The Best Books of the July: Shining a Spotlight on our Spotlight Pick
There's something for everyone in this month's Amazon editors' Best Books of the Month picks. Big names like Deborah Harkness, Chris Cleave, and Tana French are there. There's some great nonfiction. And there are a few wonderful debuts from bold new talents.
One of those talents is Lydia Netzer, the author of our Spotlight Pick Shine, Shine, Shine, which Amazon's own Caley Anderson has described as "charmingly odd, full of feeling, and beautifully written." And what's more, Shine, Shine, Shine is being published today.
Ever wonder what authors read when they were children? Read on and see what Lydia Netzer, author of our July Spotlight Pick, has to say about that:
Books To Read in Trees
by Lydia Netzer
When I was a child, I read in a tree.
My favorite reading spot was 20 feet above the ground, in a natural seat formed by the branches of an enormous pine tree. I often scuffed my knees on the climb up, book shoved into my waistband, fingernails dirty with the sap I absently picked at while I read. Raised by two school teachers with jobs in Detroit, I only had access to my reading tree during summer vacations.
In Detroit, we lived in a condo, we went to the library, and I read material the library deemed appropriate for children: Judy Blume, Marguerite Henry, Madeleine L’Engle, Susan Cooper. In Pennsylvania, in the summer, we lived on this isolated old family farm, and I read the only material my mother deemed appropriate for humans: 19th century British literature.
It was tough getting those lousy hardbacks to stay in my waistband all the way up the tree, but I managed to stick it out through George Eliot, most of Dickens, Ivanhoe, and the Brontës. American lit was off the table, even the stuff from 100 years ago. Harpoonists sweating half-naked over oars? Lusty puritans cavorting in the northern woods? Extracted heart throbbing in the baseboards? Forget it. I guess my mother figured out that if I could wring any damaging sexual content out of The Mayor of Casterbridge, or if I still wanted to procreate after stomaching the gloom of The Mill on the Floss, there was nothing she could do.
I know it wasn’t all prudishness. She was proud of my willingness to put away the horse books and sci fi for the summer, and delve into something toothier and challenging, that I could only wrestle with in the absence of school, and the city. In the company of trees and the occasional woodpecker I could pine for those lordlings and bold orphans, and fear consumption and workhouses and the disapproval of maiden aunts.
Now I’ve sent my son and daughter up that same tree, with Percy Jackson novels or American Girl books tucked into their belts. I did not inherit the wary eye with which my mother viewed books written by Americans, but I did take away the sense that for me, summers are reserved for braver reading. Summers are for books that stretch you, for cracking open the unknown, and having the mental space to immerse.
This summer, I will not be reading Thackeray, okay? Sorry, mom. I’ll now admit that reading The History of Henry Esmond made me want to walk into the sea in despair. But this summer when I pack to go to the farm, I’ll be loading up with books that are big and unfamiliar, like Ben Marcus’ The Flame Alphabet, books I need space to comprehend, like Robert Goolrick’s Heading Out to Wonderful, books that are best devoured in the big uninterrupted chunks of time that only vacation from regular life can give me, like Chris Cleave’s Gold. And I might just climb that reading tree myself this year, to see what big ideas may linger.