Beach reads of substance

Your Summer Reading List: Nonfiction Books

May 5, 2016 Culture By

I’m not very good at relaxing. The concept of “doing nothing” gives me anxiety. On Saturdays, at brunch, when my friends are ordering their second Bloody Mary, I’m ordering my third iced coffee. I got shit to do later, after all. So I’m not the most fun on vacation. I’ve got itineraries and alarm clocks and little voices and urges to accomplish something, anything at all, that make me a chore to sit with on the beach. Sitting in the sand, listening to the ocean, half naked women all around me, all I’m seeing is page 30 of the biography of Elon Musk or Jon Ronson’s latest social study. (When I was 13 I wanted to learn about cars; I read Auto Repair For Dummies cover to cover on a beach in Avalon, New Jersey. I can still name the differences between a turbo-charger and a super-charger.)

These books aren’t page turners in the traditional sense. But they are lessons in reality. Where the best fiction novels construct larger truths from made-up pieces, nonfiction skips right to the truth. In this first list of books coming in time for summer 2016, the focus is on the true and the stimulating: nonfiction tales, criticisms and memoirs. These stories are occasionally less pretty, less eloquent and at their worst reflect the boredom of day-to-day life; but a great nonfiction book can make your time at the beach both relaxing and thoughtful, if such a thing exists.

summer-reading-list-gear-patrol-lynching The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan (Hardcover)
Laurence Leamer

In the spring of 1981 in Alabama, two Klansmen abducted, beat and hanged 19-year-old Michael Donald, a black man. Leamer tells the story of the two court cases that followed: one in which Hays was sentenced to death, and a second in which Morris Dees, a legendary civil rights lawyer, attempts to take down the Klan. $21 (Out June 7)

summer-reading-list-gear-patrol-what-if-were-wrong But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past
Chuck Klosterman

Klusterman, former Ethicist at The New York Times Magazine and author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and I Wear the Black Hat, writes about how our contemporary world will be remembered as we move far into the future. Topics like gravity, time, rock music and sports are explored through interviews with thinkers as varied as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Junot Díaz and Dan Carlin, written with Klusterman’s casual humor and extreme nerdiness. $17 (Out June 7)

summer-reading-list-gear-patrol-fav-band Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life
Steven Hyden

Former Grantland/A.V. Club music critic Steven Hyden places great pop music rivalries — Hendrix vs. Clapton, Beatles vs. Stones, Biggie vs. Tupac — within the context of society as a whole. Each chapter is a different rivalry, young and old, and each rivalry is a product of its listeners and its environment in the American consciousness. $12 (Out May 17)

summer-reading-list-gear-patrol-arbus Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer
Arthur Lubow

A vividly detailed (and extremely long) biography of Diane Arbus, among the most influential photographers of the 20th century. Lubow provides a portrait of the life and growth of Arbus, while also shedding light on the process behind her iconic photographs, which grab eyes with immediacy and intimacy and continue to influence photographers today. $26 (Out June 7)

summer-reading-list-gear-patrol-tig-notaro I’m Just a Person (Hardcover)
Tig Notaro

In 2012, over the span of just four months, Tig Notaro was hospitalized for intestinal disease, lost her mother unexpectedly, went through a breakup and was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. How she handled that grief — by transforming it into a real and searching standup routine and joking about it on Inside Amy Schumer — made her an inspiration and a star. Her second comedy album, Live, was nominated for a Grammy. $20 (Out June 14)

summer-reading-list-gear-patrol-hatred-of-poetry The Hatred of Poetry
Ben Lerner

Lerner, a heavily awarded poet and MacArthur Fellow, begins this short book by focusing on the hatred that almost everyone feels toward poetry. He then explores the best and worst examples of the art with close readings of Dickinson and Whitman. His examination shows the beauty, the hypocrisy and the fruitlessness of the life of a “poet.” $9 (Out June 7)

summer-reading-list-gear-patrol-67-shots 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence
Howard Means

On May 4, 1970, a decade of friction boiled over on the campus on Kent State, leaving four students dead and nine wounded. Using the university’s recently available oral-history collection, and re-interviewing witnesses firsthand, Means retells the events of May 4 and places them in the larger context of the end of the ’60s. $20

summer-reading-list-gear-patrol-the-return The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between
Hisham Matar

When Matar, the author of In the Country of Men, a Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, was 19, his father was kidnapped and held in a secret prison in Libya. After the fall of Qaddafi, and the emptying of the prisons, there’s still no sign of his father, but Matar returns to his homeland and tells the story of history, politics and art through the lens of loss and uncertainty. $18 (Out July 5)

summer-reading-list-gear-patrol-pretent Pretentiousness: Why It Matters
Dan Fox

Fox, the co-editor of Frieze and frequent essayist, writes an argument against viewing what is different, robust, or obsessive as pretentious. Fox turns the table on the accusers to ask what the fear of pretending and the inability to accept things we view as elitist says about us. $11

summer-reading-list-gear-patrol-osama The Killing of Osama bin Laden
Seymour M. Hersh

Hersh, widely considered one of the best investigative journalists alive today, turns his focus on 2011, when an elite group of US Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden. This book began as a series of essays in the London Review of Books and, while extremely controversial, is well worth the time for anyone wondering what will be the legacy of the Obama administration. $14

The Books We’re Reading, Spring 2016


From punk-rock history to treasure hunting and lost love poems, these are the pages we’re turning during spring. Read the list.