Book Club: my summer beach reads, minus the beach 

In the blink of an eye – or rather, the turn of a page – summer break has come and gone, leading Lawrentians to be back in class, with the slow, onsetting symptoms of the “Lawrence Busy” appearing already. However, before I can completely embrace the autumnal spirit with horror titles and dark academia recommendations galore, I want to share a title or two that absolutely entranced me over the summer. 

“Elektra” by Jennifer Saint. Photo from Amazon.

One of the main titles that grabbed my attention during summer break was “Elektra” by Jennifer Saint. She also wrote “Ariadne,” which I read last fall, and is currently working on “Atalanta” – all of which are Greek mythology retellings. For those who are new to the column, I welcome you, and I feel that I should mention that a lot of my go-to recommendations are some sort of retelling, typically a mythological one. I promise I read other genres as well, though, so bear with me! “Elektra” retells the classic story of the Trojan War, as most retellings seem to. In this one, we get a closer look at some characters who normally don’t get as much time in the spotlight, such as Cassandra, the prophet doomed to be unbelievable, and Clytemnestra, the sister of the irresistible Helen of Troy. And, of course, we get to see the world through the titular Elektra’s eyes – the youngest daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, who is leading the charge against the Trojans.  

When these retellings get published and mention that they feature “underrepresented voices,” it often means that it’s from the point of view of Clytemnestra, Helen and/or the women in Troy watching their city burn. While I love the retellings and devour them in a single sitting, it often gets a tad repetitive after a while. I appreciate how authors like Saint try to incorporate new characters that genuinely don’t get discussed in most versions, such as Ariadne, the princess who helped Theseus defeat the Minotaur, and Elektra, the young daughter devoted to her power-hungry father. Though the myths may not be new, the perspectives are, which allows fresh aspects of the story to come to light. And while it was refreshing to get a new viewpoint of the war that’s over a sea away from the action, I also appreciated how Saint was able to introduce the myth of the Trojan War in a way that didn’t require readers to have prior knowledge going in.  

“The Chosen and the Beautiful” by Nghi Vo. Photo from Amazon.

In a similar vein, my other summer read I want to mention is a retelling of a classic, though it goes above and beyond to bring fresh and unique ideas to the story. “The Chosen and the Beautiful” by Nghi Vo reimagines the events of “The Great Gatsby” through the eyes of a proudly Queer and Asian Jordan Baker, who you may remember as Nick’s love interest in the original story. Besides the new perspective, this retelling offers a magical Jazz age, deals with genuine devils and still has the same old messy love story that somehow manages to be even messier than the classic. And, for those who read “The Great Gatsby” in high school and theorized that sparks were flying between Nick and Gatsby – let’s just say I think you’ll be pleased with the artistic choices Vo makes in this retelling. While the bones of the original story are there, as well as the same 1920’s allure and glamour, Vo manages to make this tale entirely her own. Jordan offers a unique, carefree perspective of our main characters; she is queer as well as an immigrant with an incredibly high social status, which allows her to both experience and escape racism every day. While the pacing was a little slow going at times, I became absolutely enthralled in the story in all its glamour. Though, if you didn’t like “The Great Gatsby” back in the day, you may want to stay away from this one – the overall atmosphere of both novels is roughly the same. 

Though I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to over break, and the “Lawrence Busy” is starting to set in, I hope to still bring a ton of new recommendations and bookish news your way this term. But, for now, I wish you all happy reading!