The 11 Best Books To Read This June

Read me!

Yes, finally: It's June. This means it's summer. This means it's Gemini season. And Geminis, as we all know, are super verbally adept and intellectual (well, with one notable exception), so that means they're big readers. (We repeat, with one notable exception.) So it's in honor of the Gemini that we recommend 11 incredible books to read this month. Many of them were on our big summer book preview, but a couple are new selections. You know the drill: Read one, read them all. Just read something other than the news this month, because the news... is really depressing.

Photo via St. Martin's Press

The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro (available June 6)

Julia Fierro’s eagerly awaited sophomore novel follows a prodigal-son-returns story line—that is, if the son were a white, wealthy, liberally progressive daughter who brings her African-American husband and their two kids to live in the all-white community of her youth on the fictional island of Avalon, New York, where livelihoods depend on a decaying war plane factory. The plot’s tension arises through interweaving layers of class, race, nationalism, and sexism, all set against a plague of multiplying gypsy moths in the summer of ’92. Fierro’s storytelling masterfully unravels the complexities of generational gaps by presenting perspectives from an array of characters, ranging from sex-, alcohol-, and drug-fueled teenagers to a middle-aged husband with a lonely home life to an affluent matriarch on the tail end of her ostensibly perfect existence. The text references an equally diverse list of sources that includes William Shakespeare, James Baldwin, and Oprah. And while this novel's stereotyping and surface-level racial enlightenment can be off-putting, it’s a gripping narrative that touches on important issues, chief among them domestic violence and the quiet strength and calculated vengefulness that rains down when a woman’s body is attacked. —Irina Grechko

This review appears in NYLON's June/July 2017 issue

Photo via Coffee House Press

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash (available June 6)

Who knew that one of my favorite books I'd read this year would feature an epigraph by Arnold Schwarzenegger? Not me. And yet, here we are. "The mind is the limit," Schwarzenegger exhorts, and that is a really important thing to keep within your own mind as you start the at times surreal, at times manic, and always explosive and alive journey into the life of Stephen Florida, a high school wrestler with one of the most unique narrative voices I've come across in some time. In Stephen, author Gabe Habash has created an unforgettable protagonist, whose wry, dark voice has a peculiar strength to it; it's impossible, while reading, not to feel like the sentences are almost stalking you, wrapping themselves in and around you, pinning you down for the count. This trip Stephen takes you on, which includes both the dark, lonely recesses of his mind and those of the American West, is a powerful one, and a worthwhile one. Surrender, and see how far you can push your mind's limits.

Photo via Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Answers by Catherine Lacey (available June 6)

Gutted. That’s how Catherine Lacey’s sophomore novel, The Answers, leaves the soul. With modern-day New York City as its backdrop, Lacey explores the isolation of adulthood and the cult of celebrity, mixing our compulsive search for meaning in human connection with a sobering amount of ennui. Mary, a young, directionless woman, has ailments to spare. Her cosmopolitan friend refers her to a New Age healing practice called Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia (PAKing, for short). Its astronomical cost leads Mary to apply to a job on Craigslist called The Girlfriend Experiment, where her duties are to fulfill the role of Emotional Girlfriend for a mega-celebrity. (Other women are hired to be his Intimacy Girlfriend, Maternal Girlfriend, Anger Girlfriend, and so on.) 

Lacey’s prose is dizzying in its existentialism. Or is it nihilism? She addresses her own questions with further questions. What’s the point of joy if it’s fleeting? Why connect with anyone if we're all going to die anyway? The Answers is a New Yorker’s story, jaded in its outlook and confident in its belief that real life is truly stranger than fiction. —Hayden Manders

This review appears in NYLON's June/July 2017 issue

Photo via FSG Originals

Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim (available June 6)

This utterly entrancing novel is hard to explain in a mere blurb, thanks to the fact that it combines two main narratives. One centers around two Asian-American boys in a small Midwestern town who form a friendship based on their love for comics and the fact that they have no other friends; the other takes place in a superhero-filled alternate universe. It subverts the predicted sci-fi narrative by adding overt political elements (protest and resistance play a big part in the story), pulp detective story strains, as well as cultural critiques and philosophical explorations. Does this sound like a lot? Maybe it would be in hands less deft than Lim's. It is instead a lucid, provocative exploration of contemporary culture and themes like power, money, and friendship.

Photo via Knopf

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (available June 6)

This long-awaited follow-up to Roy's masterful The God of Small Things is finally here, and it lives up to everyone's admittedly super-high expectations. In it, Roy uses magical realism to tell the sprawling story of a host of characters in India, all of whom have lives filled with love, loss, grief, and redemption; each life is rendered with the empathy and compassion for which Roy is known. What is perhaps most unforgettable about this novel is the way in which Roy takes such huge and often enigmatic universal truths, but makes them comprehensible by writing with an intimacy and generosity that makes the most mystical things in life feel like a part of our common humanity.

Photo via Little, Brown and Company

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie (available June 13)

Sherman Alexie's memoir is a stunning and vitally important portrayal of his incredibly complicated relationship with his mother, a woman whose own violent upbringing led to a lengthy battle with addiction and a lifelong struggle with multiple demons. In Lillian Alexie, her son has one of the most incredible characters he's ever put on the page (and, if you're familiar with Sherman's work, that's really saying something). She is a tempest—alternately kind and cruel, passionate and distant, more of a force of nature than capable of nurture. Beautiful and brilliant, Lillian was also abusive and unreliable to her children, but Sherman never attempts to make his mother a villain, or, really, anything other than what she was: a human who was trying to do her best in a world that had rarely looked out for her needs. This results in a memoir that is full of compassion and wonder, pain and beauty, and is a searing testament to the ways in which our parents and our pasts fully make us who we are as adults.

photo via Random House

Blind Spot by Teju Cole (available June 13)

For Teju Cole, traveling the world is about seeing the unseen. Such is the essence of his new photo book, Blind Spot, which comprises over 150 pairs of images and lyrical text drawn from his own personal journeys. The congruence in size of the images and their corresponding captions speaks to their equal importance, as the photographer and writer poetically connects each vivid photo to a moment in history related to its setting. (It would serve the reader well to heed the advice of novelist Siri Hustvedt in the foreword, and have Google at the ready to search for the little-known cities mentioned in the book.) The draped curtains in Cole’s hotel in Nuremberg, for example, are far more than that: They’re layers of fabric “facing themselves,” akin to the drapery depicted in Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings that Nuremberg’s own Albrecht Dürer studied while visiting the polymath in 1507; they’re reminders of the white cloth shrouding Jesus Christ’s body while he lay in his tomb before his resurrection, much like the man Cole encounters lying outside of a church in Lagos. Readers need not be ashamed if they’re unable to see Cole’s clever parallels upon first inspection of the photos—after all, humans do have a literal blind spot, as Hustvedt notes. Ultimately, Blind Spot is an eye-opening exploration of the world, time, and how the two connect. —Keryce Chelsi Henry

This review appears in NYLON's June/July 2017 issue

Photo via Harper

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (available June 13)

This isn’t a story about weight loss. Roxane Gay makes that much clear in the first few lines of her new book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. No miraculous diet will be revealed, nor will it encourage you to give up gluten. Rather, this work offers a timeline of Gay’s young, safe body up to the moment it was violated. That’s her trauma to reveal, so we won’t discuss it here, but it marks the start of her descent into a kind of nothingness. The beginning of her “after.”

She copes by turning inward. She does so through theater, reading, writing, tattoos, the internet, and food. It is her relationship with the latter that forms the foundation of the narrative, but the definition of “hunger” also extends far beyond physical appetites into deeper yearnings.  

The world has plenty of stories about bodies—how to take care of them, how to understand them, how to love them. But few feel this raw. In the process of composing this book, Gay has said that she used her Tumblr entries as a starting point, and it reads as such. The chapters are short, often comprising stream-of-consciousness thoughts that she works through in real time. They sometimes seem so intimate, you almost wish you’d asked permission before reading them. 

The truths Gay writes about aren’t easy to digest, but they’re necessary if we ever want to reach a place of understanding on the realities of bodies other than our own. —Taylor Bryant

This review appears in NYLON's June/July 2017 issue

Photo via Ecco

Our Little Racket by Angelica Baker (available June 20)

This might just be the perfect beach read. Why? Well, there's nowhere better than the beach to read about the lives of the really, really, fabulously wealthy. I think that's because, on the beach, we're all naked, or close to it, and there's a seemingly inarguable equality to that level of collective exposure; it allows us to feel like we're all part of something bigger, some larger teeming mass of freckled, goose-bumped, prickly-haired humanity. And then you remember that we're not because the really rich are off on some private beach somewhere, and so it's probably best to just read about the insanity of their lives and put on more sunscreen, because, you know, safety first.

And so, speaking of safety and humanity and nakedness and wealth, Our Little Racket takes place just after the financial crash of 2007 and centers around the downfall of a Greenwich, Connecticut, CEO, Bob D'Amico, whose family must deal with the fallout from D'Amico's malfeasance. It's a fascinating look into an insular, moneyed world, one in which friendships—and even familial relations—are often all too conditional on wealth and status. Baker skillfully grapples with questions of complicity and people's unwillingness to see what is going on right in front of their eyes; the novel is never less than gripping, and even if this is a world seemingly unfamiliar to you, it's impossible not to be swept up in the hard universal truths uncovered within its pages. 

Photo via Tyrant Books

The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan (available June 20)

Reading Scott McClanahan leaves me feeling like I just took a shot (or three) of moonshine brewed in a backyard cemetery, deep in the kudzu-covered hills of West Virginia. This is to say that I feel dizzy; like I just jumped off a high cliff into dark waters below, even the hairs on my body buzzing from the thrill of it all. In this latest, semi-autobiographical book, McClanahan gives us a love story, only it's one that centers not simply around the act of falling in love, but also on love's breakdown, and the effects that such a dissolution causes. Love is the splash a rock makes when thrown into a river, and this book captures that splash and all the ripples afterward, and even what it's like after that river has dried up in its own bank, and all you see are all the rocks that were ever thrown, lying in the dust. This is to say, it's beautiful and strange, mesmerizing and sobering, and it wonderfully captures the ways in which we are all just living in a sort of a bedtime story, one that, the narrator explains, would be about the ways in which "we are all babies and we are all being held by an invisible force and we are all eating potato chips... We are all waving so desperately hello."

Photo via Harper Perennial

The End of Men by Karen Rinaldi (available June 20)

I mean, I don't know, with a title like this, do you really need a reason to read it? Well, I'll give you one: This funny, cogent novel centers around four women who are determined to figure out who and what they want to be for no other reason than that they know it's a journey they deserve to be on, and fuck whatever society tells them they're supposed to want or who they're supposed to be. Rinaldi's voice is refreshingly, relentlessly honest, and reading this feels like dousing yourself in ice cold water. You'll feel awake, alive, and ready to take on the world.