Summer is a time for drift, for lapping waters, sipped cocktails, and rambling walks. One day it’s lobster rolls and white wine. The next day could be Andalusian gazpacho and Dos Equis. The weekend might bring Mul Naengmyeon (cold noodle soup) and Soju. And as your choice of food and entertainment varies with the temperature and your ebbing and flowing lethargy, so may your taste in books.
The lengthening days and piercing sunshine of summertime is the perfect time to crack open that book you might not otherwise read, you may have forgotten about, or that is low on your decades-long list of “must-reads.” And in this spirit, below you will find ten quirky, fun, intriguing memoirs and novels to while away a few of those precious summer hours. Enjoy!
Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabar
Paperback: 336 pages
Fight off a sense of slacker-hood as you dive into this delightful mystery by screenwriter Anna Waterhouse and beloved former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabar. Mycroft Holmes is the lesser known but equally brilliant older brother of the infamous Sherlock, and we are introduced to him at the beginning of his illustrious investigative career. Abdul-Jabar also introduces us to Cyrus Douglas, a black man of Trinidadian descent, an intrepid cigar shop owner, and Mycroft’s best friend. The two men head to Cyrus’ homeland to solve a mystery which includes strange disappearances and spirits that lure children to their deaths; their bodies found drained of blood.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
I approached this memoir with light expectations. Noah is charming and funny on his cable talk show the Daily Show, and although bright, I wasn’t expecting James McBride. But I was pleasantly surprised. “Born a Crime” is funny and poignant and feminist as AF. Noah loves his country and his mama, and he lovingly writes about both as he offers sharp tidbits of South African history along with wild stories of his childhood as a poor, mixed-race child under Apartheid.
Halsey Street by Naima Coster
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Little A
This novel comes with rave reviews and as a former, long time Brooklyner, from Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, the very neighborhoods the book centers around, I was prepared to fall in love fast and hard. I eventually got there but Penelope Grand, failed artist and cynic, is difficult to embrace. But as we return home with her from Pittsburgh to take care of her ailing father who has never recovered from abandonment by his Dominican wife, walk the snowy, gentrifying streets of Brooklyn, watch as she attempts to revive her passion for painting and navigate the strained marriage of the white family she rents a room from, empathy for Penelope grows. The end is not as satisfying as it should be, but overall a trip to Halsey Street is worth the subway ride.
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland
Paperback: 304 pages
Full disclosure: I am obsessed with Misty Copeland. As a poor, child ballerina who hails from California, I feel a deep kinship to her and her story of struggle and triumphant to become the first African American female Principal Dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre. Misty is not the first black ballerina, but she is the first to breakthrough in the modern era and reach the mainstream. She pays homage to those who came before her as she shares her story of growing up poor in a large, messy family. She writes about coming to dance late in childhood, having the “wrong” body type, and the personal and professional triumphs, sacrifices, problems she faced along the way to dancing The Firebird at Lincoln Center.
Black Venus by James MacManus
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Duckworth Overlook
Impoverished Haitian cabaret singer Jeanne Duval catches the attention of the young, blossoming poet Charles Baudelaire. Great artists such as Dumas and Balzac talk literature in Parisian cafes as the beautiful Jeanne fights to make a living and Baudelaire writes torrid, controversial poems to the woman he loves.
Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Allen Lane
What better book to read in the dog days of summer than one which proclaims that black hair matters? “Don’t Touch My Hair” is an exploration of the twists, curls, and kinks of black hair and how it has dominated the discourse of public life since Africans were brought to America and laws passed demanding that the black women of New Orleans cover their heads in order to stop distracting white men. The myths are that black people don’t swim and that black women freak if their hair gets wet. DTMH debunks these myths and more. Go ahead, dive in.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
In Smith’s fifth novel, we travel between North West London and West Africa. Two childhood friends brought together by their love of dance are separated in adulthood by success, race, and despair. The unnamed narrator and Tracy, both mixed raced girls, growing up in two of London’s grubbier estate flats love to dance and Michael Jackson, hate the squalor which dominates their lives and are determined to change the trajectory of their futures. Neither one truly succeeds. It’s a sad tale, and no one makes it out fully intact, but Smith creates such a vivid world that it’s worth the bruised heart.
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rhimes does not disappoint in this pithy, honest, funny, inspiring memoir. Despite her wild professional success, she found herself overweight, fearful, and unable to enjoy any of the things her talent had brought her. Stung by a comment her sister made about her lack of participation in life, Rhimes decided to challenge herself to say yes to every offer or invitation no matter how silly or momentous she received for a full year. She comes out with a profound new zest for life and you will too!
Blanche on the Lam (Blanche White #1) by Barbara Neely
Hardcover: 180 pages
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Straightforward, whip-smart Blanche White finds herself working for a strange, white North Carolina family after going on the lam to avoid her creditors. But her financial worries take a backseat as she finds herself the prime suspect when one of the family members is murdered. Unable to go home and determined to clear her name, Blanche taps into her sharp deductive reasoning and her girlfriend network of domestics to solve the mystery and save her own skin.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Hardcover: 352 pages
Eleven-year-old George Washington Black, a field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation is thrust into an unimaginable world of naturalism, exploration, and invention when he is “promoted” to the position of manservant to his master’s brother. George learns about flying machines and abolition as he unexpectedly bonds with the eccentric Christopher Wilde. But their world is torn apart when George is accused of murder and the two unlikely friends flee. George and Christopher’s friendship is tested as they traverse the globe and the former field slave has to make hard choices as he attempts to claim his humanity.