The Best Books to Read This Summer
From new fiction by local authors to recs from the bookshop around the corner, consider this your (Philly!) summer reading list.
Picture this: You’re at the Shore, toes in the sand, sun on your skin.
The sounds of crashing waves and cawing gulls float on the air. And in your hand is a book (or an e-reader, if you’re a heathen). Can’t see the title clearly yet? We’ve got you covered with everything from new fiction by local authors to recs from the bookshop around the corner. — Edited by Kristen Schott
10 New Titles by Philly Authors to Check Out This Summer
Rug Man by David Amadio
A busted-up blue-collar carpet installer takes on a bizarre, seemingly endless job at a Main Line McMansion. Amadio based his debut novel on his father’s family rug biz.
House Parties by Lynn Levin
The Bucks-based poet and Drexel writing teacher breaks into the fiction world with this collection of vivid, funny, and quietly powerful short stories. House Parties may break your heart, but it’ll never do it the same way twice.
We Don’t Swim Here by Vincent Tirado
This new speculative novel about urban monsters by the non-binary Afro-Latinx author, born in the Bronx and now living in Bryn Mawr, has been called a “queer, heart-pounding thrill ride.” We Don’t Swim Here is filed under YA, but its deep-ocean chills will work on anybody.
Small Town Sins by Ken Jaworowski
Billed as a “Rust Belt thriller,” this debut novel puts its hardscrabble characters through the ringer in a dried-up Pennsylvania steel town full of drugs, despair and deception. Look for it in August.
Scrape the Velvet From Your Antlers by Kelly McQuain
The longtime Philly poet released his debut collection earlier this year. McQuain’s verse is wonderfully precise even as it explores life’s grim and gray areas. Lovely.
Bread and Circus by Airea D. Matthews
The reigning Poet Laureate of Philadelphia packs heart and humor into this collection of autobiographical poems while taking a scalpel to the idea of a benevolent free market. Before you head to the Shore, see her at the Free Library on June 1st.
The Yin and the Yang of It All: Rock ‘n’ Roll Memories From the Cusp as Told by a Mixed-Up, Mixed-Race Kid by John Kim Faye
Almost-famous Irish-Korean frontman Faye — leader of Philly bands the Caulfields, Ike, John Faye Power Trip and more — shares his insight and war stories from a career that kicked off in the alt-rock era and never stopped.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
How about a victory lap for Zauner’s gorgeous memoir? Recently released in paperback, Crying in H Mart is the Japanese Breakfast rock star’s best-seller about grief, identity and food. A movie’s on its way.
Philadelphia, Corrupt and Consenting: A City’s Struggle Against an Epithet by Brett H. Mandel
Civic activist and author Mandel tallies up the long-term toll corruption has had on this city while offering a glimpse at a better future, if we’re willing to work for it.
It should get your pulse pounding and your heart racing and leave you with a book hangover in the best way.”
—Jennifer Herrera, author of ‘The Hunter,’ on what makes a good summer read.
Shore Kids: Summer Picks for Little Ones
These books help youngsters learn about South Jersey’s beaches — while they’re on the sand.
Good Night Jersey Shore by Adam Gamble & Mark Jasper, 2021
This cute board book is the perfect bedtime story to help the littlest beachgoers recognize local landmarks, from LBI to Wildwood, from the boardwalk to the farm stand (selling Jersey tomatoes, naturally).
The Legend of the Cape May Diamond by Trinka Hakes Noble, 2007
Have you ever found clear, smooth quartz pebbles on the beach in Cape May? This dreamy picture book tells the Lenape folklore behind those “diamonds” and their journey down the Delaware from the Appalachians to the Shore, with gorgeous watercolor illustrations by Philly artist E.B. Lewis.
The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz, 2022
This middle-grade novel set in 1970s Atlantic City sees its 13-year-old Jewish protagonist deal with family, religion and — yes — the Mob. Coming-of-age issues are set against familiar locales, but in an era of decline that keeps things spicy.
Pass Go and Collect $200: The Real Story of How Monopoly Was Invented by Tanya Lee Stone, 2018
Kids who spend their summers at the Shore have likely had their share of rainy days playing Monopoly. This book uncovers the origin of that board game, including its oft-uncredited woman creator, its evolution as it gained popularity in Atlantic City — and why the properties are A.C. spots like Ventnor Avenue and Boardwalk.
Wise Words for Young Minds
This Book Is Banned by Raj Haldar
The DJ, rapper, and author of P Is for Pterodactyl will deliver his timeliest book yet in September.
A book in which women — or girls — get to be absolutely, incandescently happy. If they are Black, even better. Black women and girls deserve so much joy.”
—Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow author of ‘Abdul’s Story and Hold Them Close: A Love Letter to Black Children,’ on what makes a great summer read.
Talking Shop: What 5 Philly Bookstore Owners Are Reading
Nobody loves books like booksellers, so we asked Philly-area store owners for their recommendations.
Sheila Allen Avelin
Big Blue Marble, Mount Airy
Shelf life: “We have fiction and nonfiction for every age and carry multicultural, queer-positive titles, especially for kids and teens,” says Avelin, who opened this queer-owned and queer/BIPOC-managed bookstore in 2005. There’s a sizable sci-fi and fantasy section and a recently expanded menagerie of mysteries and thrillers. “And on the nonfiction side, we focus on everything that the GOP doesn’t want people to learn.”
Now reading: Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto, by Tricia Hersey; The Winged Histories, by Sofia Samatar; Tiny You: A Western History of the Anti-Abortion Movement, by Jennifer L. Holland.
Recent favorite: Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by David Graeber (updated and expanded).
Up next: “Lucky Red, a queer Western debut novel from Claudia Cravens, is my summer-reading recommendation.”
Jeannine A. Cook
Harriett’s Bookshop, Fishtown
Shelf life: Harriett’s is a Philly underdog story: An independent bookshop owned by a Black woman in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood survives the pandemic and becomes a sensation. In addition to the flagship named for Harriet Tubman, there’s Ida’s in Collingswood (as in Ida B. Wells), and a pop-up opening this summer in Paris, Josephine’s Bookshop (think Josephine Baker).
Recent favorite: “I’m being transformed by things I read, but I’m not ranking the transformational experiences in that way. I’m rereading Morrison, so it’s like today I’ve been sitting with these marigolds from the first line of The Bluest Eye: ‘Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall 1941.’”
Up next: “Pick up a copy of the Baker biography The Hungry Heart, by Jean-Claude Baker and Chris Chase, and Agent Josephine, by Damien Lewis, to come along on the journey to Paris — literally and figuratively.”
Marc Lamont Hill
Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books, Germantown
Shelf life: “I opened Uncle Bobbie’s to create space for Black ideas, Black writers and Black culture,” says owner/author Hill about launching almost six years ago. Uncle Bobbie’s “prioritizes multicultural children’s books, progressive and radical texts, and LGBTQ writers.”
Now reading: “Stephen A. Smith’s memoir, Straight Shooter. It’s refreshingly honest.”
Recent favorite: “Imani Perry’s South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation. It is brilliantly conceived.”
Up next: “Can We Please Give the Police Department to the Grandmothers? Books like this can change the world!”
H&H Books, East Kensington
Shelf life: Launched in 2019 and relocated to Frankford Avenue last year, the nonprofit shop sells and publishes books: It’s put the words of more than 100 authors in print so far. H&H Books takes cues from customers and “champions smaller presses, local authors, translated works, and books that defy categorization,” says Gallant.
Now reading: “I saw the Nan Goldin documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, and actress/writer Cookie Mueller was featured. Seeing Mueller inspired me to pick up her collection of stories and art criticism, Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black. It’s transportative, funny and heartbreaking.”
Recent favorite: “I was floored by Ling Ma’s Bliss Montage as a collection but especially by the story ‘G.’ The eponymous ‘G’ is a drug that renders the user briefly invisible.”
Up next: “Ripe, by Sarah Rose Etter! The pub date is July 11th. We cannot wait after stocking her surrealistic and mind-bending The Book of X, which makes you feel like your brain is being re-grooved while reading.”
Head House Books, Queen Village
Shelf life: “I launched Head House Books in 2005, when Philadelphia felt like a literary desert,” says De Wyngaert. His shop is half a block and a world away from the hustle of South Street and houses adult and kids’ books in a multitude of genres.
Now reading: “The Sun Walks Down, by Fiona McFarlane, which tells the story of a boy lost in colonial Australia.”
Recent favorite: “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk — the literary mystery raises complex questions about the way we live and treat one another while making you laugh uproariously.”
Up next: “The Memory of Animals, by Claire Fuller. I love the creative ways she explores our connectedness and the consequences of our actions.”
Published as “Fully Booked” in the June 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.