Parents grapple with raising teenagers in the digital age, Irish-American sisters are torn apart over a secret and a father discovers the joys of reading children’s literature as an adult. These are just a few of the stories included on the Aspen Summer Words reading list, which features 10 books by authors who will be at the weeklong literary conference in June.
The visiting authors will teach workshops for aspiring writers and participate in public panels in the afternoons and evenings on topics ranging from the challenges of crafting true stories to tips for working with literary agents and editors, to navigating the current cultural and political moment as an artist. The conference also includes a Readers Retreat focused on great journalism from Vanity Fair, led by longtime contributing editor Bruce Handy. One of the highlights of the week is a benefit dinner featuring Mohsin Hamid, the inaugural winner of the $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize.
From literary fiction to memoir, to narrative nonfiction and poetry, there’s something for everyone on this Summer Words reading list.
Tina Chang — Of Gods and Strangers
As Brooklyn’s first female poet laureate, one of Tina Chang’s goals is to break down the walls between people and poetry. This collection does just that with revelatory, lyrical poems that bear witness to contemporary issues and the human experience.
Bruce Handy — Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult
Inspired by reading to his own kids, the longtime editor at Vanity Fair revisits the beloved texts of his youth with wit and fresh insight. It will make you want to re-read Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, and Charlotte’s Web all over again.
Margot Lee Shetterly — Hidden Figures
The #1 New York Times-bestselling book that became an Oscar-nominated film lives up to all the hype. Shetterly, who grew up around scientists at NASA’s Langley Research Center, is a master at finding the narrative thread and weaving it through a detailed historical account of the female human computers who changed the course of America’s space program.
Anthony Marra — The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories
From 1930’s Leningrad to the edge of the solar system, The Tsar of Love and Techno exquisitely threads together a cast of characters whose lives are joined by a single pastoral oil painting. In this series of closely linked stories, a dissident paints his brother into every piece of art he censors, a disgraced prima ballerina performs in the gulag, a young soldier braves the Chechnyan battlefields, a bureaucrat has big dreams for the Gronzy tourist office, and a pair of brothers leave coded messages in a mixtape.
Courtney Sullivan — Saints for All Occasions
Spanning a half century and traveling back and forth in time, this novel follows two sisters as they immigrate from Ireland to start a new life in Massachusetts. Sullivan captures the complexities that exist within families through memorable, absorbing characters.
Heather Harpham — Happiness: A Memoir – The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After
This memoir follows Harpham’s journey after discovering that her daughter, Amelia-Grace, has a life-threatening condition. It’s a book about both parental love and romantic love, how to assemble a family and navigate life’s curveballs.
Helen Schulman — This Beautiful Life
After a classmate shares an explicit video with their fifteen-year-old son, the parents grapple with the ensuing scandal and its impact on their family, careers and relationship. Told from the perspectives of both parents and the son, this is a timely novel that explores what it means to be a family in the digital age.
Peter Ho Davies — The Fortunes
This novel weaves historical fact and fiction as it follows four different but linked stories about the Chinese experience in America. From the 19th Century to the present day, Davies explores how race can shape life and legacy.
Beth Nguyen — Stealing Buddha’s Dinner
Nguyen’s first book is a memoir about her struggle to fit in as a Vietnamese girl growing up in the 1980s in the overwhelmingly white city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a funny and sad journey through a whirlwind of teenagerdom, family, food, and country — one that’s at once relatable and unique.
Aran Shetterly — The Americano: Fighting with Castro for Cuba’s Freedom
The Americano is a biography of William Morgan, a man you’ve probably never heard of. Morgan was an anti-communist American who ended up on the front lines of Cuba’s revolution. How he got there (and what happens next) make for a tense and compelling historical read.