Should I Read It? Get your beach blanket ready because the Day 6 summer reads book list is here

Summer is officially here and our books columnist Becky Toyne reveals the five books you should read before Labour Day.

What to read this summer: Becky Toyne has you covered

(Penguin Random House, Little, Brown and Company, Arsenal Pulp Press, Harper Collins Canada)
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Summer is now officially here. And according to American writer and philosopher Sam Keen, "Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability."

So park yourself on the beach, under a tree, or on an airplane, and just sit and read for hours. You have our permission.

And if you're not sure what to read, no worries. Our Day 6 books columnist Becky Toyne is here with her annual list of summer reads.

There There by Tommy Orange

(Penguin Random House Canada)

"First of all, I'll say that There There by Tommy Orange is one of those books that has been getting so much advance buzz. People have been talking about it since Christmastime, and thank heavens that it actually is really, really good.

Orange is a recent graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts, as well as Terese Marie Mailhot, whose Heart Berries we talked about earlier in the year.

It's set in Oakland, California. It's a contemporary story and what the characters all have in common is that their stories are going to converge at the big Oakland powwow. And so the characters, they're different ages, they're different backgrounds and they all have different reasons for going to the powwow. And over the course of the novel you find out more about them. It's a novel about stories, and about culture, and about collecting stories, and telling stories in the intertwining or braiding, as it says sometimes in the book.

One of the reasons that the book was getting a lot of attention is that Tommy Orange is sort of considered to be one of a new crop of Native American or Indigenous writers who are really managing to straddle the traditional storytelling of the Native American or Indigenous culture while also trying new and interesting things with the novel form."

A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin Powers

(Little, Brown and Company)

"So Kevin Powers, I talked about his debut novel about five years ago as a summer read. And that was called The Yellow Birds. Kevin Powers is a veteran. He served, I believe, two tours in Iraq. He is an American writer and his first novel was about the Iraq war and about a soldier who comes home from war and how he's dealing with that.

This novel, A Shout in the Ruins, is also about war, but it's about the American Civil War. So it's Kevin Powers returning to what he knows so much about, and what he does really well, but with such a vastly different story. The book is set in Virginia which is where Powers is from as well. And it's set shortly before, during and after the American Civil War.

I find that what he does with the sentences is very spare, the way that he writes, some things about the detachment and in the violence that comes with war, I found just shattering.

And just, little details — there are a number of children in the book and the way that you see how helpless you are to protect children in times of war — and that kind of thing. There have been really mixed reviews for this book but I just thought it was wonderful."

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

(Arsenal Pulp Press)

"This is his debut novel, but he published a poetry collection last year called Full-Metal Indigiqueer. And Joshua Whitehead self-identifies as Two-Spirit or Indigiqueer, as does the title character Johnny Appleseed in this novel. It is a very vibrant and colourful story. There's a ton of sex in it.

Johnny Appleseed is a young Indigenous man. He lives in Winnipeg, but he is planning to go back to the rez to attend a funeral. 

The way that he earns money is, he dresses up and role-plays on webcam as what he calls himself — an Indian glitter princess.

So this is like a really loud, vibrant, colourful, full-of-sex story, but that also gives a lot of information about his upbringing, about his relationship with his mother, about his relationship with his grandmother, and about his relationship with life on the road."

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

"An Ocean of Minutes is being presented by the publisher as sort of The Time Traveler's Wife meets Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and that pretty much hits the nail on the head.  
(Penguin Random House Canada)

I would also throw in there maybe American War by Omar El Akkad or a novel called The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. It's a love story, but it's also a book about time travel.

In 1981, the world is in the grip of a flu pandemic and Polly, [who is] the main character in the book, her boyfriend, the love of her life, Frank, has become ill with the flu. They live in America. They don't have the right medical insurance. They can't afford for him to be treated.

But she's given an option: if you volunteer to be a time traveler and go into the future after the pandemic is over — when they need people from the past who have certain skills to be able to rebuild — then we will give your loved one the medical care he needs and then probably he'll make it. And you can make plans to meet in the future. So that's what she does and that's what they do and [it] doesn't all go to plan.

So yeah, it's a love story, but it's also a science-fiction story. And it's one of those books that sits a little bit uncomfortably in sort of being still very much about our present."

Hysteria by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

(HarperCollinsCanada)

"[
Hysteria is] the obligatory Summer Reads beach reads psychological thriller. It's a Grimm's Fairy Tale and sort of the Twilight Zone rolled into one. It has elements of all of your favourite domestic psychological thrillers like Gone Girl [and] The Silent Wife. It's a bit of a ghost story.

It's set in the 1950s and the main character is a German woman who, you know at the beginning, when she was 14, she walked out of Germany during the war to safety. And she now is an adult and she is living in New York State. And she's married to an American doctor who was actually her psychiatrist.

It's an unreliable narrator story. I mean, it's called Hysteria and we know the connotations of hysteria, and women, and historically ... and she is married to her doctor who rescued her from an asylum. Who's the bad guy? Is what she sees really true? Is her husband all that he seems? Lots of questions going on until the end.

This was a brilliant book. I ripped through it, but I would say if you're going canoeing in a solitary cottage on a lake somewhere you might not want to read this one after dark."


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To hear more from Becky Toyne, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.