Literature

The top new books for your summer reading list

Nine works of fiction or non-fiction that you can take from the boardroom to the beach

Given how rare it is that anyone has time to read for pleasure — especially when there are blockbusters to watch, trips to take, music to listen to and ice cream to eat—the book had better be worth it. That’s why the stakes are so high in compiling a summer reading list: Choose the wrong text and you’ve squandered your moment in the sun.

Luckily for you, we’ve done the work. See below for nine titles we’ve personally read that won’t disappoint.

Non-fiction

When Women Ran Fifth Avenue

By Julie Satow (June 4, Doubleday)

If anything, the title undersells the full scope of women’s influence on American fashion. Satow shows how females occupied every strata of the US sartorial landscape, particularly in the half-century from the 1930s to the ‘80s, American apparel makers emerged from the shadow of Paris and came into their own. Leading the charge—often from perches at such department stores as Bonwit Teller, Henri Bendel and Lord & Taylor—women helped dictate sales, merchandising, advertising and strategies for what was, even then, a colossal industry.

The Friday Afternoon Club: A Family Memoir

By Griffin Dunne (Penguin Press, June 11)

Perhaps you’ve heard of Griffin Dunne’s father, the novelist and longtime Vanity Fair columnist Dominick Dunne? Or maybe you’ve read a book by Dominick’s brother, the famed journalist and author John Gregory Dunne? Certainly, you’re aware of John’s wife (and therefore, Griffin Dunne’s aunt), the writer Joan Didion? Even if you’ve managed to remain ignorant of all three, that’s fine. This memoir will still be a gripping read.

Griffin Dunne grew up surrounded by an almost incomprehensible amount of megawatt celebrities that ran the spectrum from Sean Connery to Carrie Fisher, and he has excellent anecdotes about all of them. (Connery saved Dunne from drowning in a swimming pool; Fisher was Dunne’s confidante.) But this is not a series of gauzy recollections of the good old days. First, Dunne is clearly not the nostalgic type. Second, his life included enough tragedy that it would be nearly impossible to spin it into a glossy Hollywood ending.

Do Something: Coming of Age Amid the Glitter and Doom of ‘70s New York

By Guy Trebay (Knopf, June 25)

It’s always a little nerve-racking when a beloved journalist writes a book outside their beat: Will they find their footing? Trebay, who’s been a style reporter and critic at the New York Times for decades, quickly puts those fears to rest. He’s a lovely writer whose recollections, which begin with a not altogether happy childhood and move quickly to a bohemian life in New York, are riveting. It’s not just sex, drugs and rock and roll: He manages to parlay fan letters into friendships with the photographer Horst P. Horst and the screenwriter and novelist Anita Loos and also befriends the aging American couturier Charles James. Trebay isn’t a sensationalist. He knew the toast of downtown at its arguable cultural peak, but he doesn’t bend over backwards to place himself at its center.

The Talented Mrs. Mandelbaum: The Rise and Fall of an American Organized-Crime Boss

By Margalit Fox (Random House, July 2)

Organized crime in the US tends to be synonymous with the Mafia, a chauvinist group of good old boys running protection rackets and ordering hits. But in the mid-19th century there was an equally formidable game in town, run by a Jewish immigrant named Fredericka (“Marm”) Mandelbaum, who had clawed her way from steerage class to become one of the country’s wealthiest women. One newspaper reported that she would often wear as much as €37,000 worth of jewellery worth about €1.4 million today, according to the book. Estimates put the total of stolen goods that passed through her Lower East Side shop at about €10 million (roughly €300 million today). Her literal rags-to-riches story is presented with depth in this spectacular and true story of ingenuity, business acumen and brazen criminality.

Fiction

Gretel and the Great War

by Adam Ehrlich Sachs (FSG Originals, June 11)

Sachs has created a sort of fairy tale in an extremely clever novelistic construction: In 1919 a young woman named Gretel is found abandoned and unable to speak. Following entreaties to the public, she receives a string of bedtime stories in the mail (one for every letter of the alphabet) from a man who claims to be her father. They’re often structured as children’s stories with adult themes (a modernist architect, forced to cover his building with flowers so as not to offend the sensibilities of a young girl, falls paternalistically in love with her and tragedy ensues). Gradually, it becomes clear that each story is intertwined with others in a mosaic of anecdotes that, taken together, creates a picture of a belle epoque Vienna teetering on the edge of obliteration.

Caledonian Road

By Andrew O’Hagan (W. W. Norton & Company, June 18)

A pitch-perfect send-up of London’s dirty rich and their many hangers-on, O’Hagan’s latest is an absolute joy to read. Even if you don’t care about the novel’s many insider winks—this is surely the first time in years that the briefly famous artist Dash Snow has been name-checked—the story is impossible to put down. Campbell Flynn, the book’s protagonist, is a celebrity intellectual whose success has propelled him into the echelons of the very wealthy. This is in theory a good thing, but Campbell, who was born middle class, is perennially insecure about money, status and fame. When his world falls apart, those preoccupations aren’t revealed to be bad, exactly. But they are, with the benefit of hindsight, the precise ingredients of his undoing.

The Heart in Winter

By Kevin Barry (Doubleday, July 9)

It takes a second to get into the heavily stylised rhythm of Barry’s period-patois prose, but once you do, the payoff is worth it. Occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, the novel, which could plausibly be called a Western, follows two sort-of-outlaw lovers as they leave the relative comfort of Butte, Montana, and head into the wilderness. Tom, a triple threat (drug addict, alcoholic, poet), and his paramour Polly (recently married … to someone else) are headed to the supposed freedom of San Francisco. Before they get there, they have to reckon with, among other trials, a posse of Cornish gunmen.

The Son of Man

By Jean-Baptiste Del Amo (Grove, July 16)

Even the most faithfully translated books can lack a vital spark of the original. But in Frank Wynne’s translation of an exquisite 2021 novel by French wunderkind Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, the story—an atmospheric exploration of filial relationships—loses none of its taut beauty. A boy and his mother leave their modest suburban house and follow the boy’s father, who has returned unexpectedly to his family cabin in the middle of the wilderness after disappearing years earlier. As the boy and his mother acclimate themselves to a new existence in an almost primeval forest, tensions among the three become almost too much to bear.

Things Don’t Break on Their Own

By Sarah Easter Collins (Crown, July 16)

The setup, a combination of old friends and new acquaintances who gather for a dinner party, is straight out of Clue. But the underlying tension—a woman still searching for her sister years after she disappeared—is something else. Using a series of prolonged flashbacks told through various attendees, the mystery of the disappearance is told from multiple angles; the fact that its resolution is a little too neat does nothing to blunt the force of the narrative.

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