Our Collection

Summer Reading 2021

With the arrival of warm weather and longer days comes hope that a slower summer pace will allow more time for getting lost in good books. Here are a few that Library staff have enjoyed or plan to enjoy this season. If you are looking for more to read, have a look at the many staff recommendations on our website.


See/Saw | Geoff Dyer (ebook available) & The Secret to Superhuman Strength | Alison Bechdel (ebook available) 

Two of my favorite authors published new books this year, out just in time for summer. Geoff Dyer writes expertly about a variety of subjects, but perhaps no subject better suits his sensibilities than photography. See/Saw is his new collection of essays about photographers like Vivian Maier and Roy DeCarava. If it’s anything like his earlier book on the subject The Ongoing Moment, it promises to be something special. I admit I’m less interested in the subject of The Secret of Human Strength by Alison Bechdel—exercise and fitness fads. Still, I have no doubt she will take the subject in wild and unexpected directions. Anyone who has read Fun Home or Are You My Mother? knows how well Bechdel illuminates her stories with her drawings, but they also recognize the depth of her thinking.  Plus, if the cover is anything to go by, this promises to be funny, too. Both titles have been added to the Library’s ebook offerings, so I might even get to read them in some far-flung locale, now that travel is a possibility again.  —Patrick Rayner, Acquisitions Assistant/Circulation Assistant

Three fascinating books about the fabled city of Timbuktu, hidden deep in the heart of current-day Mali, recently crossed my desk: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer (2016); The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu by Charlie English (2017) and The Manuscripts of Timbuktu: Secrets, Myths and Realities by Jean-Michel Djian (2020). These books focus on Timbuktu’s remarkable written legacy, reaching back to the 12th century when the city was a center of learning in sub-Sahara Africa. In 2012 during the takeover of the city by armed rebels, hundreds of thousands of manuscripts at risk were spirited out of Timbuktu by Abdel Kader Haidara, the founder of the Mamma Haidara Library, and other dedicated librarians and archivists.

Africa’s oral history is well known. The ancient manuscripts of Timbuku described in these books present readers with irrefutable evidence of a glorious written tradition that flourished for centuries in the Songhay Empire. —Harriet Shapiro, Head of Exhibitions

At Swim-Two-Birds | Flann O’Brien 

A personal favorite and late modernist classic, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), by Flann O’Brien offers enough mischief and metafictional digressions for a whole summer reading list all on its own.  —James Addona, Head of Development

As I write this, I’m going on six weeks of starting but not finishing a single book, which feels completely devastating. I’m looking forward to books that are not only short enough, but enticing enough, so that I might rejoice in a sense of accomplishment and thereby kickstart my summer. My eclectic list spans fiction, travel, mystery, essay, surrealism, and a few that provided inspiration for our Black Literature Matters exhibition. Tell Me How it Ends, by Valeria Luiselli (119 pages); I Am Not Your Negro, by James Baldwin (118 pages); So Long a Letter, by Mariama Ba (90 pages); Mrs. Caliban, by Rachel Ingalls (125 pages); Here is New York, by E.B. White (the shortest, at 56 pages!); The Sweet Flypaper of Life, by Roy De Carava & Langston Hughes (98 pages); The List, by Mick Herron (67 pages); and Free Day, by Ines Cagnati (143 pages). —Carolyn Waters, Head Librarian

My Dark Vanessa | Kate Elizabeth Russell (ebook available)

My Dark Vanessa is not your typical summer reading recommendation. The book is dark and heartbreaking, exploring the “forbidden romance” between protagonist Vanessa Wye, a high school student, and her English teacher, the charismatic Jacob Strane (42 years old). The novel alternates between the perspectives of Vanessa at two different periods: 2000 (15 years old) and 2017 (32 years old), and the reader is confronted with the meanings of consent and victimhood. There are some interesting cultural contexts developed through pop culture references, Lolita, and the evocation of #MeToo. Typically, I choose to read books over the summer to escape and unwind; however, I chose to include this debut by Kate Elizabeth Russell because it provides a cathartic reading experience while asking its reader to try to understand the complexity of the ways that trauma can endure. Trigger warnings include sexual trauma, predatory grooming, emotional manipulation, and suicide. Marialuisa Monda, Events Assistant

Desert Solitaire | Edward Abbey

Looking forward to travel in the desert of the Southwest this summer, I also look forward to dipping into Edward Abbey’s classic 1968 account of three summers spent as a ranger in Arches National Park in Utah in the late 1950s. Abbey’s reasons for living alone in a trailer in undeveloped desert were ambitious: “I am here not only to evade for a while the clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus but also to confront the bare bones of existence, the elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us…even if it means risking everything human in myself.” Abbey’s voice is unique: sensitive and searching, effortlessly offering beautifully poetic observations, he can also be a charming and harsh curmudgeon, roughly opinionated, quick to crack a joke. It will make a fine companion for my own, much less ambitious and much more comfortable, excursion. —Steven McGuirl, Head of Acquisitions


YOUNG ADULT & CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Blackout | various authors & A Phoenix First Must Burn | various authors 

Short stories are my favorite option when looking for a book to take on vacation. I like that I can dip in and out of them without getting so wrapped up that I'm ignoring the environment around me. I'll save the pure escapism for when I'm stuck at home. I look forward to enjoying these two collections this summer. They both feature stories written by Black female authors, but their settings are worlds apart. Blackout takes place during a summer heatwave as six couples, including some that are queer, make their way to a party in Brooklyn. The idea hatched by the six stellar authors was born out of looking forward to reconnecting post-pandemic. A Phoenix First Must Burn focuses upon stories that look to alternate universes with selections of sci-fi and speculative fiction. In different ways, they both remind me of the NYC Book Award winner, The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin. I can't wait to hit the road and dive into all of them.  —Susan Vincent Molinaro, Children's & YA Librarian

Mid-summer addendum: The Obamas' production company Higher Ground is developing Blackout into film & TV event that will air on Netflix! Read the book before you see the results.

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids | Cynthia L. Smith, editor & Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-be Best Friend | Dawn Quigley

This summer I’m looking forward to reading from Heartdrum, a brand-new children’s publishing imprint focusing on Native stories and creators.  At a recent webcast launching Heartdrum’s debut titles, several authors shared excerpts from their work and discussed the joy and significance of introducing Native characters into children’s reading lives.  Two titles, in particular, captivated my interest, and they are on their way to the NYSL children’s shelves. Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids is an anthology of intersecting tales, poetry, and artwork set at a contemporary intertribal powwow over the course of two days. Seventeen Native authors and artists collaborated on this dynamic collection edited by Cynthia L. Smith.  Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley is a short and humorous novel (first in a series) about a spunky and intelligent Ojibwe first-grader as she navigates family, friendships, and school.  Randi Levy, Head of the Children’s Library

Firekeeper’s Daughter | Angeline Boulley & Land of the Long White Cloud: Maori Myths, Tales, and Legends | Kiri Te Kanawa, Michael Foreman (Illustrator) 

Firekeeper's Daughter is rich with multi-layered themes, characters, and purpose. The book follows 18-year-old Daunis Fontaine, a bi-racial unenrolled Ojibwe tribal member who never quite fit in with her (white) mother's family, nor with her Indigenous family and community. She attempts to juggle both worlds and her daily life despite facing contininous loneliness, tragedy, and an identity crisis. Boulley is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians (Bear Clan) from Sugar Island in Northern Michigan, and her YA debut combines a narrative introducing Ojibwe culture and history within a mystery and crime thriller. I don't want to gush too much because I feel I'll spoil this book for potential readers. I have already reread it, and will again, and again. Trigger warnings include sexual assault, racism, grief, gun violence, murder, and drug use.  

Land of the Long White Cloud is a collection of nineteen tales from various Maori tribes in New Zealand. From The Creation to the adventures of the cultural hero/trickster Maui, the stories are richly told with illustrations that add to their beauty, mystery, and charm. This collection of tales and myths recalled from Te Kanawa's childhood provides a fascinating taste of Maori culture, and her vivid storytelling is faithful to her heritage. This book is perfect for kids, families, teens, and adults alike—anyone who loves folklore and wishes to better understand an unfamiliar culture. —Marialuisa Monda, Events Assistant