June 2023 Leisure Learning: Summer Reading, All Grown Up

by Missa Haas
published in Reading

Word nerds, please grab a mimosa and join me as I raise a glass to that 
super special time of year: 
(to be read with your best Oprah impression)

Like ghost stories in October, summer reading carries with it the indulgence of being simply delightful. It’s a time to break free of books related only to WIPs (at least, temporarily—and I do know that you actually love those books related to your work in progress). It’s just that sometimes knowing we have to do something zaps the wanting to do it from our creative selves.  

Over the next few months, I encourage you to reconnect with your Inner Reader. Grab things based on the criteria of “Hey, that looks interesting…” or “Ohhhh, I’ve heard that is SO GOOD!!” (ahem, Mexican Gothic).  Pick a day or evening or afternoon when you shirk the Should Dos in favor of disappearing into a book the way you did when you were a kid. The world will be ok without you for a couple of hours and you will be investing in one of the most important aspects of being a writer: strengthening your love of reading.    

In the spirit of fun and literary adventure, here are your June 2023 Leisure Learning links:

The Atlas of Improbable Places

Book by Travis Elborough (author) and Alan Horsfield (cartographer)

The Atlas of Improbable Places is a compendium of wayyyy off-the-beaten-path locales and is worth picking up, even if you have no travel plans whatsoever. In fact, especially if you have no travel plans whatsoever. This undertaking by British author Travis Elborough and cartographer Alan Horsfield will take you on short journeys that feel like you’re being led around by younger, hipper versions of Stephen Fry and Bill Bryson. 

The Atlas could easily be compared to other “weird places” guides. However, there is a marked difference in that each of the destinations have come about through a number of implausible events. Each of the chosen locales have stories worth telling. 

Just how did the Netherlands manage to reclaim land from the sea? What South American church was left untouched when the surrounding city was wiped out by lava? Why are there fire mummies?

Find out the answers to these and more questions one might never think to ask in this atlas that promotes the affordable armchair trip.  

The Best American Nonrequired Reading

Since 1915, The Best American series has become a staple on bookshelves of both readers and writers alike. 

How the series works is that a head editor selects what he or she thinks represents the “best of” American short works published the previous year, taken from smaller literary presses. Then, a famous-name author such as Ann Patchett, Stephen King, or Junot Diaz guest edits, choosing the crème de la crème to be anthologized for a specific year, which also happens to be reflective of the guest author’s personal tastes.

Over the years, The Best American series has expanded into other categories including essays, mystery and suspense, travel, sports, food—even infographics and recipe writing. 

However, one of the most overlooked compilations that the series ever produced is The Best American Nonrequired Reading, which began in 2002 as the brainchild of Dave Eggers. Like Eggers himself, the pieces featured are witty and irreverent. 

We all know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when they’re done by Banksy or Maurice Sendak for this series, make an exception. Inside you will find pieces by Conan O’Brien, Jennifer Egan, and Viet Than Nguyen, among many others whose names will surely come to thrill us on a larger scale.

Any edition that you pick up will make you feel like you’re spending the night getting a drink with that good friend from college.  


When was the last time you headed to the humor section of your local library or bookstore? If you’re like most adults, the answer usually hangs somewhere in between years and decades. Summer reading is the perfect excuse opportunity to nurture the humor we all have within us. 

Go on and grab that cartoonish-looking book filled with silly diagrams. Or maybe the one with the editorial bunny on it. The important part of this is to emotionally reconnect with the written word. Humor has a way of doing it like no other genre. These sit-down comedians of the world offer a great chance to bowl you over with laughter or tease out those gentle, inner smiles.    

Specifically, since we are all word nerds, I urge you to at least peruse both Revenge of the Librarians as well as Dreyer’s English. Revenge of the Librarians is a laugh out loud (or quietly to yourself, depending on location) anthology of book related cartoons, while Dreyer’s English is a witty up-to-date guide to grammar, written by chief editor at Random House, Benjamin Dreyer.    

You can’t go wrong with either. 


Postcards make the perfect blank space to practice writing flash fiction. Get inspired by Paul  Beckman’s Postcard Stories that have appeared in a number of literary magazines or redefine the entire concept of postcard by putting your spin on what can be said in the fewest of words. 

If you want to take it to a whole new level, perhaps you might be inspired by artist Carol Lee’s Postcard Project, where she has created thousands of postcards in her minimal, supple style and invites visitors to her exhibitions to take one and send it on a journey. 

These postcards have lives of their own, sometimes coming back to her and sometimes rewarding her with new pen pals.  

Once Upon a Time

G.K. Chesteron once said, “Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

However, sometimes once we grow up, we need a reminder of how to actually go about that in the modern world. In My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, founding editor of the Fairy Tale Review Kate Bernheimer brings the genre to its maturity in her compilation of 40 fairy tales rewritten for adults by some of the world’s most acclaimed authors.

Enjoy the different ways John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates recreate Charles Perrault’s Bluebird. Read Kim Addonizio’s retelling of seven dwarfs living in an overpriced loft, filled with futons. Moreover, it must be mentioned that Aimee Bender’s magnificent story, The Color Master, fits like a golden glove within this all grown up anthology. 

Commentary by the different authors on the tales they haven chosen provide additional insight into the artistic process as well as provide a bit of background for these enduring stories. 

Get ready to slay office dragons and swoon over these splendid, legendary takes on favorites and familiars.  

Tell us in the comments: Which of these June 2023 Leisure Learning picks are you most excited to try?

Melissa Haas is the author and illustrator of Catula: The Misadventures of Dracula’s Cat and The Night Before Christmas (NOW WITH CATS), among others. Follow Catula’s whereabouts on Instagram @CatulaTheCat. If you’re interested in downloading free coloring pages or seeing Margaret Atwood with a blowtorch, check out more Leisure Learning related content at www.MelissaHaasCreates.com.

Enjoyed this article?