Top Books for July
Whether you’re relaxing on the beach or stuck on the subway, reach for these reads to help you cool off: The much-buzzed about debut The Girls from Emma Cline, a quirky collection of nonfiction essays from Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk, the latest from Miranda July, and an important YA debut about LGBTQ athletes.
Alex: Emma Cline’s debut novel seems to have reached some kind of Platonic ideal for summer book buzz. Approachable enough for the beach, it’s been simultaneously lauded by literary critics for its beautifully wrought sentences and by glossies for its gripping premise. Some contrary streak in me wondered if I’d dislike it; while, thankfully, that impulse was proven wrong, the moment of adolescent dissent turned out to be prescient.
Set in the summer of 1969, The Girls follows 14-year-old Evie, who is bored and lonely in the benign neglect of suburban Northern California. Evie becomes entranced with an older girl she sees around town, and through her, with a Manson Family-style cult living on a nearby decrepit ranch. As Evie is indoctrinated into the group, her coming of age is set in fast-forward: sex, drugs, and petty thievery quickly become de rigueur, escalating until the subtle violence of the group manifests its gruesome conclusion—a dramatic massacre clearly modeled on the Tate murders. But the violence and the setting are ultimately secondary to the novel’s greatest strength: its nuanced insight into the contradictions and impulses of teenage girlhood. Cline’s descriptive powers are remarkable and often startling; the desperate, naked yearnings of adolescence are rendered with disquieting honesty. Apparently this is the first of a three-book deal for Cline; I can now count myself among the many who can’t wait to see what she tackles next.
Stranger Than Fiction
Jenn: Chuck Palahniuk stopped by the Scribd offices last month to chat with us about Fight Club 2, the sequel to his iconic novel. Even after the talk, I still had plenty of questions, like where does he get inspiration to write about recreational fighting or scamming rich people by fake-choking on food? I hoped to find the answers in Stranger than Fiction, his first nonfiction collection.
The book starts off with Palahniuk making thoughtful observations on events like a small-town demolition derby and the North Regional Olympic Trials, where men compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team. Palahniuk then narrows his focus to individual profiles (subjects include Marilyn Manson and Juliette Lewis). Finally, we move into his autobiographical essays. From family tragedy to Fight Club fanboys, Palahniuk’s life has truly been “stranger than fiction.”
Overall, this collection of essays takes people-watching to a whole new level, in the best way possible. Whether you’ve read his other books or not, this collection offers a fresh perspective on both the ordinary and not-so-ordinary, and Palahniuk fans will enjoy getting a deeper understanding of the stories behind his stories. As he wrote in Invisible Monsters, “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I've ever known.”
The First Bad Man
Zoe: In The First Bad Man, we follow Miranda July’s protagonist Cheryl, an uptight woman in her 40s, who is eager to please and quite vulnerable. Cheryl’s days are spent working at Open Palm, a women’s self-defense studio, where she meets—and subsequently falls for—a board member named Phillip Bettelheim. She knows Phillip to be a philanderer, but that doesn’t stop her from fantasizing about what could be.
Cheryl’s rigid life is interrupted when her passive-aggressive bosses insist that their daughter Clee move in with her. Clee is a blonde, tan, and beautiful 21 year old, who also happens to be a complete nightmare of a houseguest. What follows is an intriguing look into sexuality, human interaction, and what it means to love and be loved.
Also available in audio.
Ashley: This may be a book about jocks with National Hockey League prospects, but it’s really about and for nerds who like fanfic, anime, and Broadway musicals (especially those who like musicals). Of course, serious hockey players are supposed to revel in body slamming each other into unforgiving boards and other such machismo activities, not dream of performing in their high school’s musical production. And they’re certainly not supposed to be gay.
Debut novelist Mia Siegert comes out swinging from the start in Jerkbait, as hockey superstar Robbie attempts to commit suicide, but is saved by his identical twin brother and main protagonist, Tristan. Despite what you may think, Robbie is the one struggling with his sexuality, while Tristan is straight and simply wants to focus on singing and acting (there’s no space for stereotypes here). Unfortunately, their parents are really set on getting Robbie drafted into the NHL, which means they’re extremely unaccepting of these perceived pansy whims of their sons. But these twins are tough, and they ultimately score the game-winning goal in this new, important work about LGBTQ acceptance in athletics.
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