Summer Beach Reads from the Journal Team (Part 2)

Still looking for that perfect beach book or al fresco fiction? Here’re a few more ideas from The Journal and  Catch & Release teams…

Photo by Kenny Ong
Photo by Kenny Ong

Erin Pesut

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

I am a dancer and I love books that are about ballet, so this is a combination of my two favorite things. I first saw it on an indie book newsletter and immediately went to to place a hold. When it arrived a week later, it was brand spankin’ new and I think I was the first person to crack the spine. In New York, that’s big. I felt like a celebrity. It’s already been devoured and returned, but it is beautifully written and I keep gravitating to it on the New Fiction tables in all of the bookstores and re-reading the first few pages.

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

This was a title I wrote down in my margins during my workshop this semester. My teacher Bharati Mukherjee suggested it. It’s a combination of poetry and prose. I’m excited to read it because I am a big fan of work that plays between genre lines.

The Color Master by Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender is one of my heroes. I love her stories about girls with rock backpacks and novels about girls who eat soap and suck on nails or who eat cake and who can taste feelings. There’s something visceral about her writing and I’m trying to understand how she does it.

Erin Pesut and is on the fiction board for the next issue of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art

Abbigail Nguyen Rosewood

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

Earlier this summer I read The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton while on a plane to Italy. Weaving in stories about literary authors, artists, and philosophers, Botton tells of his own travel experience. He analyses the appeal of travel, its fulfillment as well as disappointments. This isn’t a book that lures the readers with exotic descriptions of scenic views, foreign cuisines, and religious enlightenment: the few things that tend to proliferate travel writing. It confronts the traveller with issues that he forgets while perusing catalogue pages of photos designed to inspire him to pack his bags. While looking at palm trees and beaches with smooth, white sand, we often forget that traveling isn’t just intellectual, it’s also physical. As our mind is stimulated, excited, aroused by the unknown, we forget that we also carry with us an inconvenient body which might react badly to the exhaustion of moving from place to place, of eating strange delicacies our body isn’t accustomed to, of surprisingly missing home—a place we long to get away from. I read this book because I needed a reality check before heading to a country whose name I associate with only the finer beauties in life. When others heard that I was going to Italy, they were excited for me, perhaps more so than if I had told them I was going elsewhere in Europe. I needed to remind myself that being in Italy will be wonderful but perhaps melancholic at those times when I yearn for more familiar things. Botton did that for me. I have been exactly two weeks here and finally feel more settled. Aside from paying a euro to use the public bathroom at Roma termini, I have yet to be disappointed by Italy.

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

This is what I’m reading currently. By chance, I took this book with me to Rome without realizing the author is Italian and the story is also set in Italy. Fortuity, coincidence, whatever you call it, but I tend to see meaning in every gesture of life. It’s a captivating story about a wife in the grieving process of being abandoned by her husband. He left her for a young thing of twenty (perhaps every wife’s nightmare). It’s a relationship story and not too surprising, but the voice is gripping and I cannot wait to sit down with it and a cup of cappuccino soon as I am done writing this out…

Abbi Nguyen Rosewood is a second-year fiction student at Columbia University and on the fiction board for Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art. She doesn’t mean to rub it in all our faces that she’s in Italy right now, but she is.

Elisa Fernández-Arias

I’ll be reading many books this summer, including The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories to buff up my short story-writing skills (stories by David Bradley, Louise Erdrich, and Tessa Hadley). Fellow Columbia alumnus David Gordon’s new novel, Mystery Girl, is also on the list, to buff up my murder mystery-writing skills. And probably a lot of weird stuff published in South America and Europe (you know, to keep things fresh). I am looking forward to diving into them them by the poolside, as I’m an admitted chlorine-and-water aficionado.

Elisa Fernández-Arias’s work has appeared in Bellevue Literary ReviewThe Portland Review flash fiction feature, New Delta ReviewCream City Review, and Berkeley Fiction Review, among other journals. She has worked with magazines and journals including The New YorkerApogee, and, now, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art.

Check out more summer reads here.


Photo by E.B. Bartels
Photo by E.B. Bartels

Featured photographs by Kenny Ong (, E.B. Bartels (, and Patrick Errington.

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