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Summer reading list: Books we’re rescuing from the shelf

Emily Quigley,
Even in the heat of an Austin summer, you can find respite on a shady porch with a good book and a cool drink. LYNDA M. GONZÁLEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

One of my favorite things about summer when I was growing up was our library’s summer reading program. Each year, I dutifully filled out a log of the books I read (heavy on Nancy Drew mysteries) to earn coupons for Dairy Queen treats.

I’m still a voracious reader, but with work, family and the lure of my Netflix queue, it’s easy to let books pile up beside my bed and in my Kindle. So, as we hit the official first day of summer, I’m making myself a reading list. I may even buy some ice cream as a reward.

Looking for some literary inspiration for your own summer reading challenge? I asked my colleagues for book suggestions, from new releases to old favorites. Whether you’re heading to the beach or hiding in the air conditioning, you might find your new favorite page-turner right here.

Arianna Auber, features writer

This summer, I’ve been feverishly reading Emily Giffin’s “First Comes Love,” about a pair of wildly different sisters whose lives are forever altered by the sudden loss of their older brother, Daniel. Giffin is world-class at creating strong, relatable female characters, and despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, her books tend to be the sort of whirlwind beach reads I love getting lost in while on vacation. Her next novel, “All We Ever Wanted,” comes out June 26 — sadly, just after my family trip to Port Aransas — but I’ll be picking up a copy regardless.

Michael Barnes, features writer

I am looking forward to finishing Walter Isaacson’s “Leonardo da Vinci.” Previously, Isaacson, who served as chairman of CNN, CEO of the Aspen Institute and editor of Time magazine, wrote about innovators such as Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. He’s particularly interested, like Jobs, in the intersection between scientific curiosity and artistic creativity. In this case, he has mined his connections to track down every expert on the subject of the Italian polymath, best known for “Mona Lisa.” Isaacson writes in a fluid and entertaining style, somewhat in the manner of popular historian David McCullough.

Peter Blackstock, music writer

Subtitled “a duet memoir,” Kimmie Rhodes and Joe Gracey’s “Radio Dreams” was a decades-in-the-making project. Gracey was one of Austin’s most accomplished producers, having worked with Willie Nelson and many other local acts. In the 1970s he’d been a trailblazing progressive-country radio DJ before cancer resulted in the loss of his voice. He reinvented himself, met budding singer-songwriter Rhodes, and they had 30 happy years together until the cancer came back and took his life in 2011. Rhodes — who’s had songs covered by Nelson, Emmylou Harris and others — took the memoirs Gracey had been working on, added to them and self-published “Radio Dreams” this spring.

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Addie Broyles, food writer

Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is one of those books you spot skimming the shelves of Half Price Books and, without pause, know you’re going to buy. With a cover heralding Alice Walker’s praise that “There is no book more important to me than this one,” Hurston’s novel about Janie Crawford seemed like an appropriate follow-up to Yaa Gyasi’s 2016 epic “Homegoing,” which chronicled two sides of a family tree rooted in two sisters born amid the early days of the slave trade in West Africa and whose progeny end up — quite separately — in modern day America. In Hurston’s 1937 classic, the protagonist marries three times, resulting in three separate and distinct lives in the Jim Crow South and a different kind of homegoing.

Sharon Chapman, features editor

The cover for “And Then We Danced: A Voyage Into the Groove” made me smile when it came across my desk — the two people kicking up their heels seem so vibrant and full of joy. Then I read that a story about Zumba class, written for the New York Times, inspired author Henry Alford to write the book, which is billed as “equal parts memoir and cultural history.” I can’t wait to dive in and find out how dance changed Alford, who says it’s now a permanent part of his life.

Eric Dexheimer, investigative reporter

There is a small handful of books that my family rereads regularly because they are so wonderful, true and entertaining. The one I’m looking forward to cracking open again this summer, and the best of the lot, is Thomas Berger’s “Little Big Man.” Not only it is a picaresque story of the American West a la “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” it was the first book I’d read that depicted Native Americans in a completely believable, nonsentimental, entirely human way. Also, although it is ultimately a tragedy, it remains one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

Kristin Finan, travel editor

There’s so much to love about Meg Gardiner’s “Unsub” series, which puts readers into the head of FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix and won’t let them out as she works down to the wire to solve terrifying and mysterious crimes by serial killers. The Austin author’s second book of the series, “Into the Black Nowhere,” is partially set in Austin and promises the same edge-of-your-beach-chair thrills as the first. Even better news? A third book is also already in the works.

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Joe Gross, movies/books/popular culture writer

I thoroughly enjoyed musician-writer Jason Heller’s “Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded”; said enjoyment included saying out loud, “(expletive), I wish I thought of this” when the thing landed on my desk. Heller tracks the oddball confluence between science fiction and pop in the 1970s, paying special attention to the career of Bowie, from “Space Oddity,” which took the rock star to the stars while sci-fi entered a seriously weird phase, to “Ashes to Ashes,” wherein the spaceman falls to Earth and sci-fi moves from druggy trippiness to hard science and, soon, cyberpunk. In between, Heller touches on everything from Kiss to P-Funk, from Michael Moorcock to “Star Wars.” Folks who love both sci-fi and pop will wish it were twice as long, but it’s especially useful for nerds of one stripe who want to become nerds of the other. Heller appears at BookPeople on June 25.

Jake Harris, social content producer

I’m really excited for “Robin,” Dave Itzkoff’s biography of the late Robin Williams. I’m only about 40 pages into it so far, and judging from some of the interview subjects alone (Williams’ half-siblings and grade-school girlfriend), it’s clear Itzkoff did his research to understand what the man behind the accents and disguises was really like. On the fiction side of things, I think this month is when I’ll finally tackle “The Waste Lands,” the third book in Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series. I read the first two books last summer and then promptly took a break from the series.

Sebastian Herrera, business reporter

I’m planning to read “A Moonless, Starless Sky” by Alexis Okeowo. It came out late last year, and it’s about everyday men and women fighting extremism and modern-day slavery in parts of Africa. Also, given Anthony Bourdain’s death, it might be good to put his famous “Kitchen Confidential” book on the list.

Katey Psencik, social content producer

I’m really looking forward to reading “Social Creature” by Tara Isabella Burton and “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” by Ruth Ware, two thrillers I’ve heard great things about. I loved Ware’s first three novels, namely “In a Dark, Dark Wood,” so I’m really looking forward to her fourth book. I also have a few nonfiction books I hope to get to this summer: “Everything I Know About Love,” a memoir by the former Sunday Times dating columnist Dolly Alderton; “Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture,” the latest book from Roxane Gay, who wrote “Bad Feminist”; and “Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster,” a biography by Sarah Krasnostein about Sandra Pankhurst, a transgender Australian woman who started a company to clean the scenes of brutal deaths and help those affected by them.

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Gardner Selby, PolitiFact Texas

I’d like to read Lawrence Wright’s “God Save Texas,” Bill Minutaglio’s latest, “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” and almost anything fresh on baseball.

Liliana Valenzuela, ¡Ahora Sí! editor

I’m looking forward to reading “Oblomov,” by Ivan Goncharov (translated by Marian Schwartz) — about a world-class sloth, “a man so indolent that he could do nothing” — as part of an online global reading group. Oblomov’s either hated or revered, and I’ll soon find out how I feel about him lying in bed for days on end. I also want to read “My Uruguay: Vignettes From a Way of Life” by Austinite Tony Beckwith, set in the 1950s and 1960s, a collection of short-short stories about growing up in this small South American country.

Eric Webb, social media and engagement editor

My two favorite genres of book are “memoir” and “very gay,” so I can’t wait to finally grab “Party of One” by Dave Holmes off my shelf. Holmes, a former MTV VJ, co-hosts one of my favorite podcasts, the LGBT sex-and-culture gab-fest “Homophilia.” If the book jacket’s promise of a pop music memoir in the vein of Rob Sheffield is true, I’m sure it’ll be magical. Speaking of magic: I’ve needed to re-read “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” a Pulitzer-winning ode to the Golden Age of comic books. I threw my original copy in the trash as a deeply closeted kid about 15 years ago. It had men kissing in it, you see. (My best friend Beth bought me a new copy for my birthday a couple of years ago, and yes, it’s the most thoughtful present I’ve ever received.) Either that or Michael Chabon’s latest, “Moonglow,” also staring at me from my stack.