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Summer Reading: Virginia Festival of the Book

The Virginia Festival of the Book and Assistant Director Sarah Lawson launched the Shelf Life series of virtual author events in April in response to the need to escape the confines of pandemic life. VaBook has hosted discussions every Tuesday and Thursday since then, featuring graphic novels, romance fiction, true crime, historical nonfiction, literary fiction, poetry, books for young readers, and even cookbooks. 

Ms. Lawson shares descriptions of some of the books discussed at this summer’s events. We invite you to share your summer reading list!

Summer Reading: Virginia Festival of the Book

Amidst a pandemic and overwhelming societal instability, we turn to books for self-education, to make meaning of difficult times, to build empathy, and, let’s be honest, to indulge in the time-honored tradition of summer escapism.

Exploring the lives and stories of others feels especially indulgent at a time when most of us continue to spend abnormal amounts of time at home, distancing ourselves in the hopes of protecting one another. Reading about something as familiar as a large party feels exotic these days, and the thought of attending such an event in real life feels, well, extreme. So, too, the now out-of-reach and romantic idea of squeezing into a crowded bookshop to hear an author read from and discuss their work.

Luckily, authors are adaptable people, by and large, and I know I’m not alone in filling my calendar with countless virtual book events, day and night. Like the books we read, these virtual events with authors serve many purposes, feature a variety of topics and genres, and let us escape the small confines of our own lives for a bit.

This summer, I invite you to explore the world from your own home with us each week, as award-winning authors discuss their books for readers across the country and around the globe. Here are just a few recommended titles from recent and upcoming Shelf Life events:

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. Winter Counts is a tour-de-force of crime fiction, a bracingly honest look at a long-ignored part of American life, and a twisting, turning story that’s as deeply rendered as it is thrilling. “Winter Counts is both a propulsive crime novel and a wonderfully informative book.”—Louise Erdrich

In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow. Spanning decades in a rural North Carolina town where a canal acts as the color line, In West Mills is a magnificent, big-hearted small-town story about family, friendship, storytelling, and the redemptive power of love. “Winslow’s impressive debut novel introduces readers to both a flawed, fascinating character in fiction and a wonderful new voice in literature.”—Real Simple

Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest. A YA novel about searching for answers, love, and your eccentric grandma in all the wrong places. “[A] swoonworthy ending straight out of the movies.”―Kirkus Reviews

Travelers by Helon Habila. A startlingly imaginative exploration of the African diaspora in Europe, by one of our most acclaimed international writers. Award-winning author Helon Habila has been described as “a courageous tale teller with an uncompromising vision…a major talent” (Rawi Hage). His new novel, Travelers, is a life-changing encounter with those who have been uprooted by war or aspiration, fear, or hope.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander. Winner of the 2020 Caldecott Medal, a 2020 Newbery Honor Book, and winner of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. “[T]his magnificent anthem to the courage and genius of black Americans has been turned into a picture book with stunning portraits by Nelson… communicating clearly that when black lives matter, America is stronger.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas!: Latinx Fiction for Puerto Rico edited by Angel Luis Colón; Both Sides: Border Stories edited by Gabino Iglesias; and Lockdown: Stories of Crime, Terror, and Hope During a Pandemic by Nick Kolakowski and Steve Weddle. These three crime anthologies, and their 45 stories, offer crime readers an open door to discovering new voices, varied perspectives, and fascinating characters to love (or perhaps, to fear).


There’s Something About Sam (picture book) and Monster & Boy (first in a new chapter book series) by Hannah Barnaby. “A boy discovers that monsters are real―and that one lives under his bed… Humor ensues… No need to be afraid of monsters after reading this sweet and unusual friendship story.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review, on Monster & Boy


Note: If your local bookseller doesn’t offer online sales or is overwhelmed by orders from others who are reading more than expected this summer, try shopping for your next book through Bookshop. You can find all of the titles suggested above in the Virginia Festival of the Book shop, and every purchase made through Bookshop supports local bookstores!