Book Club

Summer Reading List.

By: Jen Shoop

Thank you so much to the many Magpies who shared their favorite “NOBRs” (north-of-beach-reads, pronounced NOBERs) in response to my plea last week. My tsundoku pile overflows! Below, I’m sharing some of the books at the top of my list, organized by general category.

Beach Reads + NOBRs.

These are books you can safely pack for vacation, lounging at the pool, etc. I know we’ve had this conversation more times than countable, but I’m in a headspace where I’m no longer going to apologize, caveat, or trivialize this category of reading. It serves meaningful purpose in my life: joy and diversion from my midnight anxieties.

I’ve read a few of these already, and am currently reading The Lion’s Den, which (thus far) is a fun social suspense type novel. (Book cover: “Sex, betrayal, and intrigue: A dream vacation on a luxurious yacht turns deadly in this pulse-pounding beach read “chock full of delicious characters who flaunt their sins . . . like the latest Birkin bag.”) I know Sittenfeld’s Romantic Comedy was disappointing for many of you but I personally think it’s worth throwing into the mix — it did hook me and I finished it quickly. I shared some early thoughts on it here. I absolutely loved Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow and think it actually transcends this category into more of a “high fiction” space, but it reads very easily, and would make a good vacation companion. I wrote a full review of it here. Finally, Pineapple Street was a bit…tepid (?) for me, but some of the class commentary was really interesting, and there was more substance than met the eye.

I’m most excited to dig into Maggie Shipstead’s novel (have heard her name a lot but never read her — this book’s drescription: “The irresistible story of a summer New England wedding weekend gone awry—a deliciously biting satirical glimpse into the lives of the well-bred and ill-behaved”) after multiple Magpie upvotes, and I’m also keen on trying Emily Henry, whose work also garnered a lot of Magpie love. I’ll be starting with Happy Place (“A couple who broke up months ago pretend to still be together for their annual weeklong vacation with their best friends in this glittering and wise new novel”), but she’s written a few.




Not seen above, but special call out for the just-released (as in, just a few days ago) Bad Summer People by Emma Rosenblum. I haven’t heard many first-hand reviews since it’s so new but early press seems positive, and the description sounds delightful: “A whip-smart, propulsive debut about infidelity, backstabbing, and murderous intrigue, set against an exclusive summer haven on Fire Island.
This roiling beach community satire serves up wicked, clever fun that is White Lotus sharp.” [Ed. note, added 6/28/2023: A Magpie reader has chimed in to say this book is skip-worthy.]

Non-Fiction, Essay, and Academic.

I’ve read part of Gretel Ehrlich’s lyrical Solace of Open Spaces before and it astounded me. Drawn from a series of journal entries, these essays paint the geography, people, and traditions of the American West with crispness, poignancy, and power. Ehrlich traveled to Wyoming in 1975 to film a series of documentaries and “found she couldn’t leave.” This set of essays capture “the planet of Wyoming.” This region is fascinating to me because my brother lived in Montana for several years, and we spent a good chunk of our childhood in Colorado.

I’ve also read large portions of Natalia Ginzburg’s The Little Virtues, but want to read it in its entiry. Her writing is sparse and deeply moving, and has elsewhere been well-captured as “the wisdom of a survivor.” In her most famous essay from the collection, she writes:

“As far as the education of children is concerned, I think they should be taught not the little virtues but the great ones. Not thrift but generosity and an indifference to money; not caution but courage and a contempt for danger; not shrewdness but frankness and a love of truth; not tact but a love of one’s neighbor and self-denial; not a desire for success but a desire to be and to know.”

I just ordered a hard copy of Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. Tharp is a renowned choreographer and I absolutely love to read about the creative processes of artists in other mediums (outside of writing). The book jacket description: “All it takes to make creativity a part of your life is the willingness to make it a habit. It is the product of preparation and effort, and is within reach of everyone.” Wow! I already feel a kindred spirit. Another great book along these lines that I’ve written about far too much already is Frances Palmer’s Life in the Studio. Ostensibly a coffee table book, Palmer shares some gorgeous and stirring insights about creativity, process, and art.

Finally, so many of you have recommended Katherine Graham’s autobiography, “the captivating inside story of the woman who helmed the Washington Post during one of the most turbulent periods in the history of American media.” She is deeply intriguing to me. I know a little bit about her because I was born and raised in D.C. and attended an exhibit on her in NYC before we moved, and I find her position as the female heiress to the Post in a time when very few women were in publishing/paper/media fascinating.

Oh! And if you’ve not read Enchantment, you might find it a lovely “re-centering.” One review described it as “Gentle inspiration for those who feel exhausted or helpless… May shows how paying deliberate attention to what’s around us can surprise us with insights and reveal new connections that deepen our appreciation for the world.” Yes!

High Fiction.

I know no other way to categorize these, but here we have novels that require a bit more study and care. I’m interested in The Sun Walks Down, which Ann Patchett raved about. Description: “The Sun Walks Down, tells the many-voiced, many-sided story of a boy lost in colonial Australia. In September 1883, a small town in the South Australian outback huddles under strange, vivid sunsets. Six-year-old Denny Wallace has gone missing during a dust storm, and the entire community is caught up in the search for him. As they scour the desert and mountains for the lost child, the residents of Fairly—newlyweds, farmers, mothers, Indigenous trackers, cameleers, children, artists, schoolteachers, widows, maids, policemen—confront their relationships, both with one another and with the land­scape they inhabit.”

I also keep encountering Barbara Kingsolver’s latest, Demon Copperhead, but I just find myself put off by it every time I glance its way? I can’t explain it. I know she has a huge following and a lot of respect. Maybe one day…

Shopping Break.

A short handful of items I wanted to mention this morning:

+The Internet is going crazy over this fitness dress from Lululemon. The material is soft and comfortable (non-constricting) like all of the pieces in the Align family, but the main selling point: the shorts beneath can be pulled down so you don’t need to take the entire dress off when using the facilities. Brilliant!

+Speaking of Lulu, this $22 Target tank is the spitting image of the Align tank.

+THE “It” sunglasses of summer. Can I pull off the oval shape?

+HVN always does the cutest prints. I have a cherry print shirtdress of theirs from years ago that I absolutely treasure. This sweet sundress style caught my eye — currently on sale!

+Love the pattern on these outdoor pillows.

+My friend Francesca just launched a new collection of handbags for her brand, FRP Collection. As you know, I adore these bags and find them to be exquisitely made and far better quality than the price! Love this mini blue style.

+Lusting after all the dresses from Emporio Sireneuse.

+Boys’ everyday shorts, 50% off. Good time to stock up. Such great colors!

+FUN earrings from Mignonne Gavigan.

+This cover up makes me feel like I’m on a vacation in Santorini.

P.S. Some of my favorite beach reads from a few years ago — I actually wrote this post six years ago!

P.P.S. Beach and swim finds!

P.P.P.S. Imprints of a new suburban lifestyle.

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12 thoughts on “Summer Reading List.

  1. Loved Seating Arrangements. You will too. Shipstead is such a keen observer of family dynamics. Thoroughly enjoyed. You haven’t mentioned Emma Straub here and I think her work definitely fits in with these other authors. On the spectrum of tone and seriousness (for lack of a better word)s, she is somewhere between Emily Henry and Maggie Shipstead. Start with “The Vacationers.”

    I second Hayley’s comment about J. Courtney Sullivan and “Maine.” If you haven’t read Sittenfield’s “Eligible” definitely try it!!!

    1. Oh definitely Emma Straub! The Vacationers is actually my favourite of her books. You have good taste Nathalie!

    2. Loved “Eligible!”, not a huge fan of Straub but maybe worth a revisit. Thank you so much for chiming in! So many great recs here!


  2. Thanks again for your writing and sharing. This is a fun list! Truly recommend Demon Copperhead – great book. Also since you love Ann Patchett I think you would really like the book Bomb Shelter by Mary Laura Philpott- it’s memoir/essay of parenting, life , etc

    1. Thank you! I was just at a cookout last night and several of the women were raving about Demon Copperhead, too. Might need to revisit my strange aversion and pick it up! Thanks for the nudge!


  3. You may enjoy J. Courtney Sullivan’s books. I have previously read Maine, which I enjoyed a lot, but I just finished Friends and Strangers and wow – this book spoke to me. Its subtle insights on class and money were, I think, what Pineapple Street-esque but better – sharper, more nuanced – and it looks fairly unflinchingly at new motherhood. So many lines resonated with me and I swear I felt some actual physical pain at how much the protagonist, Elisabeth, reminded me of – well, me, in her sense of mild dissatisfaction and never quite knowing what will make her content. Could easily be a beach read, although it’s nearly winter for me so I read it huddled on the sofa under a blanket, heat pump roaring. I’m a re-reader so maybe I’ll read it again in summer.

  4. I wanted to give a +1 for Katharine Graham’s autobiography, which I read when I first moved to DC in my 20s– however, I followed it up with a book called Georgetown Ladies Social Club, which was so good that I still think about it years and years later. It’s a spot-on “snapshot in time” of the salon dinner culture of the 90s in DC, and focuses on these 5 women, including Katharine Graham, who essentially influenced policy by virtue of being great hostesses. I feel like you would love it!

    Agree that Pineapple Street was a disappointment- there were definitely a few sharp insights about privilege and classism, but I spent the first 50-60% of the book wondering if anything was actually going to happen? And just started Remarkably Bright Creatures last night so I hope it lives up to the hype!

    1. Oo thanks for the tip on the Georgetown Ladies Social Club! Added!

      Agree on P.S. — it was just not as pulpy as I wanted it to be?

      Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on RBC!


  5. I was pretty underwhelmed by Pineapple Street. It felt a bit like a knockoff of Crazy Rich Asians, which makes sense because I later found out that she actually edited CRA! I was pleased to see Gretel Ehrlich get a shoutout here- she’s a family friend and an absolute force of a woman. The kind of person who makes you want to sit up straighter in her presence.

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