The Best Books to Read This Summer in Wisconsin

Enjoy these four new books by authors with Wisconsin ties, all available this summer.


Shoulder Season by Christina Clancy


Lake Geneva was once home to a Playboy Club. It opened in 1968 and remained open until 1981, during which time it hosted A-list acts, such as Bob Hope, Sonny and Cher, and Tony Bennett. Milwaukee native Christina Clancy takes this odd tidbit of incongruous Wisconsin history and uses it as the backdrop for her new novel, Shoulder Season. Nineteen-year-old church girl Sherri Taylor decides to leave her East Troy home and work as a bunny at the hotel. Surrounded by a decidedly not church-friendly scene, she is initially exhilarated by the lifestyle, but soon experiences the downsides that come with hedonistic excess. The novel benefits from both the careful characterization of the not-entirely-sympathetic Sherri and a clearly well-researched dive into a strange and unique historical moment.


Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor


Brandon Taylor hit it big last year with Real Life, a novel (and soon-to-be TV show starring Kid Cudi) that follows a gay, Black student at a Midwestern college, a stand-in for Taylor’s own grad school, UW-Madison. His follow-up collection of short stories, Filthy Animals, opens with another Madison graduate student, Lionel, recovering from a suicide attempt. Lionel, who was once a math prodigy, dreads telling people he now works as a test proctor: “He could see how other people saw him the moment they heard it and how they appraised his life as it was by the metric of what it had once been.” Taylor’s stories explore the significant through the small – a dinner party with an irritating host, a babysitter dealing with a difficult child, a 24-year-old dancer with a bad knee and a hangover.



We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz


A sexual assault in a Cambodia hotel room ends with the attacker dead. Two best friends, Kristen and Emily, decide to hide the body. They leave the country traumatized, but connected by their crime. Despite opening in a foreign country, We Were Never Here is actually a very Wisconsin novel. Bartz, who is from Brookfield, sets the majority of the story in Milwaukee, Emily’s home. She writes, “Milwaukee has a dash of the backwoods and bizarre: kooky out-of-time dive bars and schmaltzy speakeasies tucked in among bone-white museums and broad, aggressively hip markets.” The story is replete with Wisco details – old fashioneds, Brady Street, custard, going up north. It sustains its thriller atmosphere with a well-drawn dynamic between co-dependent friends who alternate from deep trust to vicious suspicion.


Lost in Summerland by Barrett Swanson


Barrett Swanson’s essay, “The Soldier and the Soil,” opens with a description of Waunakee, Wisconsin: “A place where men sport Carhartt and chew Skoal, where women don teased bouffants, where the little ones play football even though everyone knows it will ruin their brains.” Swanson, a professor at UW-Whitewater, goes on to tell the story of Steve Acheson, an Iraq War veteran who runs a farm near Madison that employs other vets. What sounds like your basic feel-good heartland tale turns into a deep dive into war, purpose and activism. It’s one of many thought-provoking essays in Swanson’s new collection, Lost in Summerland, including the titular essay, which was selected for the Best American Travel Writing anthology of 2020.


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s June issue.

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Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.