Louise Erdrich and Emma Straub share summer reads you won’t want to put down
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Memorial Day, of course, is the traditional kickoff to summer. And for many of us, that means time to catch up on our reading.
Jeffrey Brown brings us some suggestions from our "NewsHour" Bookshelf.
JEFFREY BROWN: Some of us go for lighter fare. Some catch up on missed readings, and others go for rereadings of old favorites.
We get some summer picks from two prominent writers who also own bookstores.
Louise Erdrich is author of 15 novels, as well as nonfiction and poetry. Her most recent novel is "LaRose." Prior to that, "The Round House" was winner of the National Book Award for Fiction. She's the owner of Birchbark Books in Minneapolis. And Emma Straub's novels include "Modern Lovers" and "The Vacationers." She is co-owner with her husband of the Brooklyn, New York bookstore Books Are Magic.
And welcome to both of you.
I'm guessing that you both are year-round readers, but let me start with you, Louise.
Does summer reading have a particular resonance for you, the things you go after?
LOUISE ERDRICH, Author, "LaRose": It does.
I'm here in Minnesota, so I go to the lake, and I bring a load of books, and I sink into them, and read wherever I am around a lake. That's how we do it.
JEFFREY BROWN: That's how you do it in Minnesota, huh?
LOUISE ERDRICH: And that's how we do it. It's reading on the dock. It's reading if you're floating in the lake. It's reading if it rains, everything. That's where you read, and you can read yourself into a sort of stupor, which you then solve with a lot of grilled meat.
JEFFREY BROWN: And Emma Straub, what do you do in the summer for reading?
EMMA STRAUB, Author, "Modern Lovers": Well, starting this summer, I'm just going to go to Louise's house by the lake with a stack of books and wait for grilled meat.
LOUISE ERDRICH: It will be great. Yes, it's how it happens.
EMMA STRAUB: It sounds perfect. It sounds perfect.
I guess I have always thought of summer reading as like the stack of books I would bring with me to summer camp, you know, when you have no other options. So you have to bring as many as you will think you will read. And then, when you read all of those books in three days, you have your parents send you another box and another box.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, Louise, you're going to start us off with a crime thriller, right? What is it?
LOUISE ERDRICH: I am.
Actually, there are 25 of Donna Leon's crime mysteries set in Venice. Venice itself becomes a character in these books. It's "Eternal," and eternal fragility is really encapsulated in the books in an effortless way. It's part of the tension of these books.
They're Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries. You become so wrapped up in these compelling characters, that I think you could go through all 25 this summer. I think you could, Jeff. Each one is better than the last.
JEFFREY BROWN: Alright, Emma, what do you want to start off with a — something comparable?
EMMA STRAUB: Well, you know, it's funny. I think my picks are sort of going in the opposite direction, which is, rather than having like an entire body of something to dive into, what I have been leaning toward recently are things that come in small packages.
So, that is short stories and essay collections, in particular two essay collections, a woman named Durga Chew-Bose's "Too Much and Not the Mood," which looks like a work of art and is a work of art. They are essays about identity, and family, and becoming an adult
JEFFREY BROWN: And the other?
EMMA STRAUB: It's called "Sunshine State" by a woman named Sarah Gerard. And it's an essay collection about Florida. And it's a deep dive into identity and weirdness and location and family. And I think that, together, these books just point toward a really exciting and fresh new corner of American essays in particular.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, Louise, you also had some other choices on the list you sent us, a little more serious nonfiction and poetry.
LOUISE ERDRICH: I do.
And I don't think people usually take poetry to the beach to read, but this book has been sold by its cover for quite some time.
JEFFREY BROWN: And we should say, its called "When My Brother Was an Aztec," right, by Natalie Diaz.
LOUISE ERDRICH: It is.
Natalie Diaz is a powerhouse of a writer. And this book is a wild ride. It has headlong rushes of ecstatic, beautiful language, small details about life on Mojave Reservation. Natalie Diaz is Mojave.
And this is set in Arizona mainly, but it's also, of course, set in her heart and her head. And there's a sensibility that is so dark, but so funny. It's just such a rich, compelling piece of literature. You know, it's just the kind of book that you want to live with each poem for a while.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Emma, you gave us some essay collections. How about a fiction, a beach fiction escape?
EMMA STRAUB: There's a new collection of short stories that just came out a couple of weeks ago by a young woman named Lesley Nneka Arimah. It's called " What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky."
It's about family and relationships. And it's got a gorgeous cover. And it's been sitting there at the very front of my bookstore. And I keep walking past and fondling it, and picking it up and waiting for the right time to bring it home. I'm really excited to read that one.
JEFFREY BROWN: And you mentioned there was a novel.
EMMA STRAUB: It's called "Do Not Become Alarmed." And the reason that it's almost cruel to recommend for vacation reading is because it is a vacation gone extremely, horribly, horribly wrong. It's about…
JEFFREY BROWN: Enjoy your vacation right?
EMMA STRAUB: If you're going on a cruise, I do not recommend that you bring this book.
It's about two families who go on a cruise together. And they decide to disembark the boat one day and go and go and have a little adventure. And then the children get separated from their parents, and a lot of things go really, really badly.
But it's an incredibly gripping thriller. It's one of those books that you really will stay up late to read. And you're just saying, oh, I will just read one more chapter, I will just read one more chapter, which is, it's so delicious when you get one of those books.
JEFFREY BROWN: OK, let me just ask you both very briefly for a re-reading, some old favorite.
Louise, you first.
LOUISE ERDRICH: I'm thinking about all of Lorrie Moore's books. It was such a pleasure to read them the first time. And I thought, I just want to reexperience them the way I did before.
So I started "Bark" again, "Birds of America." I have "Who Will Run The Frog Hospital." Of course, she's known for her extremely sharp wit, sharp observations, her tremendous ability to capture the moments between couples that where they grate against each other or where they come together.
Those are beautiful moments in the book. And, sometimes, they're very poignant.
JEFFREY BROWN: OK, Emma Straub, briefly, your re-read?
EMMA STRAUB: So, my re-read choice is Jennifer Egan's "A Visit from the Goon Squad."
When I read it, it just — I felt kind of like I had been hit over the head with a frying pan. I just — you know, I thought stars were twirling around my head like a cartoon character. I just was gobsmacked. And every time I have dipped my toe back in, I am delighted all over again.
JEFFREY BROWN: OK, now, we're going to have more books from your list online. And viewers can go there later on.
For now, summer books with Louise Erdrich and Emma Straub.
Thank you both very much.
EMMA STRAUB: Thank you.
LOUISE ERDRICH: Thank you.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Some terrific suggestions there.