Here Are 5 Novels to Get Your Summer Reading Started

Throw one of these titles into your tote along with sunglasses, sun lotion, and a toweland head to the beach.

Eve Glasberg
June 22, 2022

A portrait of the writer Thomas Mann, a group of friends who wait out the pandemic in upstate New York, a family drama about Black motherhood in Harlem, a German mathematician who must defend his mother against accusations that she's a witch, a young woman who leaves New York City for the Georgia coast during the Depression. If one or more of these synopses sounds appealing, read on to learn more about five novels by Columbia faculty members that are perfect for relaxed summer reading by the pool, on the beach, in the park, or on your sofa. 


The Stars Are Not Yet Bells by Columbia University Professor Hannah Assadi

​​​​​The Stars Are Not Yet Bells

By Hannah Assadi

At the end of the Great Depression, Elle Ranier believes that by marrying a wealthy man, Simon, she is saving her life. Young and impressionable, she leaves New York City for the island of Lyra, off the coast of Georgia. There, Elle harbors a secret. Her so-called cousin, Gabriel, who comes to stay, is really a boyfriend from back home—and the love of her life. Fifty years later, her memory clouded by Alzheimer’s, Elle looks back at her life and tries to untangle it. This is the outline of the new novel, The Stars Are Not Yet Bells, by Hannah Assadi, an adjunct writing professor at the School of the Arts.

Read a Columbia News interview with Professor Assadi about the book.


Everyone Knows Your Mother Is A Witch by Columbia University Professor Rivka Galchen

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

By Rivka Galchen

In 1618, in the German duchy of Württemberg, plague is spreading. The Thirty Years’ War has begun, and fear and suspicion are running rampant. In the small town of Leonberg, Katharina Kepler is accused of being a witch. Katharina is an illiterate widow, known by neighbors for her herbal remedies and her successful children, including her eldest, Johannes, the Imperial Mathematician and renowned author of the laws of planetary motion. But he must now turn his attention from the celestial spheres to defending his mother. Drawing on historical documents, Professor Rivka Galchen, who teaches in the School of the Arts' writing program, elaborates on this story in her second novel, Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch.

Read a Columbia News interview with Professor Galchen about the book.

Caul Baby by Columbia University Professor Morgan Jerkins

Caul Baby

By Morgan Jerkins

Caul Baby, the debut novel set in Harlem by Morgan Jerkins, an adjunct professor in the writing program at the School of the Arts, blends generational family drama with magical realism to tell a story about Black motherhood and matriarchs, community and tradition, gentrification and ownership. Caul Baby was an amalgam inspired by Harlem and city living, said Jerkins, while also learning about the precariousness of Black motherhood in America.

Read a Columbia News interview with Professor Jerkins about the book.

Our Country Friends by Columbia University Professor Gary Shteyngart

Our Country Friends

By Gary Shteyngart

Our Country Friends, the new novel by School of the Arts Writing Professor Gary Shteyngart, is set in the rolling hills of upstate New York, where a group of friends and friends-of-friends gathers in a country house to wait out the pandemic. Over the course of six months, new friendships and romances take hold, while old betrayals emerge, forcing each character to reevaluate whom they love and what matters most. The unlikely cast of characters includes a Russian-born novelist, his Russian-born psychiatrist wife, their precocious child who is obsessed with K-pop, a struggling Indian American writer, a wildly successful Korean American app developer, a global dandy with three passports, an essayist from the American South, and a movie star, the Actor, whose arrival upsets the equilibrium of this chosen family.

Read a Columbia News interview with Professor Shteyngart about the book.

The Magician by Columbia University Professor Colm Toibin

The Magician

By Colm Tóibín

The Magician, a new novel by Colm Tóibín, the Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities, is a portrait of the writer Thomas Mann and his family, as well as the times in which he lived: Germany at the turn of the 20thcentury, the first World War, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and Mann’s exile, first to Switzerland, then France, and, eventually, America. The Magician explores the complexity of Mann’s life, from his private desires recorded in his diaries to his public persona as a successful novelist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Read a Columbia News interview with Professor Tóibín about the book.