Summer Is For Reading (For Some Lucky Part-Timers)


katBy Kat Kiefer-Newman

We talk about breaking news. We talk about local events and history. We talk about politics, cultural issues, and contemporary problems. We talk about the economy, the state of college education, and future goals. Many will share personal experiences and worries.

And we talk about books.

In all of my classes (but especially my writing classes) students really want to know what books I recommend. More than my advice on their life plans and more than my views on world current events, the students seem to think I’m someone who can recommend books.

I’m just happy they want to read.

I’m always flattered when they tell me they read my blog; those who do know my views on books like the Twilight series. I don’t have an issue with all young adult fiction, of course, just the stuff with sparkly vampires in it. Save the hate mail, this isn’t a “high brow/low brow” blog post. I get the fan-love for serial fiction; in fact, I said last time that I also love serial fiction.

Because some of my students do read this blog; because friends and acquaintances who don’t read a lot but want to; because I had a few minutes tonight to look over my GoodReads, Powell‘s, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon history….

Here it is, Kat’s Summer Reading Recommendations:

  1. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
  2. House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  3. The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir by James Brown
  4. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
  5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  6. The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir by Leslie Marmon Silko
  7. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
  8. Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
  9. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  10. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
  11. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
  12. The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman
  13. Killing Floor by Lee Child
  14. A Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach
  15. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
  16. The Witches by Roald Dahl
  17. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
  18. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  19. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  20. A Window Opens by Ardyth Meyers Philyaw
  21. Silk Stocking Road by Carla Landrath
  22. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  23. Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson
  24. American Gods by Neil Gaimon
  25. Widdershins by C. D. deLint

I know 25 is a daunting number. And this probably seems like a weird gathering of titles. I will tell you, though, that each one of these has something (or many somethings) so special that if you do read one you’ll be recommending it, also.

I start with story collections – some are fiction and some are memoir. Usually I list collections for folks who really haven’t done a lot of reading but want to start. The vignettes are rich with textures, fleshed-out and rounded characters, and really give you a sense of accomplishment when you finish them. But as summer reading you can’t beat this short story/vignette format. One of the books, in particular, is always toward the top of any book list I make. Jim Brown’s work is vivid, lyrical, and though his autobiography is often sad, there’s an uplifting transcendent quality that makes it worth any tears. I had the pleasure of taking a class with the author of Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir, Jim Brown, and you won’t regret getting yourself a copy.

I also like to mix it up with both more (so-called) literary works and really great popular fiction. I have Frazer, O’Connor, Steinbeck, and Morrison on the same list as Gaimon, Child, Larson, and Harris.

Richard Bach’s A Bridge Across Forever is there because idealistic fantasies are the stuff that summer reading is made of. Likewise, American Gods and Widdershins are windows into other worlds, perfect for an afternoon sitting on your fold-up lawn chair in the grass, next to a plinking sprinkler, sipping iced lemonade.

Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon (factoid: I recently found out that Harris based Hannibal Lecture on Ted Bundy) introduces a complicated bad guy while Lee Child’s Killing Floor introduces a complicated good guy (oh, and Jack Reacher is someone you wish you knew if you ever get into trouble).

Ardyth Meyers Philyaw and Carla Landrath are relatively new writers. If you love historical romances you’ll start following them on Facebook like I do. I am very lucky to know both of these gifted women, and consider myself a “super fan.”

Marilyn Robinson, Maya Angelou, Annie Proulx, and Alice Hoffman are there for their stories told in stunningly poetic language.

Then there are slightly creepy romps, like Bradbury’s and Juster’s great stories; both will give you a little evening shiver when the shadows start to stretch across your room; I love that delicious chill late on a warm summer night.

This will be my last blog of the school year. It’s been really great getting to share my stories for the second year with you all. I’ve been so lucky in the terrific students I’ve had (I wish I could name them all here), and thankful to you for taking your precious time and spending it with me as I talk about those students. I hope your summer is relaxing, filled with wonderful moments, and exactly what you need it to be.

About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is (hopefully) in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, commiserates with her fellow-adjunct husband about juggling their mutually crazy schedules, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (Also, though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)

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