Summer Reading

photo by Maureen Didde
photo by Maureen Didde

I was thinking this week about all the books I’ve read over the course of writing The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures. Some I read primarily for research, others to immerse myself in the genre of personal narrative and memoir. I wouldn’t say all of these are suitable beach reads—some are what my friend Marie would call kind of “intense.” (Marie calls lots of things intense, including certain movies and giving birth.) Nonetheless, here, in no particular order, are some selections from my Saltwater reading list.

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, Jonathan Gottschall

From the dust jacket:

Humans live in landscapes of make believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives… Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.

“The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen

Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above.

If you haven’t read this, you really should. It’s a perfect, creepy and utterly disturbing and magical fairy tale that has been analyzed and dissected in fascinating ways by feminists and other smarty pants scholars.

Lonely: A Memoir, Emily White

The feelings of isolation that accompany loneliness are entirely different from the more sated and creative feelings that accompany solitude, and it’s entirely reasonable to feel lonely and yet still feel as though you need some time to yourself.

A thoughtful investigation into a hard to quantify and describe state.

The Book of Deadly Animals, Gordon Grice

In which I learned this word: anthropophagy—the eating of humans and in which the author discusses humans’ peculiar belief that we have a special place at the top of the food chain. (We really don’t.) We are, however, far more proficient at killing human beings than any other animal on the planet.

The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane, Matthew Hutson

To be totally unmagic is very unhealthy.

This very fun-to-read book made me realize I think irrationally way more than I imagined. Maybe not as much as professional athletes and their super fans who seem to have an inordinate number of superstitious rituals. But Hutson convinced me that certain types of magical thinking are worthwhile. Also, our brains are like outer space.

Be Here Now, Ram Dass

Trippy and classic. A trippy classic. It is square and purple with some white pages and some brown shopping bag paper pages. And illustrations in blue and black and sienna ink. And a section called “Cookbook for a Sacred Life.”

The Myth of Evil: Demonizing the Enemy, Phillip A. Cole 

That this is a book about something that may not exist, is, of course, a puzzle, and it may be more accurate to say that this is a book about the idea of evil, for that undeniably exists and has for thousands of years.

I don’t know why I forgot to take any college classes on evil. It’s really worth thinking about.

 The Moviegoer, Walker Percy

To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.

Here are three reasons I have a crush on this novel:

1. New Orleans

2. Existential questions

3. Writing that is somehow lush and spare at the same time

Wild, Cheryl Strayed

Strayed hikes the Pacific Crest Trail and meets a host of interesting characters. Also, more than half her toenails fall off. A feel-good read soon to be a major motion picture. This one really would be good to take to the beach.

The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls

Troubled yet colorful childhood makes for page-turning memoir.

Current Read

Seven Gothic Tales, Isak Dinesen

I know of a cure for everything: salt water… Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea.

When Ernest Hemingway won the Nobel prize in 1954, he said that Dinesen was more worthy of the honor, but that he needed the money. I ordered Seven Gothic Tales after stumbling across the quote above and wanting to know more about its author.

On Deck

The Dream Songs, John Berryman

Why I want to read this book:

Hunger was constitutional with him,
wine, cigarettes, liquor, need need need
until he went to pieces.
The pieces sat up & wrote.


An Untamed State, Roxane Gay

My copy is signed by the author, ya’ll. I met her last week at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square where she read a funny, smart and charming piece about what it might be like to be married to Mr. Rogers. I’d only discovered her two days prior when I clicked on her picture in Poets and Writers and fell in love with this essay she wrote for the New York Times. So Roxane, next time you’re in Chicago if you want to get drinks or something, you should totally call me. I’m just saying. An Untamed State may not make for relaxing beach reading, since it details a brutal kidnapping, but I’m looking forward to it anyway. Moreover, I can’t wait for her forthcoming essay collection which has the excellent title Bad Feminist.

I love book suggestions, friends. Don’t be shy. What are you reading this summer?

2 thoughts on “Summer Reading

  1. Hi Maia,

    Thanks for the intriguing list!

    Anything by these two incredible, meticulous, enthralling, sophisticated storytellers: Italian novelist Elena Ferrante (who I think you’d really dig) and the late great modern Japanese novelist Jun’ichiro Tanizaki.

    Ferrante’s work is intense, physical, personal. Check out this New Yorker feature on her:
    I’m waiting for the third of her Neopolitan Trilogy to get translated. It follows the struggle to thrive of two best friends growing up in Naples through their adulthood.

    Tanizaki’s work is sensual and ironic, often dealing with erotic obsession, cultural identity, family dynamics, and more. I loved “The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi” and “A Cat, a Man, and Two Women,” and will read “Diary of a Mad Old Man” next!

    P.S. Just started Jeannette Walls’ “The Silver Star”–also a page-turner; Jennifer Lawrence is playing her in the film adaptation of “The Glass Castle.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s