On the occasion of a very colorful Pride Month, the temperatures peeking and vacation fever hitting full-throttle, we’ve wrapped up our Summer Reading List for 2021 in the shades of rage, romance and rhododendrons!
1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Manderley comes alive in stunning color, smell and sound and du Maurier ensures every cushion, every wall is haunted by the absence-presence of Rebecca, Maxim’s dead wife. The new Mrs. de Winter’s embarrassments and fumblings of a ‘schoolgirl’ are depicted so that we soak them in as our own, stumbling on unsure footing through the blood red profusion of rhododendrons and dark, chilly hallways.
Listening to Folklore and Evermore on repeat, I was bound to pick this one up for a reread as part of my Summer Reading List 2021. Seven years ago, when the school librarian handed me a tattered copy that I was terrified to hold, I didn’t think it would leave such an indelible mark on my mind. The 2020 screen adaptation once again sparked conversations about the queer subtext of the novel, leading me to read in between the lines of the nameless narrator’s obsessions and Mrs. Danvers’ loyalties and thus, revisit Manderley, the central figure in the book.
2. Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
The memoir is interspersed with historical accounts- Hong does not mince words when tracing back the origins of a perpetual feeling of incompetence and wanting to shrink into disappearance. How the American Dream is bolstered by the myth of the model minority underscores the importance of tearing down the veil from this particular perspective. To all those tired of yet compelled to take up “apologetic space,” Minor Feelings is a cathartic read.
In the relatively short span of reading the first essay, I laughed, cried and got so angry that I quoted several passages of the book in an overwhelmed rant to a friend. Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning is a collection of essays set ablaze with shame, bottled-up feelings of never being enough and particularly, what Koreans call han- an intense, even destructive feeling of rage and sadness that has come to be a generational legacy.
3. Normal People by Sally Rooney
With attractive characters butting heads in fiery dialogues and frequently entangled in cerebral pursuits- it may seem difficult at first to see what’s so ‘normal’ about any of this. But the novel’s a solid 10 on reliability, and it’s about time we made it a part of our summer reading.
Made into a show that became an ‘instant hit,’ Normal People is well on its way to becoming a modern classic. Rooney, labeled the pivotal millennial writer, has amassed both avid fans and fervent criticism. While the former includes the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, the latter has sprawled into wider discussions on the ‘reflexivity trap’ that haunts action in novels and the merits and demerits of discursive goodness and pre-emptive confessions in ‘sanctimony literature.’
4. Kim ji-young, Born 1982 by Cho nam-joo
Published originally in 2016, many of us outside South Korea came to hear of this as part of the reading list of BTS’s RM. It explores passivity, power dynamics and the myth of the exceptional woman in a gradually unwinding tale of a phantom protagonist.
This book is to the Korean strand of #MeToo what Cat Person is to the American movement. While the latter cetered on a young college student’s mightily relatable experience of bad sex and woven fantasies that form the spine of contemporary dating, Kim ji-young is a polyphonic narrative that shuns all sensationalism. The book thrives on banality to drive home the frequency of female experiences which, in all their excruciating pain and unfairness, we’ve learned to largely take in stride.
5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
This renowned classic, in all its immensity, is included in our Summer Reading List for the year owing to the frequency of pop culture discourse veering towards dissecting the ‘bad girl’ and disdainful heroine tropes (Fleabag, Carrie Bradshaw) and their relevance to understanding our own lives.
Quite possibly the original ‘unlikable’ female protagonist, Emma Bovary is Flaubert’s masterpiece- brought to life with all her misgivings that render her so undeniably human. She is a relentless dreamer, one who lives so much with her head in the clouds that it becomes her hamartia. And her tragedy is a test of our compassion.
6. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
The novel shuttles back and forth between mellow afternoons of self-discovery and the feverish flush of discovering another’s touch.
A summer romance, a bildungsroman or a bucolic Italian portrait- you can read this any way you’d like. Yet another reread in our Summer Reading List, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision while discussing with a friend the new age of film heroes that has Timothee Chalamet, the suave actor playing the lead in the novel’s screen adaptation, at the forefront.
7. Blow-Up by Julio Cortazar
Cortazar is a master weaver of the short story, pacing a narrative whose unrelenting grip keeps one hooked to every word. And in this one, we’re bound to be left asking: is it even possible to tell a story?
Blow-Up is a tale that brings to question the very modes of seeing and communicating. A rupture of language indicates the “ultimate inaccessibility of ‘the real’” as noted by Cavallari. Supplement your reading with Michelangelo Antonioni’s film of the same name and together, the two test the limits of representation.
8. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula le Guin
Utopian fiction often bears testament to the genius of the writer- their proclivity for detail and exquisite design of a perfect world. Ursula le Guin gives the reader’s imagination free rein to imagine Omelas as they like, inviting us into this dreamscape and ultimately implicating us in the sin that Omelas thrives on.
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas is simultaneously a tale of hope and of the impossibility of escape. The story’s poignancy has been captured fittingly in BTS’s music video for Spring Day. Guilt urges us to walk away, but where do we go?