My friends are already asking me what to read on their summer vacations. The truth is, I have no idea. Unlike this time last year, there are no breakout books like Wild and Gone Girl. June looks like a slower month for book releases, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find something amazing. We all just have to look a little harder (and consult the experts on these things). I checked out best-of lists from Publisher’s Weeklyand The New York Times and O Magazine, and here are my faves:
Kiss Me First
Lottie Moggach PW writes: This disturbing, engrossing psychological thriller will keep you up nights as the founder of a website that discusses philosophy lures a lonely young woman into a twisted scenario involving identity takeover via social media. A wild and wicked debut novel.
The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living Wendy Jehanara Tremayne PW writes: Summer is a perfect time to ponder—and try—living with less. Tremayne’s whimsically illustrated back-to-the-land memoir and DIY manual, which PW called a “rollicking, inspiring tale,” convincingly advocates for a “decommodified life.” Readers will be moved to consider everything from the concept of the gift economy to recipes for homemade toothpaste and kombucha.
Gail Godwin PW writes: Charismatic Helen Anstruther, the wry adolescent narrator of Godwin’s new novel, is left in the care of the “hopelessly effusive” Flora, a young family friend. The isolated and rambling house they share once served people recovering from tuberculosis or alcoholism. It’s 1945, Helen’s father is away on business and her mother is long dead, and the summer she spends with Flora—full of boredom, desire, and ultimately heartbreak—profoundly transforms them both. Godwin knows how to deliver rich, textured tales.
The Silver Star
Jeannette Walls O writes: Twelve-year-old “Bean” Holladay and her older sister, Liz, aren’t immediately concerned when their mother abandons them to “make some time and space for myself…to find the magic again”; she’s done this before—to chase a man, or her dream of being a singer. But when she doesn’t return after two weeks, the girls, who’ve been subsisting on a diet of chicken potpies, revert to plan B—buying bus tickets from California to their mother’s hometown in Virginia—to avoid being taken away by social services.
And the Mountains Echoed Khaled Hoseinni O writes: And the Mountains Echoed opens like a thunderclap, with a fable of sacrifice told by a destitute Afghan villager to his son and daughter. What makes his sad tale even more searing is that the children are unaware their father is about to sell one of them. From this dramatic opening spins a constellation of star-crossed characters.
Sisterland Curtis Sittenfeld NYT writes: The high-concept gimmick at the heart of Ms. Sittenfeld’s new novel, “Sisterland,” is the premise of twin sisters who have strange psychic powers that enable them to foresee the future. One twin tries to suppress her ESP; like Samantha, the nose-twitching witch in “Bewitched,” she just wants to live life as an ordinary suburban housewife. The other sister cultivates her unusual gifts and becomes a professional psychic; she gains national fame when she warns that a terrible earthquake is going to hit the St. Louis area and is interviewed on the Today show. In both books Ms. Sittenfeld’s gifts for portraying the inner lives of her heroines manage to transcend the silliness and contrivance of her plots.
Bad Monkey Carl Hiassen NYT writes: A washed-up monkey, sex in a morgue, a severed arm at the end of a fishhook and other Carl Hiaasen capers make Bad Monkey his funniest novel in almost a decade.
Today is a good day to hug a dad whether he is the father of your children, the man who gave you life, your grandpa or your in-law. So go give a man a squeeze and then read this Father’s Day tribute. You’re sure to be flooded with memories from your own childhood.
“Back when I competed in middle school debate, my dad would rouse me early on Saturday tournament mornings. With night sky still hovering, I’d pull on my only blue suit, grab the thin attaché case that was once his, and he’d drive me to the waiting school bus. If time allowed, we’d pick up a box of glazed donuts for the team.
Roughly 12 hours later, the bus would pull back into the school parking lot. The sky would be dark, as if the day had never arrived. I’d spot my dad’s car, its dome light illuminated so he could grade papers while he waited. He graded a lot of papers those nights.
“So…what’s new?” he’d ask while I climbed inside. At the time, I thought the question had everything to do with my trophies.
“What’s new?” is how my dad greets me to this day, albeit slower and with slightly more vocal gravel thirty years later. I understand now the meaning with which these words are imbued. My dad expresses affection in sacrifice, devotion, and time–not in simple words so overplayed in greeting cards and the closing scenes of romantic comedies.
It was my dad who cut his thumb open making a birdhouse for my third grade cub scout project. As he hammered away, he continued bleeding into the house even though we begged him to stop. I’m not sure we were concerned for his safety so much as utterly grossed out by the splattering of bright blood onto the light wood. The only thing driving him was a determination to do right by us. That he was creating a Dexter-themed birdhouse wouldn’t stand in the way.
It was my dad who drove to the mall where I worked to hand-deliver my SAT scores, hot off the mailman’s truck.
It was my dad who supported my paper-thin rationalizations to start law school, and he supported me just as much when I left six months later, the first Schwartzberg to quit an educational endeavor since I dropped AP biology.
It was my dad who visited me at the tiny video store where, at 24, I competed for the title of Assistant Manager against a teenager who wore sports-themed ties. It was my dad who told me it was okay to quit three weeks in, with no other prospects.
It was my dad who opened his home and every possession to me following my divorce. He treated it like a routine event, even though it was the first divorce in our family. He insisted I wear his work shirts and pants–as if sensing holes the separation had left in me and trying to cover them with pieces of himself.
Throughout a childhood spotted with quits and failures, I’ve never felt like a quitter or a failure. That’s a parenting trick bordering on magic.
Sometimes on Friday nights, while I wait in my ex-wife’s driveway for the children to emerge, I think about the kind of father I am, about the pieces of myself I try to give to my own kids. I try to assess the cumulative effect of my fathering, and how it might be remembered years into their future.
The kids knock the ridiculous thought out of my head as they pile in.
For the guy who loves to read and write non-fiction, these Father’s Day books could be the perfect last-minute presents. (You’re welcome!) Five new daddy memoirs just hit stores–four of them really funny–and your man will definitely feel better about his parenting skills after reading these real-life foibles. These titles are especially good for the more involved fathers (who knew tough-guy Sopranos actor Steve Schirripa was hands on?) and SAHDs. And the last book on my Father’s Day list is brave and heartbreaking: A decorated military veteran learns he’s dying of cancer and puts together a collection of advice for his sons.
Find the right read for that special guy below.
Dude toDad: The First 9 Months
by Hugh Weber If you know a father-to-be, this is a straightforward and witty book written just for him. Blogger Hugh Weber breaks down everything the stages of pregnancy, childbirth and new infant in a way that guys will understand. About that baby, he writes: “Picture the worst possible imaginable disturbing (borderline criminal!) thing that could be done to you by a child, increase it by several orders of magnitude, and expect it to occur weekly.”
Dad or Alive: Confessions of an Unexpected Stay-at-Home Dad
by Adrian Kulp Based on his popular blog, Adrian tells his story of going from TV executive (he booked comedians for Chelsea Handler and The Late Late Show) to SAHD. He went to baby showers, farmers markets and learned how to accessorize his little daughter. He makes lots of mistakes, writes about them candidly and invites his readers to laugh at them.
Big Daddy’s Rules: Raising Daughters is Tougher than I Look
by Steve Schirripa Most recently, he starred in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but you may also recognize Steve from his role as Bobby ‘Bacala’ Baccalieri on The Sopranos. Now he’s come out with a hilarious book about being dad, AKA Big Daddy. He’s known to be overprotective, highly opinionated and painfully old-fashioned. He’s not into being a cool parent or praising every little thing a kid does. Instead, he’s devoted and completely involved. His motto: “Suck it up. Be there. Because you only get one shot at this.” His stories about his girls are totally relatable and irresistibly funny.
Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenting by Drew Magary If you’ve ever gotten drunk while trick-or-treating (or even thought about it), this book is for you. The author, a writer and blogger for GQ and Gawker, knows how to tell a story. He talks about head lice, retrieving his toddler from a treehouse, saying dirty words in the bathtub and more. Profane and passionate, his book is a touching read about parenting.
Tell My Sons by Lt. Col. Mark M. Weber Two years ago, at the age of 38, Mark learned that he had Stage IV intestinal cancer and was given four months to live. A former aide to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq, Mark resolved to fight—to soldier on—but his doctors soon helped him to understand that there was no winning this battle. Faced with this, Mark decided to write a letter to his sons so they would know the advice he would have given, the conversations they would have had, if he were still around. As Mark earned unexpected months, that letter became this book. Check out his video below:
In honor of Father’s Day on Sunday, book publishers released a slew of great books written by dads. This week, I’m going to focus on a few of my favorites. Like Glad to be Dad: A Call to Fatherhoodby Tim J. Meyers. He’s spent years in the trenches raising two sons and a daughter. A longtime, successful writer, he is the primary caretaker while his wife works outside of the home. He’s full of hard-won wisdom–on everything from cleaning products to kids’ snacks–and conveys practical advice in his characteristically warm and witty style. At the heart of Myers’ book, he advocates for father involvement. When dads play central roles in child-rearing, the wives and children are happier and less stressed. When I read Glad to be Dad, I thought of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. She writes about the importance of choosing a helpful partner–someone just like Myers.
Find out more about fatherhood from Myers himself. Below, he answers questions that range from household chores to Father’s Day presents. (Hint: Get this man some peanut butter cups ASAP.)
KK: Why is it so important for dads to be involved in childcare and house chores? TM: I think family is one of the most beautiful realities in the world, but to reach its full potential, family members have to work together. Right now, though many men are superb husbands and fathers, a lot of women are doing more than their share. Which is not only unfair, but works against that life-giving unity of the family. Children also benefit profoundly from the loving attention of their fathers–of course. And the kicker is that men grow happier and wiser too!
KK: If a dad works a lot, and he doesn’t watch the kids often, what are three ways to entice him to help more?
TM: To me it’s not a matter of “enticing,” but of growing in our understanding. One way to do that is to recognize that most men face their own pressures, especially at work. Men shouldn’t get a pass on domestic commitment because of this, but we all should respect the hard work they do (and the worry that sometimes goes with it). A second way is for husband and wife to keep talking about these issues. This is especially crucial because a lot of men don’t have good models of committed fatherhood, so it’s all new to them. Third, I think families in general should value themselves more, celebrate themselves more, which will lead everyone to appreciate being with each other. The beautiful thing is to gradually make that potential a reality!
KK: What are some household chores that males might be more likely to do?
TM: I can’t speak for all men, of course, but I don’t think it’s wise to even think this way. My wife and I agreed years ago that we would value all work that goes into the family, whether it brings in money or not, whether it’s lowly or repetitive, whatever. All the work counts–picking up far-flung socks or cleaning a toilet are as worthy as bringing home a paycheck or helping kids with homework. So everyone does everything. (Though I must admit that, out of my own ignorance, I was banned from helping our kids with math).
KK: Some husbands are very involved in the daily domestic routine. What are some nice things their wives can do to tell them thank you?
TM: Let’s see…”You are one studly love-muffin, baby!” I’m always happy to hear things along those lines. And though I’m joking, I’m partly serious too, since a guy can sometimes feel less masculine under domestic circumstances. I don’t think a man should feel that way; I can’t think of anything more masculine, for example, than a full-grown man bending to a child. But there’s a tendency to associate homelife with femininity, and I know some guys won’t mind being reminded–in whatever ways–that they’re still 100 percent male.
KK: What is/was your favorite stay-at-home dad responsibility?
TM: Being able to share the astonishing miracle of life with my children hour by hour, day by day–and giving my heart to complete partnership with the woman I love.
KK: What do you want for Father’s Day?
TM: Buy me a power tool, and I’ll send it on to Tim Allen. But I wouldn’t mind a gift card to buy music–I’ve been eyeballing some Ben Folds CDs lately. And my family knows my desperate weakness for that quintessence of edibles, glory of all deliciousness, the peanut-butter cup. A bunch of those. A whole bunch. So yep, I’m pretty easy to please.
Popular writer, blogger and photographer Kelle Hampton first released her beautiful memoir called Bloom last year. Recently, it came out in paperback. It’s the story of her family, including two daughters (now she has a baby boy, too), Lainey and Nella. Nella was born with Down syndrome. Kelle emphasizes the importance of not only accepting the unexpected but also embracing it as a gift. Nella is truly an inspiration to anyone who’s met her or read about her online.
I caught up with Kelle and asked her how publishing Bloom has impacted her life. She’s touched many readers through her memoir and blog. Check out what she has to say:
KK: Tell me, in three sentences, what your book is about. KH: Bloom is the story of the first year with our daughter Nella who was born with Down syndrome. Really it’s a story about perspective–how we survive, grow and become stronger when we allow unexpected circumstances to change us. And Bloom is a reminder that sometimes it takes the most challenging events in our life to truly appreciate our families, our friendships, our own strengths and to understand how our love for our children is the most unshakeable, grounding and motivating force.
KK:You’ve received some amazing feedback from your fans. How have your readers’ reactions impacted you?
KH: I think more than anything, I’ve been really moved by the sense of community that I’ve more deeply understood through hearing from readers. Whether it’s a mom who has, like me, welcomed a child with special needs; a woman who’s faced the unexpected with other challenges such as a divorce or losing a loved one; or simply a reader who’s stepped out to say “I read your story. I cried. I know what it’s like to love your child so much it hurts,” I am constantly inspired by the way women learn from each other and support each other. There are so many ways to connect these days. Challenges can feel far less lonely than they did back in our parents’ and grandparents’ era. We’re in this together.
KK: Since the publication of Bloom you’ve had a third child. How have the lessons you’ve learned from raising Nella changed your perspective on parenting?
KH: I’ve learned to let go of ideal expectations and redefine perfection, that’s for sure. I think as parents, we don’t even realize how much we expect of our kids and often those expectations are based on our own hopes and dreams. We want our little guys to be great football players, and we imagine Mini Me’s for daughters. You can’t help but begin imagining who your child will be the moment you find out you’re pregnant. But I am continually learning to let go, to let my children show me who they are and what they love. What makes each of my children unique is what makes them perfect.
KK: Have you read any parts of Bloom to your children? What do you hope that someday they will take out of your poignant memoir?
KH: The girls have looked through the book and pointed at pictures. I’ve told them it’s a love story and that I will read it to them someday. Lainey knows the book is dedicated to her because of how beautifully she welcomed her sister, and that’s about it for now. I dream of the day I will read it to them though. I hope through the story, they will know how much I love them and how strong and capable they are as women to face challenges. And for Nella? That will be an incredibly cathartic experience–reading Bloom to her when she’s ready. But I know that she will understand just how much of a gift her life is–how she changed me.