Swann Summer Reading List 2021

As we step into midsummer, the team here at Swann is relaxing into the brief quiet period when our auctions taper out for the hot season, and we pick up books before the pace of sales kick off at rapid speed in the fall. Please enjoy our staff picks for summer reading, in our fifth installment of the annual list. (See our lists from 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020!)

Mistress Branican by Jules Verne

Nicholas D. Lowry, President & Principal Auctioneer

My summer reading began in a totally unexpected way—by my picking up a copy of Jules Verne’s Mistress Branican. Never heard of it? Me neither. But it turns out in addition to the stories for which he’s most well known, Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Verne also wrote 54 other novels under the rubric of Voyages Extraordinaires—largely published in serialized format. This story reads like an old fashioned B serial movie. I believe a lot has been lost in the translation but I am finding this easy read to be a form of nostalgic literature and perfect summer escapism. 

An Onion in My Pocket: My Life with Vegetables by Deborah Madison

Christine von der Linn, Director of Illustration Art

Like most people, this year kicked the stuffing out of me. I normally love a dense, non-fiction brick-sized book to chew through, but right now my brain needs some levity. Cooking memoirs always hit that sweet spot for me, so I can’t wait to pick up An Onion in My Pocket: My Life with Vegetables by one of my favorite chefs, Deborah Madison. After that, I have already turned to coworker Deborah Rogal, who immediately supplied me with a foot-long list of reads. Deb is quite possibly the most voracious reader I know; with two little kids, a spouse, a house, and a full-time job as our director of photographs, I have NO IDEA how she does this, but she awes and inspires me. Thanks, Deb!

Three Pines mystery series by Louise Penny

Deborah Rogal, Director of Photographs & Photobooks

My favorite, most comforting books of 2021 have been the Louise Penny Three Pines mystery series. The books follow Chief Inspector Armand Gamache as he solves murders, mostly in the fictitious Quebec town Three Pines (for a small town there are…a lot of murders). The inhabitants of the village—a poet, artists, a psychologist turned bookstore owner, a couple who own a cafe—are lovably compelling, complex, and quirky. Penny takes the time to develop their arcs over the many novels in the series. Penny also addresses serious issues (the politics of the police force, theft of Native land, the relationship between English and French speakers in Quebec, not to mention jealousy, rage, and revenge, and writes incredibly funny, heartbreaking, and beautiful scenes. I am listening to them on audio, and the narrator, Ralph Cosham, is also a key element to this cozy experience—his voice is magnificently rich and soothing.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino

Devon Eastland, Senior Specialist of Early Printed Books

I’m looking forward to reading Quentin Tarantino’s new pulp novel, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I loved the movie and am hopeful that this will be a perfect summer read. When I was a juvenile V.C. Andrews was my number one guilty pleasure, and this promises to be similarly racy. My mother had no idea what was in those books, and didn’t care, as long as I was reading, thanks grocery store book section! I’m picking up my copy at my neighborhood independent book store this weekend, thanks Books are Magic!

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Nigel Freeman, Director of African American Art

I’m reading Barack Obama’s A Promised Land. I’m looking forward to reading this first volume of his presidential memoirs. It seems like a good time to reflect on the President’s legacy, the lessons we have learned, and where we have to go from here.

The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart

Corey Serrant, Administrator of African American Art

Overdue personal reading since its 2018 release, and in alignment with my professional awareness, I recently completed The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke. Written by scholar Jeffrey C. Stewart, he gave birth to a masterfully penned in-depth biography of the master architect of the Harlem Renaissance. Stewart immaculately details and analyzes Locke’s life from his upbringing as a Black Victorian in Philadelphia, his exceptional education, his time as an expatriate in pre-WWI Europe, and as a patron to many luminaries of the Renaissance. Two continuing themes that Stewart builds upon throughout the book are Locke’s strategy that art should be a form of catharsis for African Americans and the influence his sexuality plays on his spirit.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell & The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

Andrew Ansorge, Vice President & Controller

Two very different recommendations: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is beautifully written fiction that puts you in the heart and soul of late sixteenth-century England. It is a study of marriage and loss but goes far beyond that in the author’s ability to bring characters to life. Wonderful read.

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson is near-future science fiction about the impact of climate change. Starting out with a dystopian tragedy in India, the book shows a path forward. It is a troubling, yet ultimately hopeful, look at of our looming future.

The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey

Jessica Hunter, Specialist of Photographs & Photobooks

Mystery and historical fiction novels are two of my favorite genres, and I’m currently devouring Sujata Massey’s newest installment in her Perveen Mistry Investigates series, The Bombay Prince, which combines the two perfectly. Set in 1920s India, Perveen Mistry is an intelligent, compelling, and strong lead character. As Bombay’s first woman lawyer, Perveen is dedicated to attaining justice for others, and this proves no different when a young Parsi woman suspiciously dies amidst the arrival of Edward VIII’s tour of India, which sparks protests to British colonial rule. A fantastic continuation of the Perveen Mistry series by Sujata Massey.

All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson

Marilyn Boatwright, Photography Assistant

I read All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson in the winter and was immediately swept away by Johnson’s ability to illustrate the feelings from his adolescence through young adulthood and the essential thread of hope and aspiration that this story leaves you with once you’re finished. All Boys Aren’t Blue not only brings personal memoir to literary themes like coming of age and the search for community but, also walks us through complications within family and how to grow in an environment that is still learning how to love every part of you. Johnson’s memoir highlights the effects of racism and homophobia on Black queer youth and the ways he copes and hopes to participate in developing a brighter and stronger future for these marginalized groups.

The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood

Lauren Goldberg, Specialist of Vintage Posters

I’m currently reading The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood—a fictional telling of the true story of the famous Canadian Dionne quintuplets, supposedly the first set of five identical siblings born alive, in 1934. From the imagined perspective of a young woman who works for the family, the book covers the clashes between the family, the government and the doctors for custody and the rights to publicize and display the babies to throngs of visitors. I’m also reading Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate…I’m on a 1930s historical fiction kick!

Antkind by Charlie Kaufman

Marco Tomaschett, Specialist of Autographs

A specialist in autographs is continually occupied with concern for authenticity, and although I enjoy the process of sleuthing the real deal from the imposters at work, my recent escapist reading also includes questions of authenticity and identity as central themes. Charlie Kaufman, whose name you might recognize as the screenwriter for wacky and ponderous films like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, released his first novel, Antkind, in 2020, and it’s just as wacky and ponderous as his films. The hero of this book is a film critic turned film maker who not only struggles with the identity politics that permeate his academic circle, but with his own identity, and to such an extent that he begins to question his sanity—taking the reader along with him. The first-person narrative jerks forward and backward in time, all the while playing with the identity of the narrator, but the result is more the head-spinning joy after a roller coaster ride than the numbing confusion you might expect from a post-modern novel. Pictured is my signed copy.

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Wren Krisztin, Digital Media Manager

Prophetic speculative fiction written in the 1990s by Octavia Butler, who observed what was happening on the geopolitical scene and decided to take the then-current events and see them through to their logical conclusions: water more expensive and sought-after than gas by the gallon, gated and armed communities, company towns that admit new citizens by way of wage-slave contracts. Painfully, urgently real, the book begins in 2024 and is told through the personal diary entries of a teenager named Lauren Olamina, who pushes her community to go beyond their rituals of comfort with the kind of adaptability and flexibility that is necessary to survive. In doing so, Lauren creates her own theology called Earthseed, based on the principle that “God is change.” There’s also a podcast called Octavia’s Parables, hosted by adrienne maree brown and Toshi Reagon, which peers with Butler behind the curtain of our possible imminent futures, chapter by chapter. There is a sequel, called Parable of the Talents, and the unfinished Parable of the Trickster.

Support independent booksellers!

Of course, we encourage you to support a locally owned and operated bookstore near you. Here’s a list of indie stores in New York, compiled by the Gothamist, and a list for Black-owned bookstores nationwide, compiled by Literary Hub. If you are seeking book-themed viewing material, we might recommend the documentary on the New York rare and antiquarian book trade, The Booksellers.

Related Reading: What Swann is Watching from Home