Janet Maslin’s summer 2015 book recommendations, which the New York Times published last week and which are likely to comprise her final summer reading guide for the paper, have gotten deserved flak for being entirely white. The ballot, an assembly of 17 titles, should never have made it through the NYT’s dense editorial canopy, even if Maslin somehow believed she had compelling reason to confine her search for worthy books to a single racial group.
Unrelenting whiteness is no doubt the biggest problem with the lineup Maslin presents. But her selection finds other ways to be lackluster, too. From a new Stephen King novel to the Fug Girls’ The Royal We, the titles seem chosen in order to pander to an out-of-touch, half-hearted approximation of middlebrow taste. It pretends to comprehend the meaning of a beach read (“smart, funny fluff”) and then nominates, for our mindless delectation, a 300 plus-page biography of the Wright brothers. And a surfing memoir because it’s about water. Even the truly frothy titles don’t look that enticing: The shambolic misadventures of a personal assistant to an LA celebrity? Been there. “Centuries of advice and inspiration” on marriage? A lot of us don’t do that.
If you’re going to pander to middlebrow tastes, might as well pander whole-heartedly. So to beef up Maslin’s limp list—which is not all dross, but could be so much better—here are a few promising alternatives. Note that we’ve declared any book published so far in 2015 eligible, for what are a few chilly weeks to the calm eternity of canon?
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
Because: Hoffman’s lush, seductive prose and heart-pounding subject—a forbidden love affair on the island of Saint Thomas—make this latest skinny-dip in enchanted realism by the author of Practical Magic the Platonic ideal of the beach read.
Delicious Foods by James Hannaham
Because: It is fast-paced, carefully plotted, at times screamingly lurid. Bonus: Some chapters are told from the perspective of illegal drugs.
Girl of My Dreams by Peter Davis
Because: Davis’ first-person thriller, set in glamorous old Hollywood, features murder-suicide, impetuous starlets, and other tropes of artistic-corporate-political intrigue.
Loving Day by Mat Johnson
Because: a comic, poignant father-daughter story that is also about ghosts and being biracial? Sounds like the perfect beachy blend of salt and sunshine.
The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills
Because: It is summer! Of course we want to hear someone smart talk about sex.
The Uncanny Reader: Stories from the Shadows edited by Marjorie Sandor, with stories by H.P Lovecraft, Kelly Link, Steven Millhauser, Shirley Jackson, and more.
Because: Even summer needs a dash of darkness and strangeness. On that note, be sure to check out the new Oxford anthology of Victorian fairy tales, too. Happy reading!