Great Books

Aspen Words Authors Share Their Summer Reading Lists

The notables appearing at June's annual weeklong literary event divulge their top picks.

By Cindy Hirschfeld May 24, 2019 Published in the Summer 2019 issue of Aspen Sojourner

For a week every June, town becomes an epicenter of the written word, as book lovers of all kinds convene for Aspen Summer Words (June 16–21, 2019). Whom better to ask for reading recommendations than some of the almost 20 noted authors, editors, and literary agents slated to come for the fest? Find out what’s on their reading (and re-reading) lists in the coming months.


Laura Fraser, author, An Italian Affair 

Arturo’s Island, Elsa Morante. “The wonderful Anne Goldstein, who translated Elena Ferrante’s novels, has taken on this classic coming-of-age story by one of Italy’s leading novelists, originally published in 1957.”

Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology, Lisa Margonelli. “I’ll read the wacky, weird, brilliant Margonelli on any topic, so I guess I’ll learn about termites.”

Revolution Sunday, Wendy Guerra. “Guerra is a Cuban who was a protégé of Gabriel García Márquez. This is her first novel translated into English.”

Heather Harpham, author, Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After

The Testaments, Margaret Atwood (coming September 2019). “The Handmaid’s Tale drew a line in the middle of the 1980s by compressing into a fictional dystopia the very real threats of misogyny. And now, just when we need it most, Atwood gives us a sequel.” 

City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert. “I’m amazed by Gilbert’s ongoing magic trick of deepening her powers as a storyteller, even after her phenomenal early success with Eat, Pray, Love. I’d follow her anywhere, especially into the 1940s for a complex love story.” 

My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell. “I first read this book with my mom, taking turns reading aloud to one another when I was maybe 13 and she barely over 30. We both adored the warmth and humor Durrell brought to viewing Greece as an Englishman and people as an animal lover.” 

Samrat Upadhyay, professor of creative writing, Indiana University 

Last Stories, William Trevor. “Hands down the most influential short-story writer, even after his death. Reading him is a totally immersive experience for me.”  

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Marlon James. “The way this book has been described—fantasy, horror, historical, non-European, like being eaten by a bear—all appeal to me.” 

Flights, Olga Tokarczuk. “Lately I’ve been interested in novels that push the boundaries of the form, and this one—with its digressions and vignettes—sounds just like what I need.” 

Andrew Blauner, founder, Blauner Books Literary Agency

The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner. “The older I get, the more that Stegner resonates, and this book is personally endearing for having a literary agent as its protagonist.”

Walden, Henry David Thoreau. “I read it every summer, and it never gets old; I always get something inspiring or illuminating out of it.”

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, David Michaelis. “Michaelis is such an utter master, and I have such love for Peanuts, which is the subject of my next (and last) anthology.”

Susan Minot, author, Monkeys, Thirty Girls

Sing to It: New Stories, Amy Hempel. “Because everything she writes is sublime and funny and wise.”

Portraits in the Wild: Animal Behavior in East Africa, Cynthia Moss. “Animals are as varied as humans in their interactions and oddities, and it is both mesmerizing and a balm to read about creatures other than us."

Guestbook, Leanne Shapton. “A wonderful amalgam of ghost stories, reflections, and pictures by the quirky and philosophical artist—always delicious.”

Pilar Garcia-Brown, editorial associate, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Lot, Bryan Washington. “From everything I’ve heard, [this collection of short stories] seems crackling with aliveness and humor and truth. Also, I love books in which cities become characters in their own right.”

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong. “I read Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds over a year ago now, but it remains on my nightstand. Those poems have a gravitational pull. I’m over-the-moon excited to read his debut novel.”

The Houseguest: And Other Stories, Amparo Dávila. “The copy on this book describes Dávila as ‘a writer obsessed with obsessions.’ I’m fascinated by why people become fixated on the things they do—and the lengths they’ll travel to keep them sacred.”

Juliet the Maniac, Juliet Escoria. “I’m intrigued by anything dark and funny, and I have a soft spot for novels set in high school. Maybe it’s because they tend to explore that tenuousness between knowing oneself and not knowing oneself at all.”

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