Hammocks, fireflies, and the 10 best books of June

Penguin Random House and Macmillan Publishers
"Americanon" by Jess McHugh, Dutton, 432 pp.; "Somebody’s Daughter" by Ashley C. Ford, Flatiron Books, 224 pp.
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“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June,” author Lucy Maud Montgomery mused in her journal. She later placed those words into the mouth of her character Anne Shirley of “Anne of Green Gables” fame. Such a place may not exist, but for many book lovers, June kicks off the season of vacations and – glory be – more opportunities for uninterrupted reading. A worthy reading list might include a mix of entertaining novels and edifying nonfiction. The choices this month range from a comedy of French and American manners to an exploration of Edgar Allan Poe’s contributions to science. 

Why We Wrote This

As fresh as a summer breeze, this month’s picks invite readers into the lives of people seeking truth and compassion, fighting injustice, and finding themselves. Biographies of two historical figures offer deeply nuanced and complex characterizations, which lend insight.

Kick off the summer reading season with books that offer fresh perspectives, windows on the world, personal reflections, and deep dives into history.

1. The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

This inspirational novel pays tribute to the woman who helped J.P. Morgan shape his rare books collection, which became the Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle da Costa Greene’s successful career was a rare feat for a woman in the early 20th century, but what makes it even more extraordinary – and such rich material for historical fiction – is the secret she harbored throughout her long career: She hailed from a Black family that had chosen to pass as white. 

Simon & Schuster
"The Other Black Girl" by Zakiya Dalila Harris, Atria Books, 368 pp.

Why We Wrote This

As fresh as a summer breeze, this month’s picks invite readers into the lives of people seeking truth and compassion, fighting injustice, and finding themselves. Biographies of two historical figures offer deeply nuanced and complex characterizations, which lend insight.

2. The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Nella Rogers, a publishing assistant, finds herself the only Black person in her office. So she’s ecstatic when another Black woman is hired. But something about her is a little off, and it may cost Nella everything to figure out why. Zakiya Dalila Harris’ debut novel effortlessly melds together suspense and comedy and transforms an age-old cultural tale into something new. 

3. The Secret Keeper of Jaipur by Alka Joshi

Alka Joshi’s captivating sequel to “The Henna Artist” exposes corruption and black market dealings in 1969 India. Lakshmi, the herbalist of the first book, sends her protégé, Malik, to intern at the Jaipur palace, while taking his new love, a young widow, under her wing in Shimla. When the royal cinema in Jaipur collapses on opening night, Malik sets out to uncover the graft. The novel affirms that seeking truth is a wholly worthwhile endeavor.

Penguin Random House
"Lorna Mott Comes Home" by Diane Johnson, Knopf, 336 pp.

4. Lorna Mott Comes Home by Diane Johnson

Diane Johnson returns with another lively transatlantic comedy of manners that takes on an elusive subject: happiness. After 20 years of marriage to a former curator at the Musée d’Orsay, 60-something Lorna Mott tires of her husband’s philandering and returns to San Francisco to pick up her career as an art lecturer. She finds the Bay Area much changed and her grown children from her first marriage all struggling financially. Once again, Johnson plays the family dynamics and comparisons between French and American culture to warm comic effect.  

5. Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

Ashley C. Ford’s father was in prison throughout most of her childhood, and her memoir focuses on the twin pains of his absence and of her difficult mother’s presence. Through exceptionally vivid memories and deep empathy, Ford brings readers through her experiences growing up as a Black woman in the Midwest. From vulnerable child to independent adult, she shows the value of compassion for ourselves as well as others.

6. The Reason for the Darkness of the Night by John Tresch

In this excellent biography of Edgar Allan Poe, John Tresch is less interested in the scandals of Poe’s life than in his role in the scientific milieu. The author of classic horror and detective stories eventually formulated theories about the origins of the universe and the nature of God. The book’s telltale heart is that Poe’s writings “place him at the center of the maelstrom of American science in the first half of the 19th century.”

7. America on Fire by Elizabeth Hinton

Elizabeth Hinton argues persuasively that urban protests are better thought of as political acts of rebellion by Black Americans against an unjust society. Hinton chronicles how law enforcement efforts to pacify U.S. cities in the last half-century wound up spawning more unrest.

8. How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

In his debut work of nonfiction, Clint Smith embarks on a very personal tour of some key flashpoints in the history of American racism, from Louisiana’s Angola prison to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, which is now a bustling tourist attraction. The result is a reckoning both brilliant and unnerving. 

9. Americanon by Jess McHugh

This delightful book argues that enduring bestsellers, including The Old Farmer’s Almanac and “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” have contributed to a unified national identity as much as revered founding documents like the Constitution.

10. Meade at Gettysburg by Kent Masterson Brown

Ever since he allowed Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army to retreat back to the Confederacy after the Battle of Gettysburg, Union Gen. George Gordon Meade has been a much-debated Civil War figure. In this meticulously researched new book, a Civil War expert presents a refreshingly complex view of the matter – and rises to Meade’s defense. 

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