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Arts & Life

Talk of Iowa's 2022 Summer book guide is here

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Whether you're looking for a beach book, a gripping mystery or an edifying read, we’ve got something that will make your summer reading list.

Host Charity Nebbe is joined by Iowa independent booksellers Jan Weismiller and Tim Budd of Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City and Abigail Paxton of Storyhouse Bookpub in Des Moines to talk about these new releases and why they're worth reading.

Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

Guests:

Fiction

Beneath the Stairs by Jennifer Fawcett
“A graduate of The University of Iowa's Playwright Workshop, Ms. Fawcett's novel has incredible dialogue, a truly creepy house and layers upon layers of small-town secrets and histories. But what's so interesting about this book is its exploration of the aftermath of a supernatural experience, and its power to change one forever.”
Recommended by Tim Budd
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The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
“It is a murder mystery, but it’s one that I didn’t realize was until I was probably three-fourths into the novel. You do know right at the outset that there has been a murder. There is a family in a town who is trying to solve who murdered this central person, but it is centered around the Chinese American family who own a Chinese restaurant in a Midwestern town.”
Recommended by Abigail Paxton
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The Fastest Way to Fall by Denise Williams
“This is more of your classic, go-to summer beach reading for people who love a good romance rom-com. It’s frothy but it has a big heart. It’s kind of a plotline about two people who are both on work assignments and accidentally end up falling in love with each other. So it’s got a lot of self-empowerment. That’s a thing that Denise does really well, she writes fun romps, but also has a lot of themes about healing and healing from mental illnesses and becoming better versions of yourself.”
Recommended by Abigail Paxton
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Free Love by Tessa Hadley
“Set in London in 1967, this novel follows the life of a middle-class suburban family dealing with the dramatic changes of the 1960s. Phyllis Fischer makes a choice that uproots her family, and later we discover her husband has had long held secrets of his own. What I admire about it is not just its daring and sensual exploration of the freedoms being sought in the era it inhabits, but that it manages to be both dramatic and subtle at the same time.”
Recommended by Jan Weismiller
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The Long Corner by Alexander Maksik
“The Long Corner is a very funny and compelling novel about culture kitsch and cynicism — and about staying true to your heart amidst these things in an era of cultural impoverishment … it is remarkably funny, probing and finally haunting. No one I have recommended it to has been disappointed.”
Recommended by Jan Weismiller
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The Maid by Nita Prose
“A completely charming whodunnit, appropriate for all readers, with a main character you'll root for all the way -- as well as some gasp-inducing twists at the end!”
Recommended by Tim Budd
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The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller
“Mr. Miller's debut novel is set in the harshest of environments but is also a tale of self-reliance, self-discovery and how relationships both sustain and surprise us. Reading this is a bit like going on a retreat -- but not to worry, reader, you're in good hands.”
Recommended by Tim Budd
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Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
“It is the story of a young mother who finds herself to be a stay-at-home mother with a two-year-old, and she didn’t necessarily see herself in that role, and at the beginning of the novel you realize she thinks she is turning into a dog and things become a little bit absurd -- very funny throughout and it makes a lot of amazing poignant points as well.”
Recommended by Abigail Paxton
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Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy
"With a compelling and complex heroine, evocative writing of the environs, and a mysterious death, this is a guaranteed excellent read. This novel has found its way onto my 'best books ever' list.” Ed. note: making Tim’s best books ever list is a big deal!
Recommended by Tim Budd
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The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley
“What I loved about this thriller was its ability to make me think every single character was a suspect, and the scrappiness of Jess, a woman who's seen her share of hard knocks. I found it very tough to put this one down.”
Recommended by Tim Budd
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Recitatif: A Story by Toni Morrison with introduction by Zadie Smith
Recommended by Abigail Paxton
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Search by Michelle Huneven
“Search is a novel with recipes! Its protagonist, Dana Potowski, is a restaurant critic and longtime member of a progressive Unitarian Universalist Church in Southern California. When she is asked to be on her church’s search committee for a new minister— an undertaking that will take months and many, many meetings - she agrees and secretly plans to write a book … Hunevan has always been a funny, compassionate novelist and this one strikes me as much, much more important than it could appear."
Recommended by Jan Weismiller
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Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine 
“The really remarkable thing about this history is it’s a western novel but it's from an Indigenous Chicano perspective, really imaging families who have lived in that Colorado family for generations and generations and haven't had that historical attention paid to their place there. And so the way that she is sort of imagining her own ancestry in this novel through this huge cast of characters in what is the Lopez family in Woman of Light is really remarkable. It’s very transporting for people who like historical fiction, this is definitely the book to pick up this summer.”
Recommended by Abigail Paxton
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World Cannot Give by Tara Isabella Burton
“It is about the obsession that can happen in female friendship. It is a book about teenagers. It’s coming-of-age, and it’s kind of a dark and twisty novel, which I know lots of us like to read during the summertime… It’s a very propulsive novel, where I think the author is kind of meditating on the idea of how art can be this transcendent thing that takes us to the highest of highs, but can also smash us back into reality very quickly, and it’s one of those novels where you kind of can’t take a breath until the end.”
Recommended by Abigail Paxton
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The World of Pondside by Mary Helen Stefaniak
“Pondside is a nursing home set in a quite familiar small midwestern city and The World of Pondside is a video game that one of its very intelligent residents - Robert Kallman - creates …. When Kallman disappears, along with the game, chaos ensues. Mary Helen Stefaniak's wit is equaled only by her compassion. This is the perfect summer read.”
Recommended by Jan Weismiller
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You Have a Friend in 10A by Maggie Shipstead
“All who read and loved Maggie Shipstead’s recent novel epic, historical novel Great Circle will be amazed to find that she is equally able to write short stories. From a love triangle on a Montana Dude Ranch, to a story set in the Olympic Village, to the marvelous title story portraying a child actress finally taking control of her life, these are stories I have read and re-read.”
Recommended by Jan Weismiller
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Nonfiction

Adventures with Dad: Being a Father is Child's Play by Kenny Deuss

“The popular Instagram account is now in book form, with very funny (and incredibly well-done) fake photos of Mr. Deuss and his children, indulging in activities that serve as hysterical cautionary tales. A great gift for Father's Day -- especially so for new Dads.”
Recommended by Tim Budd
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Bittersweet by Susan Cain
Recommended by Abigail Paxton
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Body Work by Melissa Febos
“(It’s) a slim little book that I would highly recommend for anyone who considers themselves an artist or a creative to pick up this summer, especially if you are a writer. It’s really a master class on writing, and it's basically four very powerful essays in her just kind of punch-you-in-the-gut-Melissa-Febos-style.” Recommended by Abigail Paxton
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Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
“It’s a memoir about losing her mother to cancer, and there are probably many people that don’t know that Michelle Zauner has this double career as an artist, where she is just as skilled a memoirist as she is a musician. It’s a complicated mother-daughter relationship, and it’s also her reflecting on her Korean-American heritage and what that means when she loses her mother, who is Korean. So she has a lot of descriptions of the H Mart and she also talks a lot about cooking and making food, and how that connects her to her heritage.”
Recommended by Abigail Paxton
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The Flag, The Cross, and the Station Wagon: A graying American looks back at his suburban boyhood and wonders what the hell happened by Bill McKibben
“McKibben has spent his life writing about climate change and in this memoir he links it clearly and personally to right-wing authoritarianism and savage inequality. He talks about how a reasonable patriotism became subverted, how main-stream christianity - one that was possibly even based on the golden rule - became the juggernaut of evangelicalism and how the american-dream symbol of prosperity, the station wagon, is more truly a symbol of gross overconsumption. And, yet he is hopeful.”
Recommended by Jan Weismiller
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The Heart of American Poetry by Edward Hirsch
“In this new book from the Library of America, he offers deeply personal and thoughtful readings of forty essential American poems. He chooses poems from the whole American cannon - from Anne Bradstreet to Joy Harjo - and reflects on how these poems have sustained his own life and how they might uplift our diverse and divided nation.”
Recommended by Jan Weismiller
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His Name is George Floyd by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa
“May 25th marked the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder - a murder which set off the largest protest movement in the history of The United States. This book tells his story.”
Recommended by Jan Weismiller
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Lost & Found by Kathryn Schulz
“It weaves together the stories of losing her beloved father during the same time that she is falling deeply in love with the woman she will marry. Three very different American families form the heart of this memoir: the one that made Schulz’s father, a charming, brilliant, absentminded Jewish refugee, the one that made her partner, an equally brilliant farmer’s daughter and devout Christian, and the one she herself makes through marriage. As these stories unfold and weave together not one is given short shrift. Rather, they become exponentially more compelling as they meld. Kathryn Schulz is a remarkable writer. She brings honesty and humor to all that she scrutinizes. There are many, many reasons to recommend this book but perhaps the most important one is that you end up feeling as big-hearted and almost as brilliant as Schulz herself is as you read it.”
Recommended by Jan Weismiller
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A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life of the World's Smartest Birds of Prey by Jonathan Meiburg
"I'd never heard of the caracara and picked this up simply to learn more about them. It's a highly entertaining and informative read about a truly fascinating bird.”
Recommended by Tim Budd
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People Change by Vivek Shraya
“Vivek is really talking about the nuances around identity, gender identity, marginalization and the discomfort that our society has with the idea of change and fluidity in general. So Vivek identifies as a trans femme person of color. She's capturing here some really thoughtful ideas about what it means to change, and whether or not that’s diverting from your true self or not, and ultimately just reaching for a richer life for all of us. So, it makes a really great gift and I would say it makes a really great buddy read for summer if you’re feeling thoughtful.”
Recommended by Abigail Paxton
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The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
“I wanted to read something that put things into perspective for me; that all these struggles would be for naught if the world didn't increase its focus on the great calamity that will befall (but, hopefully, unite) us all, regardless of any other differences.”
Recommended by Tim Budd
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Unmasked: COVID, Community and the Case of Okoboji by Emily Mendenhall
“I read this to give myself a better understanding of how we as Iowans responded to COVID, even when some reactions seemed baffling to me. And because of the author's connection to the community, Unmasked is an especially intimate, eye-opening, and nonjudgmental look at those responses.”
Recommended by Tim Budd
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