“When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.” African proverb
Growing up, I loved summers and not just for the stereotypical reasons like no school or staying up late. The bookworm in me cherished the summertime because it meant enrolling in the summer reading program at the library.
I would go to the library once or twice a week to checkout new reading material. I don’t remember my top number of books read during the dog days or what I even read, though I vaguely recall one middle school summer checking out a hardback on voodoo that was later banned from the library system. Aside from having an affinity for literature, the incentives – bookmarks, gift certificates for personal pan-sized pies from Pizza Hut and coupons for Skate Country and Putt Putt Golf – didn’t hurt either.
If you’re looking for a good read this summer – prizes aside– here are a few personal recommendations:
Mozart and Leadbelly: Stories and Essays by Ernest J. Gaines
I suggest this mixed genre collection of previously unreleased and/or pieces published in literary magazines with limited circulation that includes the Louisiana native’s darling, a short story called “Christ Walked Down Market Street.” Mr. Gaines spent decades writing, rewriting, editing and polishing this work that appears in print for the first time in this 2005 release. Mr. Gaines takes the seemingly simple and captures it to weave a profound, riveting tale that’s spacious, yet totally full.
The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat
The Farming of Bones, a novel by Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat, details the nightmare Haitians faced living in the Dominican Republic during the 1937 massacre, where they were killed for failing a linguistic challenge: not being able to roll the R in the Spanish word for parsley — perejil. Danticat’s lyrical prose haunts your spirit and protagonist’s Amabelle Desir, a house servant on a sugar plantation, childhood dreams are chilling. A standout line from this work: “Misery won’t touch you gentle. It always leaves its thumbprints on you; sometimes when it leaves them for others to see, sometimes for nobody but you to know of.”
Poetry bonus: Read (or listen to) former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove’s poem “Parsley.”
The Paris Review
Founded in 1953 in the City of Light, this quarterly is a rich collage of poetry, interviews and stories—true and otherwise. While some literary periodicals are scholarly and erudite to the point of obfuscation, The Paris Review is accessible without dumbing down content in order to do so. The summer issue features a smart interview with Michael Holroyd, supreme biographer of Lytton Strachey and George Bernard Shaw.
“A good day’s work, I think, is when at the end of the day I’ve written something I didn’t know at the beginning,” 2009, Holroyd.
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
My self-help recommendation is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. You can read this pocket gem in one sitting, but it’s the type of treatise that you’ll want to refer to often and keep handy because it is brimming with nuggets of wisdom. Among the many useful reflections, these resonate the most for me: “True justice is paying only once for each mistake. True injustice is paying more than once for each mistake,” and “You express your own divinity by being alive and by loving yourself and others.”
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
Poet. Thinker. Fire woman – Audre Lorde’s writing is bold, audacious and unflinching. I deeply admire the way she voiced her truth and owned her story before it was stolen, altered and misconstrued by others. Standouts for me are “An Interview: Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich” and “Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response.”
jewel bush, a New Orleans native, is a writer whose work has appeared in The (Houma) Courier, The Washington Post, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles Magazine, and El Tiempo, a bilingual Spanish newspaper. In 2010, she founded MelaNated Writers Collective, a multi-genre group for writers of color in New Orleans dedicated to cultivating the literary, artistic and professional growth of emerging writers. She is currently communications coordinator for Service Employees International Union Local 21LA. Her three favorite books are Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Catcher in the Rye, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.