Monday, July 26, 2021

Summer Reading List 2021: Phoebe

 Hi folks, even though I moved from the Southwest to the East Coast, it seems I can't escape the wildfire smoke or the constant reminder of the climate crisis--not that I'm particularly trying since I'm writing about ecological collapse and speculative fiction every day as part of my dissertation.

That said, I usually try to read a few books over the summer just for fun. In 2020, I was deep in the throws of reading a 200+ book list for my PhD comprehensive exams, so even though I'm working on my dissertation, this summer is a bit more relaxed reading-wise. The first half of the summer, I've spent reading a mix of dissertation novels (rereading Butler's Parable novels was a lot of feels), short story collections (still thinking about Brandon Taylor's Filthy Animals) to teach out of in the fall, and poetry (I'm late to the show but Kaveh Akbar's Calling a Wolf a Wolf is excellent).

What follows is a list of some books meant to distract me from the rest of my work. I hope, if you choose to read any of these, that they also distract you from what Joe Sherry called "the nineteenth month of 2020." Big mood.

1. The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham

The past few months just have had me craving epic fantasy. Perhaps it's a comfort genre since my favorite authors as a kid were Tolkien and Lewis. Regardless, I've been meaning to get to The Other Lands for years. The second book in Durham's Acacia: War with the Mein trilogy, The Other Lands is set to explore more the fascinating world that Durham sets up the first novel, Acacia. I'm particularly interested to see how Durham continues the social commentary of empire that he sets up in the first book, which becomes a turning point at the end of the novel. 

2. Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Another sequel in a trilogy, Grey Sister is not my typical read as I'm pretty hesitant to pick up a fantasy in the "blurbed by George R. R. Martin" variety. Setting that aside, a fellow fantasy fan gave me the first one as a belated Christmas gift, and after moving across the country into a new house, with most of my books still in boxes, I sat down to read it. I tore through the first one, totally engrossed in the best way. I'm hoping the second one, continuing the storyline of an assassin child with magical, invisible claws to protect her, keeps the same entertaining, fast-paced readability of the first novel.

3. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: the Manga

Nausicaä instantly became my favorite Hayao Miyazaki film when I (finally) saw it last year. When I found out there was a manga that continues long past the film, I immediately put it on my reading list. The film follows Princess Nausicaä as she tries to protect her home from an invading empire while teaching others to adapt and live in harmony with the toxic forest. At the end of the film, she takes on her prophetic role of "the man in blue" who will help the remnants of humanity thrive rather than fade into extinction. At the end of the movie, there's plenty of story left to tell, so I'm excited to see how Miyazaki completes what I consider to be a perfect piece of environmental storytelling.

4. How Long 'til Black Future Month by N. K. Jemisin

As part of preparing to teaching creative writing at a small liberal arts school this fall, I've been catching up on my short story collections. At heart, I'm a reader and writer of novels, but as a teacher, I need to make sure my students have some sort of understanding of the short story form, which means giving lots and lots of examples. I'm a huge fan and wannabe scholar of Jemisin's work, so I'm excited to see how the larger themes and ideas I associate with her as a novelist boil down into short stories.

5. A Dream So Dark by L. L. McKinney

To me, nothing quite says summer like a stack of YA novels. A good YA book is almost always my beach read (or creek read, as things go in rural Pennsylvania). I read A Blade So Black last year and have been itching to dive back into McKinney's delightfully upturned wonderland retelling. With more of wonderland to explore and the main character gaining even cooler magical weapons, the sequel is set up to be a wild romp in this dream world. 

6. Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones 

While everyone loves Jones's horror novels and novella, they are, ahem, a little scary for me. He's been on my radar since his 2016 werewolf novel, so I finally picked up a copy to read so I can join in on the SGJ love but still sleep at night. I'm sure I'll still have to read this during the day, but this coming of age werewolf novel seems a bit more my speed as the main character learns about his werewolf family while waiting to discover if he carries the same traits. 

Posted By: Phoebe Wagner is a PhD candidate at University of Nevada, Reno. When not writing or reading, she can be found kayaking at the nearest lake. Follow her at or on Twitter @pheebs_w.