This is my dream summer reading syllabus
I remember the first assigned reading that I actually loved. It was To Kill a Mockingbird, which, to this day, is still my favorite novel. Harper Lee’s famous novel has it all, a captivating narrator, an intriguing plot, and beautiful language
There is nothing quite like devouring a good book, letting your eyes scan the pages, and letting a string of a stranger’s words creating vibrant scenes in your mind. It really is a beautiful escape. We at HelloGiggles should know: We just published our first book, A Tale of Two Besties, by the fabulous Sophia Rossi!) Sometimes, I wish that summer reading was something that continued on past high school. In fact, I have my recommendations for the class all ready. Here’s what I would put on my dream summer reading syllabus.
An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay
I was sitting on my balcony on a summer evening reading An Untamed State. I hadn’t planned on reading the entire novel in one sitting. I mean, it’s not a short read and definitely not a light one, but none of that mattered. I was hooked from the first few lines, “Once upon a time, in a far off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless, yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.” How could I not continue?
The story centers around a Mireille, a woman who is visiting her family in Haiti when all of a sudden she is kidnapped and brutally assaulted for 13 days. The writing was horrifically honest and raw. At times, it made me uncomfortable with it graphic descriptions, but it felt incredibly important and real at the same time. It’s not a beach read, exactly, but you’ll come out of it with a totally new perspective.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
This is another book that I couldn’t put down. Within the first paragraph I was thrust into the world of Alice Della Rocca, who, at a young age was in a skiing accident that left her with a permanent limp. As she grows up, she is thrust into the world of catty teenagers and is the target of jokes and harassment. Mattia, the other main character, is mentally unstable due to an event from his childhood. Alice and Mattia, in all their quirkiness befriend one and other and the novel follows them throughout their lives, specifically focusing on 1984, 1991, 2001, and 2009. With each time jump, you grow older with the characters and experience their pain as both of them harbor feelings of guilt and remorse.
They are symbolized as prime numbers, and therefore can never quite connect with others. Giordano beautifully explains their circumstance, “They lived the slow and invisible interpenetration of their universes, like two stars gravitating around a common axis, in ever tighter orbits, whose clear destiny is to coalesce at some point in space and time.”
The Little School: Tales of Disappearance & Survival in Argentina by Alicia Partnoy
It starts with slippers. She was wearing her husband’s slippers when she “disappeared.” The slippers did too.
I admit, I had no idea about Argentina’s unrest in the mid- to late ’70s. If you’re like me and also don’t know about this, here’s a brief history lesson. After the Argentina Revolution, nearly 30,000 Argentines “disappeared” between 1976 and 1979. Partnoy notes this as “the most oppressive years of the military rule.” This time in Argentina’s history is considered the National Reorganization Process. Basic human rights were violated when the People’s Revolutionary Army kidnapped and harmed (mostly) young people for their political beliefs. This memoir, once published anonymously, reaccounts one woman’s “disappearance” and mistreatment for nearly a year.
I happened upon this book when I was scanning the shelves of a small bookstore in my hometown. I had never heard of the book before, but something about it caught my eye. I opened the book and started reading the introduction. When I realized this event was foreign to me, I continued reading. From the first chapter where you disappear with the unnamed heroine to “the little school” where she is taught “lessons,” to the snippets of quotes and sketches that reiterate the harsh reality of this horrible truth, this novel had me captivated. Check out this short passage:
This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
One day while in Barnes and Noble, I came across This is Where I Leave You. I was hooked. From the quickness of the story to the witty voice of it, I decided I couldn’t leave the store without it. The novel, on the surface is about a large family who sits shiva after the death of their patriarch. The story focuses on Judd, who is just now going through a separation from his wife who cheated on him with his boss. The scene in which Judd finds out about the cheating is much more comical in the novel than in the movie. When I read that scene, I was literally laughing out loud for the first time whilst reading a book. Tropper made a heartbreaking thing into one of the most hysterical scenes.
While the novel is hilarious, it also breaks away from it’s comedy to shed light on all of those feelings we get when we start to grow up. With the passing of Judd’s father, and with the other things he is currently dealing with, he questions what it means to grow up. “Childhood feels so permanent, like it’s the entire world, and then one day it’s over and you’re shoveling wet dirt onto your father’s coffin, stunned at the impermanence of everything.”
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
I’m sure you’ve all read or at least heard of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. But her first novel, Sharp Objects, is just as worthy of your attention.
If you’re not familiar with Flynn’s work, she writes novels that center around groundbreaking female leads who are in some way involved in murder. Sharp Objects centers around reporter, Camille who is trying to make a better life for herself and forget her past of psychological treatment and self-harm. As with all of Flynn’s novels, Sharp Objects takes place in Missouri. The main character is urged to go back to her hometown to report on the murder of a teenage girl in and the disappearance of another. As the novel continues, the reader learns more about Camille’s past, which brings the crimes full circle.
I’ll leave you with this awesome quote from the novel: “Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom. I have known so many sick women all my life. Women with chronic pain, with ever-gestating diseases. Women with conditions. Men, sure, they have bone snaps, they have backaches, they have a surgery or two, yank out a tonsil, insert a shiny plastic hip. Women get consumed.”
Grab one of these great books and read it on a park bench or a beach or in your backyard. Happy almost summer!