DMT Beauty Transformation: The 25 Books You’ll Want To Read This Summer
featured Khareem Sudlow

The 25 Books You’ll Want To Read This Summer

May 22, 2020DMT Beauty

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While a lot of the things we look forward to every summer may no longer be exactly relevant anymore, we can at least rely on a slate of new books to help us get through the long days and hot nights ahead. Whether you're spending the season somewhere you can safely hang out by a body of water or know you're going to remain mostly indoors (in which case, definitely spend an afternoon or two reading in the bath), make sure to have at least one of these books by your side. Because, no matter what else is going on in the world, at least there's good stuff to read.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (available here and here, on 6/2)

Brit Bennett's follow-up to The Mothers, her revelatory debut, is a profound, probing examination of identity, race, and inherited trauma. Identical twins Desiree and Stella run away from home when they're just 16, intent on living bigger lives than their small town can offer. But, life has a way of laughing at anyone who makes plans, and the sisters' future doesn't turn out as they'd expected; one sister disappears, heading off to a new city and life where she passes for white, while the other leaves an abusive relationship and goes back to her hometown with her young daughter in tow. The twins' paths do intersect again, and the novel spans not only generations of a family, but also of pivotal decades in American history; throughout, Bennett is unparalleled in her ability to explore the most unsettling aspects of what it means to be a family, and what it means to be yourself.
Parakeet by Marie-Helene Bertino (available here and here, on 6/2)

Marriage isn't something into which anyone enters lightly (well, usually), so when a foreboding omen enters your life a week before your wedding, it's bound to give you pause. At least, that's what happens to The Bride, who is visited by a parakeet she just knows is the reincarnated spirit of her grandmother. The bird warns The Bride not to get married, and to go find her brother, a playwright whose latest work centers around an anti-immigrant terrorist attack that The Bride survived when she was a teenager, half a lifetime ago. The play's name? Parakeet. Marie-Helene Bertino's latest reveals the fractal-like patterns of one woman's life, as she questions who she is, where she comes from, and what she wants to be. A twisting, strange delight, Parakeet shimmers a soft and generous light on the darkest of a woman's innermost thoughts.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (available here and here, on 6/2)

A brisk, bracing read, Naoise Dolan's debut centers around Ava, an Irish millennial who has moved to Hong Kong, where she works as an English tutor to the children of the ultra-wealthy. And while a novel that only revolves around the class issues that such a premise implies would be interesting enough, this one has the added fun of a love triangle between Ava, Julian — a banker who lavishes Ava with money, if not love, and Edith — a glamorous lawyer who offers Ava the romance, if not the conventionality, that Julian never will. Wry and witty, Dolan pokes and prods at all those things that everyone can't help but obsess over: sex and money and, you know, sex and money.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar (available here and here, on 6/2)

"If the police didn’t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean... that the government is also a terrorist?" It's a simple enough thing, posting a comment on social media, writing something to convey frustration or anger or both with the powerful forces that ceaselessly direct every part of your life. But when Jivan, a poor young Muslim woman in India, who is working her way toward a better life criticizes the police on Facebook, her life is turned upside down as she faces charges of executing the terrorist attack herself. Megha Majumdar's debut novel is a thriller in the truest sense of the word: It's hard not to keep your eyes from racing over the pages, needing to know what comes next in this story of corruption, injustice, triumph, and loss. It's a story in which lives driven by pettiness and exuberance collide to disastrous and, yes, incendiary effect; a compelling, remarkable debut.
 
You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat (available here and here, on 6/9)

When she was just 12 years old, in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, the narrator of this extraordinary debut was yelled at by a group of men, excoriated for exposing too much of herself. Exposing too much of herself — or, as her mother says, "exist[ing] too much" — will be a problem for the narrator as she moves through her life as a queer Palestinian woman, traveling through the world, engaging in heated, messy relationships, trying to figure out why she is who she is, and why she behaves the way she does. This is a book of appetite and recklessness, obsession and addiction. It's the trickiest of territories, this type of intense examination of the self, but Zaina Arafat's lyrical, provocative writing is wholly captivating, startling in its honesty, unsettling in all the best ways.
Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier (available here and here, on 6/9)

Eighteen years old, pregnant, and working as a pizza delivery girl, the narrator of Jean Kyoung Frazier's strange and joyful debut is unsurprisingly feeling a bit lost. Yes, she has a supportive boyfriend and mom to help her through what's an inherently confusing time, but, well, is there anything more suffocating than a supportive boyfriend and mom when you're already feeling trapped? An escape comes in the form of one of her customers, Jenny, whose order of a pie with pepperoni and pickles is enough to capture the narrator's interests and send her down a spiral of speculation, and an attempt to "save" Jenny, which is really just a way for the narrator to figure out how to save herself. Frazier captures the conflicting reality of someone who has a riotously imaginative inner life but is also plagued by an inability to do much well — other than screw things up. Relatable, no?
Sad Janet by Lucie Britsch (available here and here, on 6/16)

That summertime is a sad time has always been an indisputable truth — the underlying fact of all the life around you is that no growth accompanies it; it's only a prelude to death. So! It makes perfect sense that Lucie Britsch's debut novel, a gentle, yet precise probe into the nature of melancholia, starts off in the summer, as Janet — who, despite her degree in postmodern feminist science fiction, works in a dog shelter in the woods — debates putting an end to her congenital depression by taking a pill that promises happiness in time for Christmas. Sad Janet is a strangely exuberant meditation on sadness; Britsch articulates the conflicting comforts and pains of depression in a distinctively memorable, wise way.
The Lightness by Emily Temple (available here and here, on 6/16)

To be a teenager is to be constantly aware of the way biology and emotion — science and intuition — collide and feed off one another in endlessly uncomfortable ways. It's this confusing time that Emily Temple explores with lucidity and wit in her debut novel A year after her father disappears after going on a meditation retreat, Olivia decides to search for him by going to the same place and enrolling in a program for troubled teens. There, she meets an alluring group of young women, who aim to transcend their bodies in a way wholly familiar to anyone who's ever felt uncomfortable in her own. A story of obsession and grief, love and yearning, The Lightness offers a unique, powerful look at the difficulties inherent to being a teenage girl, to being a person at all.
Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicola Maye Goldberg (available here and here, on 6/23)

This haunting, powerful novel was inspired by a real crime: the murder of a college student by her schizophrenic boyfriend who confessed, and was acquitted. Nicola Maye Goldberg resists any dead girl tropes here, instead focusing on the myriad ways the community — both immediate and expansive, including the murderer's future wife — are forever affected by this horrific act. More than that, Goldberg makes urgently clear that violence against women is not merely an insidious interloper in our society, but a part of its very foundation.
Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (available here and here, on 6/23)

Ottessa Moshfegh's follow-up to everyone's favorite-book-to-recommend-during-quarantine, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, is bound to become everyone's new favorite-book-to-recommend-during-quarantine. Vesta Gul is living in isolation, in a small house in the woods. Recently widowed, her only companion is her dog, Charlie. When she finds a mysterious note one day that hints at the violent death of Magda, a woman whose body is nowhere to be found, Vesta decides to investigate in a truly unorthodox way. Moshfegh has yet again created a narrator for whom the word "unreliable" feels like the most dramatic of understatements; Vesta's fragility and desperation are palpable as she constructs an increasingly improbable narrative around what happened to Magda. Moshfegh masterfully captures the anxiety that accompanies profound loss, how impossible it feels to have to create a world all over again, how despairing it is to contemplate that we can't return to the way things were — but also, how potentially liberating.
Self Care by Leigh Stein (available here and here, on 6/30)

I recommend reading this sly send-up of wellness culture while wearing a snail-mucus face mask, sipping on a supposedly detoxifying elixir, and surrounded by pastel-hued crystals — just try not to snort your Moon Juice out your nose while laughing your ass off. Leigh Stein's latest is a much-needed satire of startups led by She-E-Os, corporate feminism, and the toxicity of capitalism. And, seriously, I hope no companies out there are inspired by this book to create a "Believe Victims" beach towel, but I guess I won't be totally surprised if that happens.
Alice Knott by Blake Butler (available here and here, on 7/7)

Read this beautifully unsettling novel and prepare to be ravished — and ravaged — as it winds its way inside your psyche, snake-like and persistent. Alice Knott is a recluse, an aging heiress with one of the world's finest art collections. After a Willem de Kooning painting that once belonged to hers is seen being destroyed in a viral video, it triggers a series of similar videos, in which celebrated art works around the world are publicly defaced and dismantled. Blake Butler's latest is a meditation on trauma and art, creation and destruction, the ways that two oppositional things can exist at once, often to deleterious effect. It's a profound, exuberant disturbance, just what you want all art to be.
Notes on a Silencing: A Memoir by Lacy Crawford (available here and here, on 7/7)

As difficult to read as it is important, Notes on a Silencing is a harrowing, powerful memoir about sexual assault, trauma, and what happens when institutional power is deployed as a weapon against the vulnerable. In 1990, Lacy Crawford was just 15 when she was raped by two 18-year-old students at her elite New England boarding school. After being mocked and shamed by her rapists' friends, she eventually told her mother and then officially reported what had happened. But, officials shamed and threatened her into further silence. This memoir isn't just about Crawford's horrific ordeal, though; it details the ways this institution would later be exposed for having covered up things like this for decades — and it is unfortunately far from alone in this practice. As we've all seen, a survivor's story is no guarantee that justice will follow' Crawford's bravery in recounting her own experience, though, speaks to how powerful it is to have these stories told, to show that no one is alone.
True Love by Sarah Gerard (available here and here, on 7/7)

Is there anyone more ferocious and determined than someone looking for love? One can only hope for their sake that they don't look for it in the arms of an artist (especially one whose art involves Tupperware sculptures filled with trash). In Sarah Gerard's latest novel, love — or maybe stability, or maybe they're the same — is Nina's goal, as she moves through her 20s, somewhat aimlessly, struggling with an eating disorder and a pill addiction. She is in a relationship with the artist, Seth, until she isn't; her social circle is malleable and incestuous and very much recognizable. True Love is as fluid and riotous a book as "true love" is as a concept: so, very. And Sarah Gerard has once again proven herself to be one of the sharpest portrayers of the fuzziest parts of being alive.
Want by Lynn Steger Strong (available here and here, on 7/7)

Seemingly destined to be the book about which I will have the most conversations with my friends this summer, Want is a propulsive interrogation into desire in all its forms, with the largest question being: Why should I have to settle for something less than the life I was told I could live? Lynn Steger Strong vividly captures the low-grade fever that has settled over so many women, those who have gotten so much of what they want, and still can't rid themselves of the feeling that they got fucked over along the way. In part, it's because they did (thanks, student loan debt, the publishing industry, etc.), but also it's a byproduct of their willingness to deploy their privilege at will, and never fully recognize its limits. Steger Strong's narrator, Elizabeth, has an all-too-identifiable rage, the kind that seems barely apparent to anyone not living in her skin. It's one that has rarely been captured so well, and one that I will be thinking about for a long time to come. 
The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio (available here and here, on 7/7)

Filled with the kind of absurdities that accompany the most difficult truths, Lysley Tenorio's brilliant, witty novel about the love of a mother and son, the immigrant experience in America, and the surreality of our current reality, is bold, ambitious, and unforgettable. Excel is a teenager who decides to skip town with his girlfriend and head out to the desert, to a town named Hello City. He leaves behind his glamorous mother, Maxima, and tries to leave behind the knowledge that his hold on his life in America is tenuous at best. Easier said than done, of course, and Tenoria deftly explores what it means to feel untethered from the place and people that make up your idea of home, and whether it's possible or even desirable to put down roots in unfriendly soil.
The All-Night Sun by Diane Zinna (available here and here, on 7/14)

Anyone who has seen Midsommar knows that things get darkest under the sunniest of skies. But if you needed further proof of that, just read Diane Zinna's unsettling, mesmerizing debut, which starts off on a small college campus and ends with a seaside camping trip in Sweden. In gently hypnotic prose, Zinna beautifully explores the transformative powers of grief, loneliness, intimate friendships, and the hunger we have to be understood.
Pew by Catherine Lacey (available here and here, on 7/21)

There is perhaps no better way of exploring the fragility of our constructed identities than by stripping away all the different things that others use to define us, by ridding ourselves of context, disappearing completely by being exactly who we are. In her latest novel, Catherine Lacey plays with ideas of the self and the community, showing the way that the arrival of a hard-to-define person into a small town's life can tear a hole in the social fabric. Pew, so named because they are found sleeping on a hard wooden bench in the back of a church, is of indeterminate gender, race, and origin; they do not speak a word out loud. Over the course of the week in between Pew's arrival and the advent of the town's Forgiveness Festival, myriad projections are cast upon Pew, revealing far more about the townspeople than about the stranger in their midst. Much like Pew's arrival in the town, Pew's arrival feels like a much needed disturbance, a reminder that we should be striving for a world in which "our bodies wouldn’t determine our lives, or the lives of others."
Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir by Natasha Tretheway (available here and here, on 7/28)

Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway has written a precise, piercing memoir that explores unimaginable loss, grief, rage, and resilience. Tretheway was only 19 when her mother was murdered by her stepfather, and it's this foundational trauma that serves as a hinge for this visceral, haunting book, which explores what it was like for Tretheway to be born into the Jim Crow South. Tretheway reflects on the difficulties of her mother Gwendolyn's experience — after she separated from Tretheway's father, she married a Vietnam vet, Joel, who would torment, abuse, stalk, and later kill her. Tretheway is unflinching in her depiction of the horrors of domestic abuse — and in the power of the love between a mother and child.
I Hold a Wolf by the Ears by Laura van den Berg (available here and here, on 7/28)

Those of us who have long been fans of Laura van den Berg's surreal, haunting style (while I read her last novel, The Third Hotel, I felt like a ghost had taken up residence in my brain), will be thrilled with her newest collection of short stories, a perfect embodiment of her singularly affecting voice. And those who have not yet read van den Berg? Well, you're in for a treat. Each of these stories grapples with the difficulties of reconciling the fact of our own impermanence on this planet, and struggles with the idea that, even though transience might be a fact of life, that doesn't prevent us from finding meaning within all the chaos.
Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession, edited by Sarah Weinman (available here and here, on 7/28)

If you're in the mood for something viscerally chilling during this hottest of seasons, this anthology of true crime from writers like Pamela Colloff (the superb "The Reckoning) and Michelle Dean (the deeply unsettling "DeeDee Wanted Her Daughter to Be Sick") is calling your name. Weinman — whose book, The Real Lolita, is an exemplary true crime read of its own — has a discerning eye for those stories that transcend the lurid details of their origins and speak to the darkest parts of humanity in a sensitive, intelligent way.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (available here and here, on 8/4)

Although Akwaeke Emezi introduces us to Vivek Oji in death — his body is wrapped in colorful fabric and laid upon his home's threshold for his mother to find — it is his life that will resonate with readers, long after they've turned this book's final page. Set in Nigeria, the novel reveals Vivek's painful childhood; as an adolescent, Vivek's identification as a girl leads to blackouts that are ignored by his family, other than one sympathetic cousin. As a teen, Vivek defies gender conventions and faces the consequences in the form of taunts and violence. Emezi slowly reveals the truth around Vivek's death, also revealing the costs of transphobia and homophobia on a person, a family, and a society.
The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun (available here and here, on 8/4)

There's a pretty good chance any summer travel plans you'd had for this year might have needed to be curtailed (if not fully canceled), but that doesn't mean you should stay away from this mordantly witty novel that touches on everything from the rise of "dark tourism" to sexual predators in the office to climate change. When, in an effort to defuse the after-effects of a case of office sexual harassment, Yona is sent on a trip by her travel company to the desert island of Mui, she discovers the cruelty inherent to our modern fixation on travel without considering the environmental and human cost. This propulsive novel reads like a highly literary, ultra-incisive thriller; it reminds us that the disasters with which we are now grappling with on a near daily basis are not acts of god, they're acts of man.
Luster by Raven Leilani (available here and here, on 8/4)

This book — the debut novel by Raven Leilani — is electric, heralding a singular new literary voice. Centering around Edie, a drifting 20-something artist living in Bushwick, who strikes up an affair with Eric, a married (but, like, open married) man who lives in New Jersey with his wife and adopted daughter. The ways in which Edie's life winds up intersecting with those of Eric's family — particularly his daughter, Akila — are provocative and surprising. Edie is both emblematic of a generation of detached, fiercely intelligent yet hopelessly drifting young women, who yearn for something more, but know there is little hope for attaining it.
Hysteria by Jessica Gross (available here and here, on 8/18)

Jessica Gross' debut novel is a serpentine exploration into the dark behaviors and even darker thoughts of a young woman who uses sex and alcohol and more sex and more alcohol to better understand the twisted roots of her fears and desires. Centering around a young woman who has made a sexual faux pas or two (and that's all over the course of one weekend), Hysteria is unafraid to plumb the complex depths of our most compulsive behavior. Lest you think it's just all pitch-black sexual drama, let me also reassure you that it's very funny — the bartender with whom the narrator works out some of her issues with is dubbed Freud, and, really, what's funnier than that?
Two Trees Make a Forest by
You Again by Debra Jo Immergut (available here and here, on 7/7)

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (available here and here, on 9/8)

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Kristin Iversen, Khareem Sudlow

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