At my house, the beginning of summer is always a bit of a whirlwind. Planning family vacations, scheduling swimming lessons, organizing play-dates, negotiating conflict between siblings who suddenly have to be around each other all the time—I relish the chaos even as it threatens to overwhelm me.
My anchor amidst the upheaval of summer, in childhood and motherhood, has always been summer reading at the library. The reading log, a single sheet of folded paper, a mystical constant through time and space. The allure of a free mass-market paperback (many of the choices for my children identical to those I was offered in decades past) and a coupon for a free blizzard at Dairy Queen are all that is needed to catapult us into the shelves. This year is my first as a library worker, and even from behind the scenes, the mundane magic sweeps us into its thrall.
“Do y’all want to sign up for our summer reading program?” I ask a mother and her two children, named for geniuses of the Harlem Renaissance, as though they themselves ought to be protagonists in a book series. The quiet older sister’s eyes shine and she nods, wordlessly. Her skeptical younger brother asks “Why? What for?” The promise of a paperback and untold riches in the form of kids’ meal coupons entices him, too, and soon I am writing their names at the top of folded sheets of summer reading passport paper and sending them into the stacks.
Looking for your own summer reading? Perhaps hoping to find an LGBTQIA author or story to check out for Pride month? We’ve got just the thing. Here’s what your Literary Mama staff members are reading now:
Senior Editor Christina Consolino shares: “The more I read memoir, the more I appreciate the genre. I recently pulled off my shelf One Day on the Gold Line: A Memoir in Essays by Carla Rachel Sameth, a book that drew me in from the beginning. Sameth starts the collection with a preface rooted in 1991, when she escapes from a burning boat and realizes ‘her one regret would be not having children.’ She then takes the reader back to 1979, when she was twenty years old and part of the ‘first all-women back country trail crew at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.’ While in the park, Sameth changes physically and emotionally, gaining muscle from the manual labor of swinging an ax and wisdom from her experience with her first girlfriend, a direction she’d been pulled in for a while. And yet, two years later, Sameth marries Larry, saying, ‘Our main goal was to have [a baby], but we convinced ourselves that we were in love.’ By then, she’d had three miscarriages and would have more before finally having her son; shortly after, she and Larry divorce. Sameth is honest in her story of challenge and loss as she tries to achieve a picture-perfect family. She moves the reader from one crisis to another with a steely spine. ‘Sometimes you feel a little scared,’ she says, ‘but then you get tough.’ This memoir isn’t just about the pursuit for a child and family, though. Sameth reveals details about the demise of her second marriage (to Lizette), brings the issues of race and class to the forefront, and shares her son’s struggle with drug addiction. One Day on the Gold Line is beautiful, raw, and poignant and a good reminder of how we can be both vulnerable and strong at the same time.”
“I’m a cataloger at a small public library, so I see a lot of books every week,” explains Managing Editor, Hope Rider. “Most of the time, I process the books and send them on to the patrons; sometimes I make note of a title and put it on my to-read list. But sometimes, I discover a book that grabs me and demands that I read it RIGHT NOW, and I lose track of time, only to surface half an hour or more later to remember I have more books to catalog. The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons is one of those books. Spencer is a trans teenager who has moved to a new town and school after being bullied at his previous school. He’s a talented soccer player and quickly finds a place on the school soccer team—as well as a possible boyfriend—but he does so while passing, hiding that he is trans. When a discriminatory law forces the coach to bench him, Spencer has to choose between hiding his real identity and only cheering his team on or fighting for his right to play, which means coming out to everyone, including the boy he is falling for. I was captivated by the characters and the story—Spencer’s family is supportive and loving, the teammates the kind of friends any kid would want to have, and the romance is sweet and believable and, while the ending is a bit rosy, it didn’t seem unreasonably so for a YA romance. This story stuck with me, and I would recommend The Passing Playbook to anyone looking for a good read.”
“I am rarely drawn into a book from page one,” confides Blog and Photo Editor Stephanie Buesinger, “but such is the case with Mia McKenzie’s lively novel, Skye Falling, where our narrator informs us she was voted ‘Most Likely to be Single’ in junior high. When the story opens, Skye is 38, single, queer, hungover, and spending time in her hometown of Philly in between leading trips for Black travelers around the globe. McKenzie’s witty, deft prose and Skye’s funny and sarcastic voice immediately bring the reader into Skye’s world. We meet her friends, family, and the locals who populate her neighborhood. And just when you find yourself chuckling at Skye’s edgy observations, your heart melts when she meets a 12-year-old girl who claims to be her ‘egg’–that is, an egg Skye donated to a friend trying to conceive. I smiled when Skye tracked down the girl at school after escaping their initial meeting, all the while calling her ‘Charmaine’ instead of her actual name. You can’t help but think it’s on purpose as she pushes back against this new unexpected situation: ‘The kid looks at me like I’m the worst person she ever met. I want to tell her I’m not, I’m just bad at human-on-human relationships.’ One of Skye’s observations that I especially liked occurred as she was competing with a fellow customer in a record store over the last copy of an Etta James album: ‘What’s fair? What a naive way to look at the world. I want to say to her that there is no fair. One of us just has to want the record more than she wants to be liked by a stranger.’ Skye Falling is very much the book I needed to read right now, as both a reader and a writer. It reminded me of what a book can do, how characters can lead you into their story and fill you with both their humor and humanity.”
As for myself, I’ve recently reread a favorite work of sci-fi. Clay’s Ark is book 3 in Octavia Butler’s Patternist series, but I did not know that the first time I read it. I didn’t know anything about Octavia Butler beyond having heard she was the “mother of Afrofuturism” at a lecture given by her old friend, Samuel R “Chip” Delany, who hated the word “Afrofuturism.” As Delany reminisced and read excerpts from her books, he unwittingly stoked the fires of my exasperation at a literary upbringing that aggressively ignored the possibility of someone like Octavia Butler. Fresh out of that lecture, I beelined to the public library and checked out the only volume of Butler’s on the shelf–Clay’s Ark.
In Clay’s Ark, civilization on Earth has progressed to the point of interstellar exploration while simultaneously deteriorating into a chaotic and violent ecosystem of car gangs, crime lords, and isolated enclaves of wealth and relative safety. A person’s only chance of survival depends upon being heavily armed and heavily armored. Eli, the only remaining member of the first expedition to Proxima Centauri, is grappling with the effects of an extraterrestrial microbial infection that threatens to overwhelm his humanity and, through him, all human life on Earth. Much like Dicrocoelium dendriticum in ants, this Centaurian microbe dramatically affects Eli’s behavior, reshaping him physically and mentally.
Butler masterfully demonstrates the way sci-fi gives us room to explore and interrogate our societal and cultural assumptions. Questions like “What makes us human? What is the nature of personhood? What makes a family? How do we navigate the tension between caring for family and caring for humankind?” are woven throughout the book, with no easy answers for either the characters or the reader. Be aware that there are some scenes of graphic violence and rape, although they do not dominate the narrative. It is a fast-paced story—unsettling, fascinating, and powerful.