My June Reading Journal

It’s the best time of the year: summer break. For me, that means lots of extra time for reading and writing. Luckily for me, June brought some of the best reads of the year. I can’t pick one highlight, but work from Chris Ware, Julia Phillips, Shaun Hamill, and Casep Cep lead the charge.

Without further rambling, here’s a short recap of my month in reading:

Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown: Chris Ware is a genius, and his latest work my be his most ambitious project yet. In Ware’s Rusty Brown, Ware looks at the lives of a small group of connected people in rural Nebraska. The story begins footed in realism, but it slowly transforms into something totally magical. I can’t even pretend to understand it all, but what I do feel is the heavy undercurrent of loneliness and desperation. These are broken souls—like many of—trying to connect—desperately trying to secure something they can love. The illustrations, with the perfectly lined frames, are stunning. The faces are drawn with emotion. As are hands—as they cling for something—anything. I need more time to process this book. It’s masterful.

Julia Phillips’ Disappearing Earth: Brilliant in every way. This book should, and likely will, pop up A LOT as awards season begins in the next few months. Disappearing Earth is a novel told in stories. It’s reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge in style. What connects the stories (or chapters) is the disappearance of two young sisters. These girls—their story, the memory of them—haunt the cast of characters here. June has begun with two absolute masterclasses in literature. AND this one is a debut. Disappearing Earth is not a book I’ll soon forget.

Jayson Greene’s Once More We Saw Stars: This memoir reminds me so much of When Breath Becomes Air and The Bright Hour—two recent books about loss and finding hope inside that dark void. Greene’s memoir is about the author and his wife dealing with the loss of their young daughter, Greta. The language is haunting, and the first section is absolutely devastating. Honestly, that first section is one of the most difficult readings I’ve experienced in a long time. Ultimately, the book is—somehow—hopeful. It’s life affirming. It’s beautiful. This one is among the very best in memoir of the year.

Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise: I enjoyed Choi’s recent My Education, so I was looking forward to this one. But, boy, this book is overwritten and, I hate to say it, gimmicky. The first 100 ish pages about Sarah and David are fun (but still overwritten wayyyy to much for my taste). Choi does a good job at capturing high school dynamics. Then the twist happens. I found it manipulating and confusing. Time shifts. A new lens. Honestly, I think it’s a mess. On to the next one...

Miriam Toews’ Women Talking: Toews’ latest is a—no THE—novel for now. Based on the horrible events of a Mennonite community, Toews takes us right into this world, where women are raped and forgotten. The women have three choices at the novel’s beginning: stay and do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. I won’t spoil the ending, but this book is fantastic. I expect it to show up on lots and lots of best of lists, and it should! Wow. June has been the reading month of the year!

Shaun Hamill’s A Cosmology of Monsters: I love literary horror, and Hamill’s debut is excellent. The story follows a boy named Noah as he deals with various monsters—some are physical, but the scariest ones are a bit more hidden. I kept thinking about monsters and what makes them, in fact, be monsters. I kept thinking of LaValle’s The Changeling as I was read this novel. I need to process this one for a bit. I plan to cover it. I’ll have more to add then.

Max Porter’s Lanny: Stylistically ambitious in ways that made me both envious and frustrated. The language is beautiful. It’s a verrrry abstract kind of book. To be fair, though, I do think this one is more accessible than his first novel. That one, while lovely, blew my mind. Lanny is beautiful, for sure, but it’s difficult—and maybe too much so in sections for me.

Nino Cipri’s Homesick: What a weird collection of stories, and I mean that in the best possible way. In Cipri’s stories, we uncover weasels, a guy who chokes on keys, and an ocean—well, a sea—under a jerk’s couch. There is also some inventive structure here. Stories take the shape of quizzes, letters, and transcription. Above it all, the stories are grounded in our desire for home. I hope to cover this debut collection. It’s special.

Sarah Blake’s Naamah: Interesting poetic novel about female identity. Following Naamah, the wife of Noah, Blake explores our societal roles and expectations. This novel is very sexual and offers some interesting commentary of sex. It’s a book with lots and lots of layers.

Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek: I wish I would’ve read this novel and Julia Phillips’ Disappearing Earth back to back. These novels are both such well-written literary whodunnits that consuming them together would’ve been such an enjoyable reading experience. Kim’s book, set outside the DC area, is about an explosion and trying to uncover the guilty party of the event. There are all kinds of dynamics at play, include immigration issues, personal ones, and others that I won’t spoil. The structure Kim uses is good, using alternating characters to tell their version of the event. It all works and comes together for a moving, memorable ending. Book clubs would love this novel.

Casey Cep’s Furious Hours: I’ve finished my June reading with what will undoubtedly be one of the most talked about books of the year. Cep’s book is parts true-crime, biography, and research. It’s spectacularly good. The book is broken into three sections and follows a pastor who might or might not be responsible for a handful of murders in the Deep South. He’s eventually murdered himself—at a funeral, no less. Then, we meet an Atticus Finch-like lawyer along the way who offers to represent the accused. All of this leads the way for the South’s most mysterious writer, Harper Lee, to enter the picture. This book’s heart revolves around the legacy of Lee’s masterpiece. You can hear that little mockingbird on the edges of these pages, singing to us a song of the South. Cep’s book has an interesting fascination with the question of whether Harper Lee finishes another book—one in the style of Capote’s In Cold Blood. Furious Hours is engaging and insightful, and it closes my month of reading in the best of ways.

Bradley Sides