I cannot help but love summer. There is so much about it that seems outside my realm of interest:
THE BEACH, POOLS, VACATIONS, AMUSEMENT PARKS, DECKS, WATER SPORTS, SWIM SUITS, SUMMER FOOTWEAR!
None of these are particularly “on brand” for me (though at one time I was an embarrassingly devoted flip flop enthusiast), yet nothing feels more natural to me then a hot day, spent lazily jumping in and out of a pool, only to briefly interrupt whatever novel I had picked up for that month. After swimming and reading and probably talking to my friends, almost exclusively about girls and punk, we would all hop in somebody’s car and head to the latest possible screening of whatever summer blockbuster was out then. It is burned not just into my memory, but into my DNA as the embodiment of joy. That aspect, the book you have decided to devote your lazy summer day to, is essential. Yes, even when I was forced by time and economy to work, the book would travel with me. Train rides and lunch breaks and even bathroom breaks, there would be some tome I had with me to enjoy. The few times this went wrong and I would lose the book are in fact some of the most frustrating memories of my entire life, AND I WENT TO SEMINARY!!
In celebration of summer and of you, our awesome larger Cinepunx family, and of the amazing staff that keep this madhouse running, we have put together a summer reading list. Each person was asked to pick four books, and to briefly endorse or explain why that book was chosen. It is only now, as I piece this project together, that I realize one big flaw with this project- I never clarified if one was recommending books one already knew and loved, a sort of curated list for others, OR if one was sharing their own list, which would be hard to write about as one had not read them yet. So probably the first one, for everyone, except me. I just looked at the four books I am planning to read, and I hope they are good. So scroll on to see picks from some of our best writers, and also me.
Every Day Is For The Thief
I simply do not have enough African literature in my life. With Cole, I am cheating to some extent. He did grow up in Nigeria, but he was born in the US and is very accessible to US sensibilities. Still, consider this a first step, and also I follow this dude on Twitter and he has bomb comic book opinions.
I also do not read much independent horror. I have ready almost every Stephen King book, I have read definitely every Clive Barker book, and a good chunk of Peter Straub and HP Lovecraft, but new and independent authors? Almost none. So, I knew I wanted to jump in, and Adam is a good friend and a huge supporter of Cinepunx. Why not do what I have been curious about while also supporting my man’s work? Along those lines, see also: Scott Cole’s Superghost.
OK, this is also a kind of cheating in that no one would consider this hefty book “summer reading.” Yet, I cannot help myself, I have to read some non-fiction, preferably theory, all the time. In fact, my book bag (yes I am 37 years old with a book bag) is always filled with a variety of non-fiction books I am struggling through. This is currently first in line though, along with Martin and Malcolm in America, A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature, Occidental Eschatology, and a cool book about the making of The Devils whose title I forget.
The Way Home
Why am I obsessed with George Pelecanos (as well as Richard Price)? It cannot just be that he (both of them) wrote for The Wire, right? There must be something more. I like the grittiness, I love the real world depiction of D.C. I really love the random punk references. Above all, Pelecanos is writing about poverty in a way no one else is, while not writing ideological texts, just good stories. I love him, and I cannot wait to read this one.
Testimony: A Memoir
Fast-paced without being rushed, and detailed without being dense, Robertson’s autobiography of his time with THE BAND is a swirl of names and stories, and filled with the musician’s perspective. There’s a little less humility here than I’d like, but thankfully, the mild level of hubris leads to some really brutally hones disclosures. It’s going to have you pulling out Music from Big Pink in no time, delving into music you’d forgotten how much you loved. I read this on a road trip with my wife to Wisconsin back in April, and it’s cool just how well these stories of life on the road translate to sitting in front of a tiny motel in a small northern town. Definitely a vacation read.
Fans of Crouch’s Wayward Pines novels will find a lot to enjoy here. It’s far tighter than the series– obviously, as it’s one novel, rather than a trilogy–but Dark Matter is no less a rush of “what if?” Sci-Fi thriller. It’s one of those books which explaining almost ruins, but there’s dimension hopping and alternate histories here. While the characters might not be fleshed out as well as one would like, protagonist Jason Dessen has a lot of pathos, and there are some legitimately shocking turns. If you’re grabbed by the premise, the last few chapters will drop your jaw all the way to the floor.
The Girl with All the Gifts
The book is not better than the movie, nor is the movie better than the book. They’re both amazing in their own ways, with the book having the time and space to add stories and characters and details and subplots which flesh out the world in which Melanie is. Carey’s book is basically perfect in all ways. I could read this repeatedly and never tire of how its story unfurls. It’s heartbreaking and thrilling and touching and why the fuck haven’t you read this yet? It’s a zombie book which isn’t, but it’s an action novel, and kind of a coming-of-age bonding story. The Girl with All the Gifts is the book which will see you pumping your fist and possibly crying in the same ten-page span.
The Last Days of Jack Sparks
Much like John Dies at the End, you know what’s going to happen to your protagonist before the novel’s over–before it’s even started, really. Still, the story of Jack Sparks’ final days rolls out in epistolary fashion, via transcriptions, emails, instant messages, interviews, and good old fashioned narrative. What you think you’re getting rapidly becomes something very different, and there are aspects of the novel which will leave the attentive reader gasping at the intricacy of everything. The characters are all so strangely real, to the point where this book seems like an actual document of what happened. Read this now. It’s the best “devour it in a weekend to exclusion of all other activities” book you’ll read this summer.
How Music Works
Originally published in September 2012 and reprinted in paperback last month, David Byrne’s How Music Works is a buoyant, fascinating celebration of music and its function in the world around us. Drawing extensively from research as well as his own experiences, Byrne deftly crafts an insightful exploration of the social, environmental, scientific, technological and economic factors that shape our understanding of music and the vital role it plays as a transformative power in our lives. Byrne’s enthusiasm and passion for the subject is downright infectious, and his conversational prose makes the material easy to digest, even when the concepts are more complex. Byrne is an advocate for the democratization of music-making, so it follows that he’d write a book that is as accessible to a casual music fan as it is to the most ardent musicologists. Anyone with even a passing interest in music owes it to themselves to give this one a read.
Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution
David Allan Carter
In the early hours of June 28, 1969, a series of spontaneous riots broke out in response to a police raid against The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village. These riots changed the landscape of the gay rights movement in the United States literally overnight. In Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, David Allan Carter provides an exhaustive and absorbing history of pre-Stonewall New York, lending insight into the historical context that sparked the Stonewall Riots while untangling many of the myths and questions that surround it. Carter draws from hundreds of interviews and records both public and private to craft a captivating, emotionally complex narrative weaving hard information with empathetic and revealing portraits of the people involved, from prominent gay rights activists of the era, to the drag queens, trans women and street youth who threw the first bricks, to the perspective of the police. Carter’s prose is a vivid and engaging marriage of creative literary techniques with conventional journalism and historical writing, resulting in a non-fiction blend that fully immerses the reader in the action as it unfolds. Stonewall is dense with information, but Carter’s digestible writing and narrative choices keep the pages quickly turning. This is an essential read.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman
With Wonder Woman currently owning box offices and winning hearts across the world in her very own live-action feature film, now is as good a time as any to dive into her real origin story, a tale even more fascinating than the character herself.
In The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore traces the roots of Diana of Themyscira back through decades of American history to the women’s suffrage movement of early 20th century, which inspired and galvanized her creator, psychologist William Moulton Marston. Though its title may suggest otherwise, the focus of The Secret History of Woman Woman is really on Marston and his unconventional personal life. Marston not only made significant contributions to the invention of the modern polygraph test, he was also involved in a life-long polyamorous union with two women: his wife, attorney Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and their live-in girlfriend, fellow psychologist (and niece of Margaret Sanger) Olive Byrne. These women, their strong ideals, personalities, and bravery, helped shape Wonder Woman and brought her to life.
Lepore mines material gathered over years of meticulous research to reconstruct a remarkable story uncovered from virtual obscurity, shaping it into a nuanced and thrilling read. The book really emphasizes Wonder Woman’s place at the intersection of so many different points of pop-culture and social evolution, from feminism and comic books to psychology and the attitudes that precipitated the sexual liberation. Lepore succeeds in providing a context to the character that is more significant and complete than any attempts that came before, and packages it in one hell of a riveting story. With enough twists and turns to make you shout, “Great Hera!,” The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a worthy and gripping summer read.
Black Magick Vol. 1: Awakening
Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott, Chiara Arena, Jody Wynne, Eric Trautmann
Rowan Black is a dedicated cop for the Portsmouth PD. She loves her partner and her work, and life is going as smoothly as it can–until a call to duty for a hostage situation puts her face-to-face with a man who wants to burn her alive. Why? He knows her secret name. He knows she’s a witch. Something sinister is brewing, and this is only the beginning.
Black Magick follows Rowan Black as she attempts to strike a balance between her relatively conventional personal life and her decidedly unconventional private life as a member of a coven, all while grappling with a series of jarring events that suggest the return of an ancient enemy hostile to her people. Black is a protagonist infused with logic, sense, and heart, and from the opening pages of issue #1, she is immediately endearing. Her two key relationships, with partner cop Morgan and sister witch Alex, chime as authentic and rich, and the inclusion of paganism as a central pivot of the story keeps it from veering into tired police procedural territory. On that note, Black Magick offers a well-researched and refreshing take on paganism that does not trivialize it or make value jugements; instead, it adds nuance and a deeper sense of purpose to Black, and prompts a multitude of conflicts, from the intimate and personal to something much larger and more insidious, which is only glimpsed at in this initial story arc.
Rucka’s narrative is augmented by stunning art from Nicola Scott (with an assist from colorist Chiara Arena) which forgoes color almost completely, rendering an arresting world of monochrome blacks and grays. When more significant color is used, it’s used sparingly, to highlight the use of magic. The overall effect is incredibly striking and entirely its own.
Black Magick returns from a long hiatus with its sixth issue later this month, so now is a great time to get caught up on the first five issues with this collection before diving in to the continued series.
THROWING MUSES have always been, in my mind, a grossly underappreciated band. I’m not really sure why they never achieved the same limelight as some of their contemporaries, but, lead by stepsisters Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donnelly, the group excelled at pairing the austere with the surreal. THROWING MUSES had a knack for creative chord progressions, unexpected song structures (drummer David Narcizo always forewent the use of cymbals), and eccentric vocals – exemplified by Hersh’s often-stark roar and Donnelly’s harmonic sweetness. Rat Girl is Hersh’s look back at how the Muses became the Muses, and yet, it seems more than merely a memoir.
Based on the singer’s diary from the spring of 1985 to the spring of 1986, Rat Girl gives us a peek into Hersh’s songwriting inspirations. Peppered throughout the book are song lyrics that correlate to the stories she’s referencing. She chronicles the struggles of being a band made up of underage girls (they often had to pay to get into their own shows when the doormen didn’t believe they were actually the band), the freedom of living in a tour van, her diagnosis of bipolar disorder, signing a record deal, and finally, becoming a mother at the age of nineteen. Hersh is apprehensive and, at times, jittery, but those attributes give this book a nuanced feel; plus, Hersh is pretty funny. Example: she befriends a student at the university where her father teaches, who turns out to be Betty Hutton, iconic Hollywood star of stage and screen. Hutton tries to give performance tips to Hersh (“don’t sing, fall in love”), but the advice is nervously laughed off. “Betty sings about starlight and Champagne,” Hersh writes. “I sing about dead rabbits.”
Read while: feeling anxious or rebellious, or needing a sugar high
The Grounding of Group Six
Julian F. Thompson
This is a Young Adult novel, but before you groan, keep in mind this is a 1980s Young Adult novel – back when it was still kosher to write a thrilling story about parents trying to murder their children. Wait, what?
Yes, that’s exactly what this story is. “Unruly” kids are sent to a remote boarding school (their “offenses” range from sleeping with mom’s boyfriend to plagiarism to having psychic abilities) where their parents arrange plans with the schoolmaster to have their little problems “grounded.” And in this case, “grounded” means killed and thrown into a crevice. The kids discover the nefarious plans by snooping and meddling (how else do kids discover anything?), and the rest of the book is spent figuring out how to outsmart and exact revenge on their parents (“I’m not going to let my parents get away with this,” one of the teen boys says. “I know a kid who’s got a gun. No shit. He’ll let me have it if I ask him.”) Along the way, there is some fumbly teenage sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, so you know this book is pretty good for a chuckle, too.
Read while: trapped in the car with the fam on this summer’s road trip
A physicist, his wife, and two mediums walk into a haunted house – hold on, have you heard this one before?
Hell House is acclaimed science fiction writer Richard Matheson’s monumental entry into the world of supernatural fiction, mixing horror elements with mystery, and even throwing a bit of the scientific in there. You may have seen the 1973 film adaptation starting Roddy McDowall (Matheson penned the screen adaptation himself). Dr. Lionel Barrett and his party are invited to investigate the legendary “Hell House” by its current owner, a dying millionaire who wants to see if they can answer the question of “is there life after death?” before he kicks the bucket. Part of what makes this story intriguing and different is one of the mediums in Barrett’s group is a devout spiritualist, bumping heads with the physicist quite often as they debate spiritualism versus science.
This novel is pretty chilling, especially as Matheson describes the history of Hell House, whose previous owner was an infamous occultist: “Drug addiction, alcoholism, sadism, beastiality, mutilation, murder, vampirism, necrophilia, cannibalism, not to mention a gamut of sexual goodies. Shall I go on?”
Read while: hiding inside during one of summer’s powerful thunderstorms
The Virgin Suicides
Along with The Bell Jar, The Virgin Suicides seems it’s on every young woman’s “essential reading” list. Both novels address the grief and trepidation surrounding suicide, but what’s interesting about Eugenides’s work is that he focuses more on how suicide affects other people. The novel is written from an almost anonymous point of view – not the third person, but the first person of the neighborhood boys who were fascinated by the daily lives of the teenage Lisbon sisters. The story begins as it ends, with the five girls’ suicides, and Eugenides takes us on a journey to discover why they may have chosen to end their lives. It’s not so much a mystery as it is a character study, as we learn how the girls were influenced by not only the pressures of overbearing parents, but society as a whole. There’s something oddly lyrical about the sadness of adolescent girls, and Eugenides does a remarkable job capturing that poetic strangeness without diminishing the seriousness of his subject.
“Chucking her under her chin, he said, ‘What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.’
And it was then Cecilia gave orally what was to be her only form of suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: ‘Obviously, Doctor,’ she said, ‘you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.’”
Read while: hanging out on the front porch swing at the golden hour
The Good, the Tough & the Deadly: Action Movies & Stars 1960s-Present
David J. Moore
This is your ultimate coffee table book for fans of action film. You’ll read about action stars that you know and once you’ve never heard of. It weighs about a bazillion pounds, but it looks gorgeous and only runs for about $35 on Amazon. It’s a pretty great investment for anyone trying for find out more about movies and actors in the genre.
Lynch on Lynch
Through a series of interviews, Chris Rodley gets David Lynch to talk about his career. Step-by-step, they break down his work in a way only Lynch can. This is to say, he tells us small to moderate amounts of information that we must unpack ourselves. Fans of David Lynch know that he ain’t gonna tell us shit, at least not directly. However, this book allows us to piece together clues about the man and his art as if we are all Dale Cooper, trying to solve Laura Palmer’s death.
White Line Fever
Lenny Kilmister and Janiss Garza
It’s no secret that I’m a Lemmy fanboy. As a punk rock kid, I always appreciated MOTÖRHEAD’s ability to straddle the lines between punk and metal. When I met my wife, this appreciation grew. Lemmy’s best friend for the bulk of his later life had been my wife’s uncle. Fuck, I even got a wedding gift from the man.
Here, he tells the story of his career and crazy life. Overdoses, Jimi Hendrix, traveling all over the world… it’s all there! The stories are insane; for instance, there was a time his excessive drug use actually saved his life. It’s crazy and it’s all true.
Lords of Chaos
Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind
One I reread every few years, this is the definitive book on the world of Black Metal. Murder, church burnings, and all the stuff of legend, this reads as music history meets true crime. This is a fascinating read, even if this isn’t a musical genre you are at all interested in.