Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

The Well-Readheads: Subject to Change

Liberty Hardy

Senior Contributing Editor

Liberty Hardy is an unrepentant velocireader, writer, bitey mad lady, and tattoo canvas. Turn-ons include books, books and books. Her favorite exclamation is “Holy cats!” Liberty reads more than should be legal, sleeps very little, frequently writes on her belly with Sharpie markers, and when she dies, she’s leaving her body to library science. Until then, she lives with her three cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon, in Maine. She is also right behind you. Just kidding! She’s too busy reading. Twitter: @MissLiberty

LH: So, it’s well known the ‘verse over that we’re bibliomaniacs – we eat, sleep, and breathe books. I myself now have just over 1,000 books in my house that I haven’t read, in addition to the hundreds I’ve read and saved. But on top of our compulsion to BUY ALL THE BOOKS, I was wondering if there any particular types of books you collect, or subjects that you own eleventeen hundred books about?

RJS: I love–LOVE–books about the intersection of sociology and sexuality. There’s Sex at Dawn, America Unzipped, Bonk (yep, I’m talking about Mary Roach again), Alexa Albert’s Brothel. So many. Add in a feminist twist–like with Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth, and I am totally powerless to resist. What about you?

LH: To start, I’m obsessed with Francis Bacon. I have about 25 books about him. Not Francis Bacon, the Fakespeare – Francis Bacon, the other white meat. The painter. My new favorite book on him is a collection of his work called, er, Francis Bacon, by Matthew Gale and Chris Stephens. Then there’s Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, and Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. And my go-to book when I need to zone out in a happy place is called 7 Reece Mews – it’s a book of photographs of the inside of Francis Bacon’s studio. It was such a mess! There’s oil paint and canvases everywhere – it looks like it would go up in flames if you even thought of fire while you were visiting. Any people you collect books about?

RJS: I feel like I should duck before I admit this, but I’m not really into biographies. I feel like I *should* be, like people who are well-read are interested in reading about the lives of people who changed art and culture and politics and the world, but I just can’t get there. Maybe I’ve not met the right biographies yet? My collecting is definitely more topical. I can’t hear the words “campus story” without swooning. I know we share a love of The Secret History. Then there’s also Skippy Dies and Prep and The Starboard Sea and, oh yeah, Harry Potter. I can go on.

LH: Even Love Story?

RJS: …

LH: That’s what I thought… As far as topic-specific novels, I’m all about books that take place in the post-Civil War Wild West: Blood Meridian, Warlock, True Grit, Lonesome Dove, The Sisters Brothers, Deadwood (the Pete Dexter novel, not the television show, although I LOVE the show, as well – I never ignore the Olyphant in the room).

RJS: Is this the part where I ask if I can be your Huckleberry? Back to the nonfiction side, I love a good exposé…or attempted exposé. That book about the nasty underbelly of sorority life? It was ridiculous and gross and I LOVED it. (I remembered! It’s Pledged by Alexandra Robbins.) Brothel, which I mentioned above, is about the real lives of prostitutes who live and work in the legal brothels outside Las Vegas, and holy hellcats is it fascinating. That’s not a topic so much as a genre, I know. But I can’t get enough. Love it when a book makes me feel like I’m getting away with something.

LH: Speaking of prostitutes, the subject I have the most books on is sharks. (Okay, there was no correlation, it just sounded funny.) I love sharks – they terrify me. In an awesome way. I have three dozen picture books. And my favorite non-fiction book on sharks is Close to Shore by Michael Capuzzo, about the shark attacks on the Jersey Shore. That’s the Jersey Shore, the location, not the reality show – no such luck. I don’t really have a favorite fiction book on the subject – don’t get me started on how awful Jaws is – but Beat the Reaper certainly gets a nod for “Most Awkward Sex Scene Involving a Shark Tank.” Possibly also “Only Sex Scene Involving a Shark Tank.”

RJS: Awww yeah, that’s a great book. Is there a “F#$% Yeah, Beat the Reaper” tumblr? I feel like there should be. After a quick perusal of my bookshelves, I’m noticing a ton of books about books. Meta-books, if you will. Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris and Jack Murnighan’s Beowulf on the Beach being my reigning favorites. Do books about books ring your bells too?

LH: Oh em gee, yes! A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes is the most remarkable book I’ve read on the subject – the piece on the book kleptomaniac is amazing. Unpacking My Library is a cute little glimpse of the shelves of lots of cool writers. A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel is great, and my favorite picture book about books is It’s a Book by Lane Smith.

RJS: It’s a Book is so superduperfantastic, and it’s great fun to stand in a bookstore and watch an adult flip through it with a child, then arrive at “It’s a book, jackass!” If I can teach my 8-month-old nephew to say that (just as soon as he, you know, actually starts talking), my life will be complete. But back to the subject at hand! I also love novels in which books figure large. Like The Shadow of the Wind. There’s a favorite. Tell me, oh Demon Bookseller of Fleet Street, what else should I add to that list?

LH: Holy cats – Among Others is a MUST if you like to read about books within books. It’s an epic nerdpurr, for sure. The City of Dreaming Books is fun crazy-craziness, (written by the man who wrote The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, one of the weirdest books ever) and Fly By Night is a delightful children’s novel about a world where reading is banned. Let’s see, other subjects I have tons of books about: Agatha Christie, Lizzie Borden, rats, bats…anything else you want to add?

RJS: I don’t think so. Turns out I have more individual books about kooky subjects (boy, do I love me some single-subject narrative nonfiction) than I do ongoing collections. Might have to pick a crazy topic to read up on this summer. I’d ask you for recommendations, but I’m a little afraid…

LH: Believe it or not, The Toothpick by Henry Petroski is a really interesting read. He manages to make the toothpick fascinating. I also love Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay, and Limeys: The Conquest of Scurvy by David Harvey. And speaking of diseases, I LOVE a good pandemic. I have tons of books about plagues. But maybe that’s more a discussion for a genre kryptonite post. And with a mental health professional.

RJS: “Doctor’s notes, May TK, 2012. Ms. Hardy displays at least three of the diagnostic criteria for chronic, incurable booksanity….the outlook couldn’t be better.”

Spill it readers: you’ve got a lovely bunch of…what kind of books?