zadie smith on joy of reading

Illustration: Thomas Allen

Because Reading Is a "Lifestyle Choice"
Quite often I am asked to recommend, as a practice, the habit of "reading." I like to do this, though I always feel a little phony. To recommend something implies that its presence in your life is a positive choice, like playing tennis or avoiding gluten. For me, being a reader, in summer or at any other time, isn't a "lifestyle choice." Rather, I made the choice—if that's what it was—so long ago, it has taken on an inescapable character in my mind. I think that if I were a very good swimmer, I would be proud to be so, but being proud of being a reader, in my case, is like being proud you have feet.
—Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW, and the essay collection Changing My Mind

Read the rest of Zadie Smith's essay on bibliomania
george saunders favorite short stories

Illustration: Thomas Allen

Because Short Stories Are "Meaning Machines"
Recently, a friend said to me, "Hey, George, if a space alien beamed you up to his ship and demanded that you explain what being human is like, what would you say?"

"Well," I said, "I'd advise the alien to spend a few days reading short stories." Short stories are the deep, encoded crystallizations of all human knowledge. They are rarefied, dense meaning machines, shedding light on the most pressing of life's dilemmas. By reading a thoughtfully selected set of them, our alien could, in a few hours, learn everything he needs to know about the way we live.
—George Saunders, author of the award-winning short-story collection Tenth of December and, most recently, Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness

Read the rest of George Saunders' essay on his favorite short stories
gary shteyngart on writing memoirs

Illustration: Thomas Allen

Because There's No Time Like the Present to Make Sense of Your Past
"Why did you decide to write a memoir now?"

I'm often asked. As in, "Why not wait until you're completely gray?" They're talking about my relatively young age—my memoir, Little Failure, was published when I was 41; I always respond that 41 is actually 74 in Russian years, a joke I make while clutching my beleaguered, butter-slathered heart.
—Gary Shteyngart, author of the memoir Little Failure and three novels, most recently Super Sad True Love Story

Read the rest of Gary Shteyngart's essay on memoir writing
lydia millet favorite books summer 2014

Illustration: Thomas Allen

Because You Can Uncover Unexpectedly Delightful Books That Transform You
There's a particular laziness of the body, in the yellow-grassed, humid fallows of summer, that can strip the mind of what's trivial and open it to the essentials. Sure, to the layperson's eye, you may look like you're doing nothing—maybe floating on a pool raft or lolling on a porch swing. But appearances deceive. With a splayed paperback or scrolling tablet in hand, you may in fact be as far away as the moons of Jupiter. I'm not talking about the bubblegum worlds of beach books that can be picked up at the grocery checkout. I'm picturing a more exotic landscape: the unfamous but brilliant gems, the harder-to-find silver slivers of genius. If you want a secret adventure, the sluggish days of summer can give you both the camouflage and the opportunity.
—Lydia Millet, her first young adult novel, Pills and Starships, set on a Hawaiian resort in a future ruled by rapid planetary change and social chaos, came out in June.

Read the rest of Lydia Millet's essay on diving into creative novels
helen oyeyemi on fantasy books

Illustration: Thomas Allen

Because Endless Days Give You Time to Be Swept Away by a Great Read
If you're reading this in summer, there's a good chance you're reluctant to be reminded of how quickly it passes. Even now it is playing its games with your senses. These are the months when daylight lingers longest, creating the illusion that we have more time than we really do. And so for me summer is for short stories, long poems, novellas, writing with a brief and powerful span, pages I can reach the end of without time disappearing.
—Helen Oyeyemi, author of five novels, most recently Boy, Snow, Bird.

Read the rest of Helen Oyeyemi's essay on the magical books that suit the season
mona simpson beach reads 2014

Illustration: Thomas Allen

Because Some Books Are Better Than a Vacation
Henry James once said that the two most beautiful words in the English language are summer afternoon. (F. Scott Fitzgerald also appears to have loved this season: “I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer,” he wrote in The Great Gatsby.) Many of my happiest summer afternoons have been spent inside the ones he created. When Isabel Archer crosses the English lawn to meet her destiny, it thrills me to remember that James was inside his still sitting room, composing the scene, reveling in its imagined splendor.
—Mona Simpson, author of Anywhere but Here, is a Guggenheim Fellow and Whiting award winner whose most recent novel is Casebook.

Read the rest of Mona Simpson's essay on the books that took her on an inner vacation