, and here it is again. From the workplace to our personal relationships, anxieties about being replaced have come to dominate the late-capitalist psyche. In Replace Me, author Amber Husain repudiates the myths of replacement and celebrates the political possibilities inherent in embracing our own replaceability. Clocking in at a slender 128 pages fits delightfully into the tiny beach tote.
Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? by Mark Fisher
Also fits in your beach tote at 81 pages, but that’s the only sense in which this book could be called “light.” Fisher takes as his point of departure the quote from Frederic Jameson, that “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,” alternatively expressed by Margaret Thatcher as “there is no alternative” aka TINA.
He politicizes mental health (we now realize our anxieties are no more natural than the weather), describes teenagers’ depressive hedonia (an inability to do anything other than seek pleasure— even as their own rates of mental illness skyrocket), and suggests that we’ve moved from Foucault’s figure of discipline as the worker/prisoner to a new figure of control: the debtor/addict. As salient now as it was when it was written, its call for an alternative has never felt more urgent, as the growing cracks in this realist foundation create growing opportunity— and who will capture it remains up to us.
Bonus playlist from famed music critic Sasha Frere Jones, who cataloged all the songs Mark Fisher mentioned in his writings. A very long, strange, and weirdly wonderful trip.
Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy by David Graeber
Another long-ish pamphlet for those of you who like to travel light but also love relaxing with an actual physical book. A refreshing alternative to his usual tomes, Utopia is both intensely relatable and a delightful explanation of the maddening experiences of bureaucracy, as well as those masquerading as “customer service.” I especially love his description of the world-changing technologies we dreamed of as kids and why most of them— like jet packs and flying cars— have never appeared.
In the chapter “Dead Zones of the Imagination,” he draws on feminist theory to explain the interpretive labor that those who are potential victims of systemic violence go through to avoid being victimized by those who hold arbitrary power over them. Draining work for those forced to do it; in the end, it leads people to naturally identify with those who hold power: “What we talk about in terms of ‘belief’ are simply the psychological techniques people develop to accommodate themselves to this reality.”
A wave of exhaustion swept over me reading that and reflecting on my time spent in the male-dominated corporate world. It ushered in a strong desire to accommodate myself to some great fiction and ocean waves instead. I hope you will too!