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Best New Beach Reads for Summer

There's no better company at the beach (or the backyard) this summer than a smart, engrossing page-turner. Brooklyn-based writer Jami Attenberg picks the season's best new books to tote on your vacation.

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
Wendy McClure

For those who were raised on Little House on the Prairie -- both the books and the long-running television series depicting the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, pioneer girl - this hilarious, insightful examination of its lingering impact will deeply satisfy. Pop culture writer and memoirist McClure (I'm Not the New Me) relives her own obsession with the books by connecting with others who live in "Laura World" both online and in person, visiting historical Wilder family homes across the Midwest, and, of course, churning butter. Clever and heartwarming, The Wilder Life is a great read, even for those who missed out on the original stories.

For fans of: immersive, smart memoirists, like A.J. Jacobs or Sarah Vowell.

The Astral: A Novel
Kate Christensen
(Available June 14)

PEN/Faulkner winner (The Great Man) Christensen is back with her compelling sixth novel, The Astral, a witty, perceptive look into the mind of Harry Quirk, a down-on-his-luck poet who has just been kicked out by his suspicious wife. As Quirk navigates the streets of Brooklyn, bouncing from one quirky character to the next – including his Hasidic co-workers, his freegan daughter, and his cult-entrenched son – a textured and extremely smart tale of love, marriage, friendship, and the power of commitment emerges.

For fans of: Although Christensen is a New Yorker, she's best compared to sharp-witted contemporary British authors like Lionel Shriver.

The Storm at the Door
Stefan Merrill Block
(Available June 21)

A stunning, soulful second novel from bright young literary star Block (The Story of Forgetting), The Storm at the Door is inspired by actual events in the lives of the author's grandparents, Katherine and Frederick Merrill. As their marriage falters in 1962, the couple is separated when Frederick, a heavy drinker prone to bouts of bad behavior, is committed to a mismanaged mental institution. Both are forced to confront their past mistakes and the possibilities of love, even as their worlds collapse around them. Written with grace and precision, Block's vision of the past is colored with melancholy -- but with sympathy and hope, as well.

For fans of: Michael Cunningham's The Hours.

You Must Go and Win: Essays
Alina Simone
(Available June 7)

Smart, crisply written, and raucously funny, You Must Go and Win is an addictive collection of essays from brainy, critically acclaimed Russian-American songstress Alina Simone. The book offers a peek into the struggle of the indie rock life, as well as Simone's complex relationship with religion, her Russian past, and her tough-minded family. Simone's life stories are addressed with a witty, inquisitive tone, and her insights, challenging as they are, manage somehow to be of great comfort too.

For fans of: David Rakoff and Mike Birbiglia.

Jami Attenberg is the author of Instant Love, The Kept Man, and The Melting Season. A fourth book, The Middlesteins, is forthcoming in 2012.
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