There’s nothing better on a lazy summer day than a good book. But which one to settle down with? Sure, we’re all going to do our annual re-reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses in time for Bloomsday at the Rosenbach Museum, but what do we start reading the day after? Luckily, there’s quite a selection of new releases this season for readers of all tastes and proclivities. Here are our top seven picks.
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. Retelling of fairytales in modern settings are becoming an old hat, but leave it to PW’s own Genevieve Valentine, author of 2011’s haunting Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, to give us something completely different. Valentine places the Twelve Dancing Princesses in 1920s Manhattan, turning forbidden magic balls into jazz-laced speakeasies. Jo’s been the closest thing a mother her younger 11 sisters have ever known and the only barrier between them and their controlling father. But when an old friend resurfaces, Jo starts thinking about a life beyond taking care of her family sneaking out to dance the night away. (June 3, Atria Books)
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez. Henríquez’s novel begins simply, starting as a love story between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl. From there, it blossoms into operatic movement of the love-hate relationship between immigrants and the America they come to. Henríquez layers many voices onto her engaging work, creating an unflinching, passionate portrayal of what it means to be an American. (June 3, Knopf)
I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin. Kyung-sook Shin is one of Korea’s most popular novelists, but barely heard of here. Set during a purposefully vague period of political turmoil, Shin’s protagonist Jung Yoon grows to adulthood as the people around her disappear without a trace or die senselessly. A searing, literate portrayal of the cost of survival in a time of chaos, Shin nevertheless evokes a surprising amount of hope. (June 3, Other Press)
Motor City Burning by Bill Morris. Morris draws upon his hometown of Detroit to tell of Willie Bledsoe, an idealistic black activist who has become disillusioned with the civil rights movement at the end of the ‘60s. When his Vietnam-vet brother offers to cut the cash-strapped Bledsoe in on smuggling a load of illegal guns up to Detroit, Bledsoe sees a chance to start a new life. But nothing is ever easy in Motor City, as Bledsoe becomes the top suspect in an unsolved murder from Detroit’s bloody race riots. Idealism and vengeance collide with a thriller’s pace, as Morris meditates on fast cars, racial divides and the slippery nature of justice. (July 15, Pegasus)
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew. Hundred of superheroes were created in the 1940s following Superman’s success. Among the parade of men and women in brightly colored tights was the Green Turtle, the first Chinese-American superhero. While the Green Turtle had precious few adventures before being lost to history, acclaimed comic creators Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew have brought the character back in a brand new graphic novel that gives him the heroic treatment he always deserved. As the Green Turtle, Hank Chu finds himself navigating every superheroic cliché possible—the motivating tragedy, the wise mentor, the love interest on the wrong side of the law, the enemy who controls all crime—with the charm and wit that fans of Yang’s 2008 American Born Chinese have come to expect. (July 15, First Second)
Tigerman by Nick Harkaway. Harkaway grooves in a genre that can best be described as “existential pulp,” where the child’s fantasy action-figures of kung-fu warriors and super-spies routinely face dilemmas on the nature of existence and one’s place in the world. Tigerman looks to be no different, as old soldier Lester Ferris serves out his time on Mancreu, a shady former British colony slated for destruction. Ferris willingly turns a blind eye to its violence and black-market dealings, until he befriends a comic book-loving street kid. The boy needs a hero in this modern-day pirate oasis, and good or bad, there’s no one else around but Ferris. (July 29, Knopf)
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. After Murakami’s sprawling epic 1Q84, it is no surprise that his follow-up is being described as “more tightly focused”—how could it not be? But Murakami earns that descriptor, setting aside 1Q84’s alternate realities to focus on Tsukuru Tazaki, a man in his 30s who is trying to find out why his high school friends mysteriously abandoned him. Since this is Murakami, there’s much more going on than the novel’s characters—or its readers—suspect. (Aug. 12, Knopf)
Enjoying a good book at home is way too winter-like. Park yourself in a park.
“Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide,” requests Homer in his magnus opus, The Odyssey. A few thousand years ago, Homer wrote those words hoping to hear a story sung to him from the heavens and interpreted through his own words. Nowadays, it’s a little easier to channel the muses with tablet readers, PDFs on computers, smartphones and, of course, good ol’ fashioned, dog-eared books. Still, in a city of 1.5 million people, lots of concrete and oodles of loud noises, it’s an arduous journey just finding a good place to be mindful of the reading experience. Above all else, wherever you decide to consume words should be a place that stirs your spiritual and intellectual appetite.
In West Philly, there’s the community-centric Clark Park at 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue. There, in addition to having an auspicious statue, rumored to be the world’s only devoted to everyone’s favorite social critic, Charles Dickens, with his Little Nell. After an overhaul completed a few years back, benches abound and the walkways are pleasant instead of just muddy. The tree-dotted park crests west up Baltimore Avenue and valleys southward into a an area colloquially known to the ‘hood as the bowl. With all those trees, there’s just enough shade to stay comfortable all day long as the Philly trolleys shake up and down Baltimore and Chester avenues. Their periodic reverberations are almost a mantra: “I am in Philadelphia. I am in Philadelphia.”
In or adjacent to Center City, two parks step out from the rest: Hawthorne Park and Fitler Square Park. The best-non-kept-secrets within walking distance to City Hall, both of these parks somehow avoid the obnoxious loudness of television-news-b-roll-stand-by Rittenhouse Square.
A proverbial new kid on the block, Hawthorne Park is a pleasant open space at 12th and Catherine streets in, of course, Hawthorne. Previously an empty lot, the park now serves as de facto neighborhood square and connects one of Philly’s most enduring working-class neighborhoods. A gently steeped stone walkway connects its sunny corners, brightly-colored Dadaist chaise lounges and chairs dotting the green. In this open-air square, you should be able to soak up some rays and bang out a few chapters with ease.
Like Hawthorne Park, Fitler Square Park is a small park nestled, and seemingly hidden, in the extreme Southwest corner of Center City at 23rd and Pine streets. Its bucolic, whimsical nature is accented by the familiar animal statues. The turtles, too, remind book lovers that a deliberate, yet never-too-serious pace is the best way to read. —Josh Kruger
No Slam Dancing. June 7, 6pm. Tattoed Mom, 530 South St. 215.238.9880. tattooedmomphilly.com
Bedfellows 2. June 12, 7:30pm. L'Etage, 624 S. Sixth St. 215.592.0656. facebook.com/events/1417326681879018/
Alice Goffman. June 16, 7:30pm. Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St. 215.567.4341. freelibrary.org
Jennifer Weiner. June 19, 7:30pm. Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St. 215.567.4341. freelibrary.org
Romance Panel featuring Megan Hart. June 30, 7:30pm. Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St. 215.567.4341. freelibrary.org
Ian Doescher. July 8, 7:30pm. Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St. 215.567.4341. freelibrary.org
Brando Skyhorse. July 29, 7:30pm. Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St. 215.567.4341. freelibrary.org
Hampton Sides. Aug. 7, 7:30pm. Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St. 215.567.4341. freelibrary.org
Poetry Aloud. Aug. 22, 7:15pm. Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane. madpoetssociety.com
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide