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On Summer Reads with Substance

Summer is the season for swimming, eating ice cream, and spending hours outside with a good book. But there is a particular kind of book that, I find, readers are looking for in the summer months. It should be easy to read, but not vapid; light, but not mindless. You want to take it to the beach/lake/river to relax, but it should give you something to talk about over the barbecue/picnic table later. The wonderful thing about books is there's a nearly endless number of options that fit this description. The wonderful thing about booksellers is we can help narrow down that list. Here are three vastly different books that, I think, all manage to hit the sweet spot of "intellectual beach read."

Nothing to See Here is about a woman whose estranged best friend offers up a summer job nannying her stepchildren, two twins. Their mom just died and their father, who has all but disowned them, is vying for Secretary of State, so he needs the kids kept out of the spotlight. There's just one problem: the twins have a tendency to spontaneously combust. The premise alone usually sells it, but I'll add that Nothing to See Here deals with emotions and trauma in a very interesting way while maintaining a bizarre humor throughout. Add to that a very satisfying, unexpected ending, and you've got a perfect companion for a day of relaxing in the sun.

The View Was Exhausting feels, at first, like the equivalent of bringing a copy of Us Weekly to the beach; set in a variety of exotic locales, it focuses on the on-again, off-again relationship between film star Whitman ("Win") Tagore and playboy Leo Milanowski. Except the whole relationship is a farce, a PR ploy whipped out anytime Win needs help maintaining her public persona—which, as a woman of color working in Hollywood and walking a tightrope of contradicting expectations, is often. Come for the romance that's as stable as a pyramid of champagne glasses, stay for the incisive commentary on race, privilege, and celebrity.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built takes place in a world where robots have gained sentience and abandoned humans for the woods. Two hundred years later, the present is a softer, more supportive version of our world, but one in which Sibling Dex, our main character, feels unfulfilled. So they take to the woods and encounter a robot, Splendid Mosscap, who is attempting to answer the question, "What do humans need?" What follows is a philosophical journey, a questioning of values. To me, this book is a fictional companion to How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, both encourage the reader to pause and consider why we do what we do. It's a book that feels like a warm hug, an encouragement to just be; I can think of no better way to spend a few hours of your vacation.

- Emma N.

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