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Steamboat Magazine

Summer Reading Goals

08/05/2022 01:50PM ● By Jennie Lay
Steamboat Springs, CO - Read to prepare yourself for the return of Literary Sojourn this fall. Or just stockpile this list for the year’s best books to pile by your bedside. Steamboat’s beloved literary festival is going live again, and it’s a lineup of heavy-hitting authors whose collective works create a diverse and delicious summer reading list. Here’s a look at five of the featured writers.

“Hell of a Book” | By Jason Mott

This is the tale of an unnamed Black author on a cross-country book tour. It is concurrently the story of Soot, a young Black boy in a rural town, and The Kid, the author’s imaginary friend. Designed to be disorienting, it is a story about identity, love, loss, the Black experience, and so much more. Jason Mott won the National Book Award for “Hell of a Book” this year … and well, it’s a hell of a must-read novel. It is not insignificant to the narrative that Mott dedicated the award in his acceptance speech “to all the other mad kids, to all the outsiders, the weirdos, the bullied. The ones so strange they had no choice but to be misunderstood by the world and by those around them. The ones who, in spite of this, refuse to outgrow their imagination, refuse to abandon their dreams and refuse to deny, diminish their identity, or their truth, or their loves, unlike so many others.”

Want more Mott? Follow up “Hell of a Book” with “The Returned,” his bestseller that morphed into a television series called “Resurrection,” about a town where dead people come back to life.

 “What Strange Paradise” | By Omar El Akkad

In the wake of his award-winning geopolitical bestseller that reflected many of his witnessed experiences as a journalist covering Afghanistan, Guantánamo and the Arab Spring, Omar El Akkad returns with a more intimate vantage on a global predicament: the migrant crisis. The wreck, both literal and societal, is relayed in the voices of two small children at sea. It is a gripping  dystopia locked in our global reality. The novel turns “otherness” on its head, and makes clear that hope lies in finding a deep resurgence of humanity.

Want more Akkad? After “What Strange Paradise” read “American War,” a brilliant, devastating and nuanced imagining of a post-apocalyptic future America mired in a long-running civil war. 

 “Our Country Friends” | By Gary Shteyngart

This is Gary Shteyngart’s pandemic novel, and it’s exactly what we need right now. Brimming with elegant prose and insightful bite, it’s the story of eight individuals hunkered at a Hudson Valley estate for what was supposed to be a quick inconvenience. We all know better. The absurd human experience unfolds as urban people reside uncomfortably in the rural. In Steamboat, it’s a phenomenon we’ve witnessed IRL. Shteyngart’s pandemic web flexes with love and sex and narcissism and privilege. There is friendship and villainy. There is an awkward tween. Literary folks have called attention to literary structures in “Our Country Friends” that parallel classic Russian novels, but don’t let that scare you away from this story that brims with humor and keen interpersonal observation; let that compliment elevate the literature, then just enjoy an escape into a hilarious quagmire of isolation that Shteyngart has built for readers.

Want more Shteyngart? Following “Our Country Friends,” dive into his essential immigrant memoir, “Little Failure.” 

 “I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness” | By Claire Vaye Watkins

This is a dark, uncomfortable and highly unconventional book about motherhood. It is fiction, and it is autobiographical. All of it is complicated. Sometimes it’s downright weird. Claire Vaye Watkins delivers a story about transformation, depression, elation, experimentation, and what it’s like to feel both trapped and disoriented in reality and social acceptability. To top it off, much of the book is set in the stark, unforgiving Mojave Desert, an uncomfortable place for many that turns out to be something of a security blanket for Claire, the main character. And there you have her, the thinly veiled protagonist, who readers will likely love and loathe, who shares some unshakable commonalities with the author, not least of which is having a father who was Charles Manson’s right-hand man. The journey is a trip, both psychological and on the road, and the escapades in this adventure are relayed with irresistible wit and candor.

Want more Watkins? When you finish “I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness,” read her dazzling cli-fi/Hollywood apocalypse set in the desert, “Gold Fame Citrus.”

 “Booth” | By Karen Joy Fowler

We all know how the story of John Wilkes Booth ends. And yet, Karen Joy Fowler, in an insightful work of deeply researched and imaginative historic fiction, shows readers that most of us actually know nothing about this famous assassin. The drama that shaped and surrounded his home life are impossible to ignore, as are the formative experiences with slavery, politics and revolutionaries. Fowler weaves a portrait of comingled tragedies: a family and a splintering America in the mid-nineteenth century. Fowler lays bare a family filled with Shakespearean actors, strange and spoiled sisters, a melodramatic mother and big secrets – all of which hurtled toward Abraham Lincoln’s real-life demise.

Want more Fowler? As a contrast to “Booth,” escape into  her quirky and contemporary novel “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.”