Summer is upon us once again! Meaning time off from work, time off from school and time ON with family. From Sunday picnics to group vacations, most of us start logging a lot more hours with our nearest and dearest this time of year. So whether your annual summer vacation with the fam is the thing you look forward to all year – or the thing you’ll work through in therapy all next year – we’ve got a book for you. All of the tomes below have family as a central theme: The good, the bad and the Sedaris.
'A Place For Us,' by Fatima Farheen Mizra
“A Place For Us,” may be Fatima Farheen Mirza’s first novel, but its themes have been confronted by novelists for ages: Love, faith and the tenuous balance between pleasing your family and pleasing yourself. The book grabs you from page one, as the guests file in for Hadia’s colorful, rich, Indian wedding, and each family member prepares – mentally and physically – for the day ahead. There’s no emotional pressure cooker quite like a wedding, and all of the family dynamics – estrangements, alliances, resentments, and fears – are soon laid bare against the energetic backdrop of the wedding day, a feast for the senses with bright saris, hennaed hands, pineapple juice and chocolate. Mirza casts an understanding eye on all involved, including the Indian parents who want to retain their culture and faith – and their American children, who want to choose their own partners and fates. “A Place For Us” is the first publication from Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint, SJP for Hogarth.
'Failure Is an Option,' by H. Jon Benjamin
Jon Benjamin is a king to comedy nerds, thanks to cult favorites like Comedy Central’s tragically short-lived “Jon Benjamin Has a Van,” but the rest of us know him as the voice of Archer on “Archer” and Bob on “Bob’s Burgers.” Now, he has come out with a hilarious “Attempted Memoir,” which actually reads more like a catalogue of failures. And like many of us, a decent chunk of Benjamin’s failures fall in the family department. In chapters like “How I Failed to Have a Chinese Dinner While Visiting My Parents in Arizona” and “How I Failed as a New Father,” Benjamin’s memoir will provide a healthy dose of schadenfreude for anyone who habitually falls short with their nearest and dearest. If you doubt us, just read the aforementioned “New Father” chapter, in which Benjamin confesses to going out to dinner solo on the day that his son was born (and having duck…) while his wife recuperated in the hospital.
'Calypso,' by David Sedaris
If you like your family tales served with a side of wry, look no further than essayist/humorist David Sedaris’ latest collection, “Calypso.” Sedaris takes on the darker side of familial life here as he grapples with the suicide of his sister, Tiffany. But there is levity, as well. Sedaris is particularly hilarious talking about the horrors of having houseguests (in this case, his three sisters) for long periods of time; family, permeates much of the book. From his sister’s sleepwalking – and sleep-eating – to soliloquies on aging and the impending loss of the people you love, anybody with a sibling (or five, like Sedaris) will relate.
'There There,' by Tommy Orange
Tommy Orange’s breakout debut novel focuses on a collection of modern Native Americans in Oakland, California. The tension between tradition and assimilation are handled in different ways by the many characters who traverse the novel and ultimately meet. Many are related (hence the family connection), and you can tell from the way the book is written that the author must have really known these people – or a version of them. In fact, he did; Tommy Orange is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, and grew up in Oakland, California. The book is dense, but worth it. Prepare to pay attention, keep track of characters and learn something you don’t – but really should – know about the Native Americans today. Readers will recognize things they have heard (such as alcoholism among Native Americans, for example), but this book will bring texture to those generalities, and, for many, to a world about they know very little.
'The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home,' by Denise Kiernan
If you liked “Queen of Versailles” (and if you didn’t, what’s wrong with you?) you will devour “The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home.” It’s the story of how uber-rich railroad heir George Vanderbilt came to build the largest home in America — the Biltmore Estate in South Carolina — and how his wife, Edith, preserved and modernized it after his death. Built in 1895 (and spanning 10 square miles), the Biltmore Estate was the embodiment of Gilded Age extravagance. More than a home, Biltmore Estate shaped the community around it in positive and progressive ways – and ultimately became a tourist draw. The scholarly George Vanderbilt invited many literary heavies of his time to pass through, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. Just one caveat: This isn’t exactly a beach read. The extremely detailed narrative is best enjoyed with a strong cup of coffee, not a piña colada.