Summer Reading List


I’ve always had an insatiable appetite for reading, but up until the third grade, I only read Japanese comic books outside of school assignments. Japanese was my first language, and I learned to read it when I was itty bitty thanks to my mom’s ardent training. She made these crazy felt animal letter books and a giant phonetic sound board — under my mother’s tutelage, learning Japanese was a lot of fun. In fact, even though I was born in the heart of L.A., I had very little command of the English language until I started kindergarten.

My parents would take me to the Kinokuniya bookstore in downtown Los Angeles at the beginning of every month, and there, waiting in shrink-wrapped glory were my beloved “Ribon” and “Margaret” comic books. They were girly publications, each about the size of a phone book (remember those?). Bursting with sweet and innocent illustrated stories of romantic love and friendships and rivalry and the occasional martial arts or bizarre alien tale, it took a good two or three hours for me to read through the entire tome. I learned a lot about Japanese culture and history and gained a skewed perspective on heterosexual relationships (females should be subservient and wear mini skirts at all times; no one was ever gay, though cross-dressers were plentiful). What made them extra special were these things called “Furoku”, which were essentially swag bags of cuteness overload. Stationery, stickers, pens, little illustrated recipe books…each month, something different came with the books. I’ll never forget the style how-to book that confidently stated that lace ankle socks should be worn with cropped jeans. I treasured the furoku and read the books over and over and over.

In the third grade, it all changed. Mr. Noble — my teacher — Β called me forth one day, which scared me to no end. I was a good student, but a quiet one, never one to raise my hand to answer questions unprompted. Whether I knew it or not, I had swallowed whole much of the Japanese comic book female stereotypes — except for the mini skirts. My mother would have killed me.


“Do you like to read?” he asked me. “Yes?” I squeaked, unable to tell him that I didn’t actually read much in English. He looked at me gently and said, “Try reading more at home, your world will open up in unimaginable ways. Books are magic.” I already knew that, of course, and I wasn’t sure why he was telling me this. I still can’t figure out why he took me aside that day to tell me specifically that, but teachers often took me aside so I’ve never questioned it. I worshipped Mr. Noble and hoped to marry someone like him one day. If he told me to go shave my head and tattoo a question mark on my scalp, I probably would have done it. Nowadays my memory of him is vague: dark hair, glasses, a rotund physique. A deep, comforting voice that made me feel like everything might turn out okay. He provided a sense of ease — a foreign concept to a child of immigrants attending the fourth school in the same number of years. He laughed a lot, and I liked that.

A few days later I went to the local library and filled out a form for a card. Back then there were no electric barcode scanners and librarians still stamped the due date on the little manila-colored, lined sheet of paper glued to the inside cover. Wooden card catalogs lined the walls and people actually used them. I remember feeling self-conscious about my book choices as the librarian stamped awayΒ (preteen horror and Sweet Valley High)Β , but once I settled into my bed at home surrounded by my new hoard of borrowed books and well-worn comics, I felt that ease and knew everything would turn out okay. And as Mr. Noble promised, my world opened up.

Books are magic, even the bad and scary ones, and decades later I still read every day. In the past couple of years I’ve stopped buying books, except on my birthday. To celebrate my birth, I stocked up on a few new sewing books and the ones above: Goldfinch, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, The Hidden Child and Wildwood ImperiumΒ (Carson Ellis is one of my favorite illustrators). Surrounded by books: my idea of paradise. Do you have any good book recommendations? I’d love to know. I’ll add it to my to-buy-list for my next birthday (or check it out of the library)!

32 thoughts on “Summer Reading List

  1. Sanae, I love your photos and sewing. But I really love reading your writing:) It is a triple treat to come over here. I am reading both the Goldfinch and Behind the Beautiful Forevers right now too. I’m hoping to finish the latter today or tomorrow while I sew. I just finished Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward and it is a must read. The writing is so beautiful and the subject matter is important, in my opinion. I think you’d like it. I also read What is the What earlier this spring – it’s an epic but well worth your time. It is one of the best books that I’ve ever read.

    1. Thank you, Brienne, I appreciate your comment so much! I remember you mentioning that you like to listen to books and I really need to give that a try. My reading time is scarcer and scarcer these days…and love those suggestions! I haven’t read any of those yet and can’t wait to add them to my list!

  2. i too love to read and love the way you can escape when reading. some books i would recommend are the guernsey literary and potatoe peel pie society by shaffer and barrows, the thirteenth tale by diane setterfield and if you like food books then the memoirs of colette rossant apricots on the nile and return to paris, although these can leave you feeling hungry, but they do have recipes which is always handy.
    i am going to go look up your books now and add them to my list. have fun reading.

    1. Oh, I loved TGLAPPS and Thirteenth Tale! I enjoy food books but haven’t read one in a while – those sound scrumptious :-). Thank you, Sarah!

  3. ooh, i read both the goldfinch and behind the beautiful forevers this year. i loved both of them! i have also recently read and loved everything by rainbow rowell (some YA books, some for adults), the sense of an ending by julian barnes, glaciers by alexis smith, swamplandia! by karen russell, the round house by louise erdrich, and, if you like mysteries, everything by gillian flynn and tana french.

    i also recently learned about the seattle public library’s recommendation system, where you ask online for specific recommendations, telling them what you love and don’t love, and a real SPL librarian sends you a list of five books picked just for you! i got some terrific recs for summer reading and the long, very personal email i got back was so sweet and touching. i love being reminded that there are humans out there willing to offer help and answer questions in this very online age. you can find that tool here:

    1. I’m a huge Tana French fan! Rainbow Rowell is new to me, but I know of the others and I’ve been wanting to read them! We have very similar taste I think, Ara Jane! And how cool is that library recommendation system? Must try!!

  4. I too love to read. I used to get through a book a week on my commute to work, but now, after having two children, I read much less than I’d like to. I have a kindle and the app but still prefer the real thing!
    I would also recommend Apricots on the Nile. Anything by Salman Rushdie (if you haven’t already done those), Isabel Allende, Philip Pullman. Happy reading!

    1. Ooh, you’ve listed some great ones! Now I definitely have to check out Apricots on the Nile and I’ve read many books by Rushdie, Allende and Pullman (long live Lyra – possibly my favorite children’s series ever!). Thanks, Rhoda!

  5. I used to devour books but haven’t read all that much since I started practicing law. I think the Hunger Games books were the last I read. I’m going to check out the Wildwod Chronicles though. Those look right up my alley!

    1. I zipped through the Hunger Games, Katie! Loved them. The Wildwood Chronicles are good, though I do think the first one was better than the second. I have high hopes for the third, and the illustrations are always stunning!

  6. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is great. I am still conflicted about the Goldfinch. I found the ending a disappointment. I read constantly–actually Ara Jane’s blog convinced me to track my fiction reading and you can see it now on my blog. But off the top of my head my recommendations would be Far from the tree (huge but good), The Snow Child, and Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.

    1. I’ve heard that about Goldfinch’s ending, but now that I’m expecting it, maybe it won’t be as disappointing? Hard to tell. I have both The Snow Child and Tiny Beautiful Things but haven’t gotten to them yet (I have a LOT of books). Far from the Tree seems intriguing! I’m going to look for it at the library! Thank you, Bonnie!

  7. I have just read The snow child and enjoyed it a lot. A very different but great read is The one hundred year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson – a very fun quirky book, I have just purchased his second book also called The girl who saved the King of Sweden. I can also recommend The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and The movement of stars by Amy Brill . I am hopeless with library books as unless it is summer holidays I never seem to get them read in the 3 week loan period, I buy a mix of kindle and the real thing but much prefer the later. I might have to treat myself – I like the look of The goldfinch.

    1. I love the titles of Jonas Jonasson! That alone would make me went to read the books πŸ™‚ The other books sound really good too, thanks for the recommendations, Lisa!

  8. Of your birthday books (what a fun tradition!), I’ve only read Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Very engaging, but also tough to read, content-wise. I’m going to have to check out the others on your list. I”m always looking for book recommendations, particularly from those who reading tastes are similar to my own. I enjoy Chris Bohjalian, Khaled Hosseini, Mary Lawson as authors. I’d also recommend The Book Thief (Markus Zusak), Wonder (R.J. Palacio), Still Alice (Lisa Genova), Room ( Emma Donoghue) and The Light Between Oceans (ML Stedman). There are others, but my reading list is at home:)

    1. Good ones, Lucinda! The Book Thief was fabulous and the books by Hosseini gutted me. I have Room, but I’ve been afraid to read it for some reason…though I hear it ‘s actually sweet and tender despite the premise. Thank you, I’ll add these to my list!

  9. I too like the idea of buying books only on your birthday, that’s a nice tradition.
    Are you on goodreads? It’s fun to see what your friends are reading and to find new books. The last book I read that I really loved was The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult). Right now I’m reading the Orphan Train and enjoying it. Happy reading!

    1. I used to be on goodreads, but it was when K was first born and I was getting zero sleep so I could barely brush my hair let alone keep track of my reading ;-). I might have to revisit. Both books sound great — I read another book by Picoult that was good, I remember. Wish I could remember the title…thanks, Robin!

  10. I must have a rather particular and skewed perspective if Japanese culture from Haruki Murakami. I’ve read all of his novels in English, but I particularly loved Wild Sheep Case and Dance Dance Dance. I read about four or five novels a week. I am a Ph.D. candidate and I suppose my life is a bit like a book club. I am not working on Murakami, but I read his books to procrastinate… from other reading!

    1. Oh, Haruki Murakami is so awesome! Always so fascinating and off-the-wall. I used to be like you, Max and just gobble up books, but these days I just sneak in a few pages before bed. You must be a super speed reader to get through so many books while working on your studies!! So impressive, Max!

    1. πŸ™‚ I love that the author (member of the band Decemberist) and illustrator are married. M and I would kill each other if we worked on a creative project like that together (he writes a and is a talented designer) — our working styles are VERY different. πŸ™‚

    1. Ha, not just any lace ankle socks, but the kind with ruffled lace cuffs, like the kind K adores πŸ™‚

  11. Oh I am loving this entry πŸ™‚ for both your writing Sanae and all the wonderful book suggestions coming out of it! My library holds queue just got a lot longer. Have you read The Lowland by Lahiri? or The Circle by Eggers? Pretty different books but I quite enjoyed them both!

    1. I’ve read Lahiri’s first two books and enjoyed them thoroughly, and Lowland is on my list. I have to add the Circle too! Thanks, Liz πŸ™‚

  12. Reading is magic. I love watching clover get absorbed into a book now. Once upon a time I was a hungry book reading monster. Now days I can barely get through the things I HAVE to read like homeschool books. Someday it will be nice to kick back and read a book without anyone screaming at me!

  13. It’ll happen before you know it, Tara! We still do story time every night with K, but lately I’ll read one chapter, then K will read several on her own, so I have no idea what the plot is by the next night. πŸ™‚

  14. i hopped over from ada spragg and stumbled on this post…i love the way you tell a story. and you’ve reminded me how much i love my books, which have become neglected, and which include a brand new unopened copy of wildwood.

    “evidence of things unseen” by marianne wiggins is one of the most beautiful things i’ve ever read. i think you’ll want to own it, tho πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you, Oona! I’ll definitely check out evidence of things unseen — I’ve only heard accolades about it!

  15. I just bought the wildwood books for my holidays! They sound wonderful! Thank you for the tips! Nowadays I usually choose sewing over reading but during my holidays I will return to my book-eating days! Cannot wait!!!

    1. Enjoy the books, Ute! I loved the first one and the second one was good; I’m looking forward to the third one and the illustrations are marvelous in all three! πŸ™‚

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