On Book: 5 Reads for June

A basketball superstar, a Seattle Civic Poet, a romance novelist, a foodie editor, and a dame. Here are five recent releases poised to start your summer reading off right.  



Coming Home
Brittney Griner & Michelle Burford  

When you’ve got nothing but time, you talk. And when you talk in prison, you hear frightening stories.

Brittney Griner’s journey is harrowing. A towering superstar of women’s basketball, whisked away to a notorious Russian prison system. Then war broke out. When would she return?

In an incredible story, Coming Home tells her experiences behind bars, making friends in unlikely places, leaning into the strength of an amazing spouse, and somehow keeping hope alive. Emerging from the unimaginable physical and mental toll of a Russian labor camp, what awaits is the very different physical and mental toll of elite-level basketball and a struggle to reacclimate to life as she knew it.

Come away feeling grateful for Griner’s safety and resolve, your comfy pillow, and both of your freedom.

Release date: 5/7/2024, from Penguin Random House (Knopf); 320 pages. Book info here



Side Notes From the Archivist
Appears locally in June (see below)  

the lululemon ladies sunglass’d down in unison

This book is a “classic” in that, unlike the others, it’s a whopping one year old. It’s also a book I can’t stop thinking about. The one I hand out as a gift. The one that, a year later, still feels like a gift when I reopen it myself.

It’s a fitting sentiment. In the role of the Archivist, Anastacia-Reneé is writing stories for the ages.

The author is an acclaimed poet — holding the title of Seattle’s Civic Poet (2017-19), among others — and Side Notes is labeled simply as “Poems.” But that’s unlikely to tell you much about the daggers that lie within the pages that follow. Side Notes uses crisp, efficient prose that does a bit of show and tell, but mostly it evokes a feel. It holds observations, memories, evocations, incantations, that unfold in a natural rhythm.

Encyclopedic in breadth, the Archivist looks back but doesn’t tell; she calls on your sense of place to remember. It’s a sneaky empathy. And then, once you’ve placed yourself in the picture, it injects something new.

there we all were
with cheerios
in hand, headed
to get milk

& all you eye spy’d
with your little eyes
pictures of
girls gone

Author appearances: Anastacia-Reneé will read in Seattle on 6/3 at Jack Straw Cultural Center on Roosevelt (Alumni Poetry Series) and 6/5 at Elliott Bay Book Company on Capitol Hill (“Queering the Future: LGBTQ+ Authors on Octavia Butler’s Impact”); and on 6/11 in Portland at Powell’s Books. See author event page here

Release date: 3/14/2023, from HarperCollins (Amistad); 144 pages. Book info here

New release: Here in the (Middle) of Nowhere (3/12/2024, from HarperCollins (Amistad)). Book info here



Past Present Future
Rachel Lynn Solomon 
Appears locally in June (see below)  

These are the people I thought I would belong with, but when I leave, I feel just as anonymous as before. Only in multiple languages.

Rachel Lynn Solomon has a thing for writing mortal enemies and awkward pairings, a trope she happily leans into in her YA and romance novels: clashing radio hosts in The Ex Talk; author and ghostwriter in Business or Pleasure; stormy workplace drama in Weather Girl; a mortified college student stuck with her nemesis in See You Yesterday.

In this one, though, that rival drama has kind of already worked itself out. Now they just need to figure out what to do with it.

Past Present Future rejoins the leading duo from Solomon’s 2020 YA novel, Today Tonight Tomorrow, in which two overachieving high school rivals take a more-than-friendly turn. They spent all of high school picking at each other, then picked up something new right before heading off to separate colleges. Can their fledgling relationship survive the distance (and the new chapters)?

There are some things to love about Past Present Future that make for a really enjoyable read. First, both teenagers are smart and thoughtful, which means even the bro-talk among 18-year-old college freshmen is pretty witty, as is Solomon’s writing. Second, the author is from Seattle; and for this Seattleite reader who, like the characters, moved from Seattle to the Northeast sight-unseen, a great deal of their move rings true. (That said, the authenticity of her brief Hartford references leaves something to be desired, I note while reading along in my well-worn Whalers hat.) Third, this is really a book of exploration: the characters don’t have it figured out yet, and you don’t expect them to, and that’s a nice open place to find them. And finally, with their concentrations in creative writing and linguistics, you get some real gems: from Macbeth-inspired bad poetry to keen observations on language. Solomon’s latest — on a rapidly expanding shelf — has the approachability you want from a good YA novel, but treats its characters with dimension and free will.

Author appearance: Rachel Lynn Solomon will read near Seattle on 6/4 at Third Place Books (Lake Forest Park). See author event page here

Release date: 6/4/2024, from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; 384 pages. Book info here.



Real Americans
Rachel Khong 
Appears locally in June (see below)  

It would do me well to be less brave. 

An unlikely relationship, nestled familiarly into the Y2K era, sets in motion a young man’s search for his biological father.

Khong is a prolific writer for periodicals, editor of a cookbook and foodie magazine, and more. Her second novel, as much coming-of-age story as relationship misfire, delves deep into lineage and truth, delivered in short, snappy sentences and beautiful prose.

Author appearances: Rachel Khong will read in Seattle on 6/10 at Elliott Bay Book Company on Capitol Hill; and on 6/9 in Portland at Powell’s Books. See author event page here

Release date: 4/30/2024, from Penguin Random House (Knopf); 416 pages. Book info here



Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent
Judi Dench & Brendan O’Hea 

Unlike her son, she knows how to play the game. He needs to tell a few porkies, butter them up, give them what they want — show them his scars, look penitent — and then once they vote for him and hand him the reins of power he can stick it to them.

All that bloodshed is meat and drink to her.

[On Volumnia in Coriolanus]

Fallout from Dench’s ill-delivered — and seemingly ill-considered — recent criticism of theatre trigger warnings has complicated what might otherwise be an easy slam-dunk review. That deeper dive is for another day.

For now it’s summer theatre season, with its inevitable invitation to see Shakespeare in the Park. And I wonder if there is any better professor of Shakespeare than Dame Judi Dench.

Her memoir, delivered in a conversational interview style with longtime director Brendan O’Hea, is more an insider’s guidebook to Shakespeare than anything else, packed with insight on the many characters she’s played in her seven or so decades on stage. Those roles include several that’ll show up in parks shows around Seattle this summer: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Bainbridge Performing Arts and Dacha Theatre); All’s Well That Ends Well (Backyard Bard); King Lear (Island Shakespeare Festival); and Twelfth Night (GreenStage).

But her insight goes well beyond specific shows and into a way of thinking through Shakespeare’s characters, their relationships to power, expressions of aims and desires in the text, the attention to rhythm. This is someone who gets Shakespeare in a way most of us never will.

If you need some prep for the inevitable summertime wave of Shakespeare in the Park, consider this the masterclass. Bonus: it’s a really fun one.

Release date: 4/23/2024, from Macmillan (St. Martin’s Press); 400 pages. Book info here


Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.