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Tayari Jones’ Favorite Summer Reads

WRITER OF AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE LIKES STORIES WITH ‘TEETH’

Although An American Marriage is Tayari Jones’ fourth book, the author wasn’t prepared for its reception. The story, in which the relationship of the protagonists, Roy and Celestial, is torn apart by a wrongful conviction and incarceration, is certainly dramatic. And the book, which came out earlier this year, was described in The New York Times as “beautifully written,” full of “the everyday poetry of the African-American community that begs to be heard.” Then came Oprah Winfrey’s selection of An American Marriage for her book club.

“I would have anticipated that it would be all jumping up and down, but it’s a significant responsibility,” Jones tells Reside. "It is an honor, but I’m aware that I’m not just representing myself.”

Jones, 47, said the reception to An American Marriage is taking place on a much larger and deeper scale than her previous novels, which she sees as an indication that the events of the story are resonating in a deeply personal way with many readers.

“I hope this provides comfort and engages people for whom this experience I’m writing about is significant,” Jones says, “and awakening others to have empathy.”

As a reader, Jones says, with the warm weather approaching, she seeks out books that are a bit breezy, but still “have some teeth in them.” Below, her recommendations for summer reads:

DOWN CITY: A DAUGHTER’S STORY OF LOVE, MEMORY, AND MURDER, BY LEAH CARROLL

Of this memoir of growing up in Rhode Island, in a family entangled with the mob, Jones says, “I wanted to eat it! I was going on an Oprah cruise and was mad at myself for having read the whole book on the plane. I’m a Southerner, so [Rhode Island] felt like such an exotic place. This will blow your mind—I couldn’t put it down.”
Down City: A Daughter's Story of Love, Memory and Murder
Circe

CIRCE, BY MADELINE MILLER

“It’s a re-envisioning of the goddess Circe, who detains Odysseus on his way back home. I was impressed by how contemporary it was, despite being set in 400 B.C. It turns out that goddesses have work-life balance issues like the rest of us. I devoured it—I am not a goddess, but me and Circe have a lot of the same problems. That’s what made the writing such a miracle. Then there are cameos: Daedalus rows through at one point, and I thought, ‘You’ve gotta be careful with those wings!’ I read it in a day and a half.”

BIG MACHINE, BY VICTOR LAVALLE

“I read this book every summer. I first read it when I was in Paris. I stayed in the cafe, reading and drinking Champagne — it was my travel friend. It’s about a young man working in a Greyhound station, cleaning, who gets a mysterious note that says, ‘I know what you did, and now you have to pay for it.’ He goes on an adventure and ends up living in a compound with people paying off sins they committed, a federation of people seeking truths that everyday people don’t believe are possible. Reading it, I felt like I was a kid reading A Wrinkle in Time, believing I could have an encounter with magic. It’s weird and quirky; I’m very interested in African-American writers working in avant-garde genres. I just loved it. Every time I run into the author, I tell him, ‘Big Machine, that’s my jam!’ ”
Big Machine

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