Off the Shelf: River Reads

Marius DeMartino ’25 recommends four books perfect for a trip down to the Ledyard docks.

by Marius DeMartino | 7/7/23 2:10am

by Shena Han / The Dartmouth

I haven’t missed a daily dip all summer; it’s become the perfect tradition. With the sweltering heat and a room that is barely air conditioned, I’ve found it necessary to cool off with a nice plunge into the Connecticut River. 

But the trek all the way down West Wheelock Street makes a dip by itself not worthwhile. It’s more enjoyable to make dipping an entire afternoon affair, best accompanied by a pair of sunglasses, some fresh fruit and a good book to read. 

So here are four books perfect for an afternoon lounging by the river or on the Green, curated to draw out those perfect sun-soaked moments of summer, on the page and in real life.  

1. “Happy Hour” by Marlowe Granados

Have you been bouncing around from party to party the past week, trying to make the most of sophomore summer? Is your bank account dwindling, like mine, buckling under the weight of all the Domino’s and Snackpass you’ve been ordering? Now imagine that instead of living out this oppressively humid summer in New Hampshire, you’re walking along the streets of Manhattan by day and hitting its clubs by night. This is the wild ride you’ll find in Marlowe Granados’s “Happy Hour,” a novel detailing the chaotic, pleasure-seeking summer of two roommates living paycheck to paycheck in the Big Apple.

The novel reads like a diary as the analytical protagonist Isa narrates her summer, jumping around from the city to the Hamptons in a glittering circle of New York’s upper echelon. But Isa’s cutting wit grounds the novel and transforms it into something surprisingly philosophical. “Happy Hour” is simultaneously a glee-filled pursuit of pleasure and a slower reconsideration of grief and one’s purpose in life. It’s the perfect novel to encapsulate the joys of summer, while encouraging us to slow down and grasp them while we still can. 

2. “South and West” by Joan Didion 

Seeking out the summer’s best reads, I tried to find those perfect novels that maintained purpose while still remaining light enough for a day on the water. But I felt it was also important to consider my actual river read — the one I’ve been lugging up and down West Wheelock Street this past week. 

Being from Orlando, I can’t really consider myself a resident of the “South.” But with an interest in the region, I was excited to pick up “South and West” by Joan Didion. The novel is less of a book and more like a collection of Didion’s writing snippets as she road-tripped through the heart of the South. It’s written almost like a journal as Didion travels from city to city, talking to locals and diving into the South’s cultural zeitgeist. 

Even though Didion traveled in the 1970s, her observations are startlingly piercing and accurate even 50 years later. While not exactly a light “river read,” “South and West” is a look into a region that is often neglected but nonetheless pivotal in American identity. 

3. “People We Meet on Vacation” by Emily Henry

I’ve often found myself afflicted with the travel bug here in Hanover — yearning for a weekend trip to New York or Boston, or planning some extravagant vacation that I’ll never actually go on. If you’re in the same boat, “People We Meet on Vacation” by Emily Henry is the ideal breezy summer read.

Henry’s two protagonists, Poppy and Alex, are best friends who are — in true cheesy, rom-com fashion — total opposites. The basic premise is this: after becoming friends in college, the pair start a tradition of going on one amazing vacation a year. 

I enjoyed the way the narrative was set up. While readers learn about the present, with Poppy and Alex reluctantly reuniting, the past vacations are also revealed year by year, building up to the conflict that drove them apart. 

Sure, it’s not exactly highbrow — but Henry’s novel was a little slice of vacation, wrapped up perfectly with an engaging friends-to-enemies-to-lovers narrative. 

4. “Bliss Montage” by Ling Ma 

I have a confession. I did what no reader is supposed to do when I picked up Ling Ma’s “Bliss Montage” — I judged the book by its beautiful, orange-laden cover. I guess this isn’t entirely true as, having read Ma’s first book, “Severance,” I knew I was in for a treat regardless. 

“Bliss Montage” is a collection of bite-sized, short stories that nonetheless punch well above their weight. Each of Ma’s stories plays with magical realism in a way that just barely changes the characteristics of our real world. 

The first two stories, “Los Angeles” and “Oranges,” deal with the same protagonist — an unnamed mother and wife who grapples with a past abusive relationship. But the way these two stories explore it is entirely different. “Los Angeles” is a fantastical account of the main character, who lives in a house with her money-driven husband and her 100 ex-boyfriends. “Oranges,” however, is more grounded in reality, telling the same narrative in a more realist fashion. 

Ma’s stories don’t regularly conclude in a satisfying way, but that is what makes them so alluring to consume. These odd vignettes toe the line of realism and fantasy, leaving readers to grapple everyday issues in a new light.