It’s been quite a while since my last list of book recommendations, and since I can’t in good conscience claim to be a book blog without them, here we are.
Before you hit the beach, pool, campsite, or couch, consider checking out some of my favorite summertime reads.
I’ve organized these suggestions by genre. Before you jump ahead to your tried and true favorite, I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone this summer and pick something you normally wouldn’t read. You never know what you might end up liking.
Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut was an incredible author whose vast body of work would make any bookshelf better. This book in particular is my favorite and is one I’ve recommended and gifted countless times. It’s a little bit sci-fi, a little bit post-apocalyptic fiction, and a whole lot of satire.
The book follows a small, strange group of people stranded on an island in the Galápagos. After a pandemic leaves the rest of mankind sterile, they become the last surviving humans with the ability to procreate. Therefore their descendants alone are responsible for how human beings evolve (hint: life is a lot less complicated with a small brain). Told by an omniscient, ghostly narrator, this book will make you laugh and cringe at some of the more painfully accurate portrayals of our society.
I’m a Stranger Here Myself
I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is an American author—he famously wrote A Walk in the Woods–who spent a couple of decades living in the UK. This book is a collection of essays he wrote for a British paper about returning and readjusting to the U.S.
Bryson is hilariously observant as he contemplates some of the bizarre and seemingly mundane features of our culture. Though a few of the essays are a bit dated as the book was published in 2000, you can’t help but smile as Bryson artfully describes things like his nostalgia for motel room showers and the perplexing differences between American and English postal systems.
Gone with the Wind
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Okay, let’s pause. If you haven’t read this book, then it should be the first on your to-read list. If you haven’t even heard of this book, then you need to climb out from under your pop culture rock.
Topping out at about 1,000 pages (I recommend reading the book on a device for this reason), it is arguably one of the finest pieces of historical fiction ever written, as evidenced its accolades, notoriety, and sheer sales volume.
Gone with the Wind is the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a persnickety and stubborn, yet intelligent and loyal Southern Belle whose life is drastically altered by the Civil War. She alone makes the book worth reading, as you will simultaneously love and hate her, but perhaps the real main character is the American South itself before, during, and after the war.
An epic, Gone with the Wind will be captivate you with its rich writing and complex characters. Though it’s long, you will not want to stop reading it, which makes for a perfect summer reading candidate. For what it’s worth, I also love the movie. If you’re not going to read it, at least make sure you watch it.
Ella Minnow Pea
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea is charming, interesting, and very short. Like many other books on this list, I’ve recommended it time and time again.
It’s the story of a little island that bans the usage of various letters of the alphabet. The story unfolds in a series of letters between characters, forcing the author to very creatively manipulate the English language in order to have the characters comply with their new, letter-less laws. It’s witty and clever, and makes you appreciate how much you can bend the rules of grammar and syntax all while expanding your vocabulary. Note: you really have to read this one with your eyes in order to properly appreciate it. You will not get the full effect in an audio book.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
This book fittingly takes place in Florida, where real life can be stranger than fiction. Like some of the other fiction on this list, it is the story of a family. In this case, it’s a family whose livelihood depends on a gator-based theme park that falls from greatness following the death of its star, the mother of the family.
An adventure builds as the main character, a 12-year-old girl, must put on a brave face in an attempt to save her home and family from spiraling out of control. This book has a little bit of everything: outlandish characters, fantastic scenery, and even a bit of mysticism.
Cold Sassy Tree
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
Apparently, something about the summertime makes me want to read stories that take place in the American South. I think it’s because I like to imagine myself sipping ice-cold tea (albeit unsweetened), in a rocking chair, and on an old wraparound porch when I read them. Mosquitoes and heat aside, doesn’t that sound lovely?
Anyway, this is another great historical fiction that chronicles life in a small, turn-of-the-century Georgia town. It’s been quite I while since I read it, but I distinctly remember falling in love with the characters as they navigated the ups and downs of life as well as the gossip that runs rampant throughout it. I smiled with their triumphs, cried with their tragedies, and didn’t want it to end.
No beach or pool vacation is complete without a little dose of romance. While I used to be embarrassed and secretive about my love of love stories, I’ve come to embrace it in recent years. Say what you will, but romance is a genre that has its own literary value.
The Royal We
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
If you, like me, are strangely obsessed with England’s royal family, then you should read The Royal We. It’s loosely based on Will and Kate’s life, to the point where some consider it to be fan fiction. I’d argue that it’s much more elegant than that. In fact, I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I started it, but I was pleasantly surprised how engaging and intelligent it was. It’s a novel you’ll want to stay up reading.
Sookie Stackhouse series
Dead Until Dark (book one) by Charlaine Harris
If you’re looking for a ridiculous-but-fun series of books, here you go. These novels track the exceedingly at-risk life of Sookie Stackhouse and her friends in Bon Temps, Louisiana. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen True Blood, the HBO series loosely based on these novels.
There are 13 main books and each is more far-fetched than the last (which says a lot seeing as how the first already starts you off with vampires). The writing takes some getting used to, meaning it’s not all that great, but I seriously could not put down these books. You’ll get a nice dose of, ahem, love scenes, and have fun tagging along with Sookie and all her Southern charm.
Into Thin Air
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
You might be justifiably wondering why would I recommend a book set in a such a cold, severe landscape as part of my summertime list. Well, chances are good you will feel a little chilled as you read this harrowing tale. Trust me when I say that reading it in the winter when you are also freezing is a rookie mistake.
Jon Krakauer’s account of his fateful Everest misadventure is famous because it is–to most of us–unimaginable. So much so that it reads more like a thriller than a true story. You’ll read this one quickly and can use it to keep you cool at the pool. Fun fact: when I mentioned this list to Papa Bear, he said, “Oh, will you add Into Thin Air, too?” Doubly recommended.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
Need another bitterly cold story to keep you cozy outside this summer? Let’s move from the Himalayas to the Antarctic. Endurance is also a survival story, but this time about Ernest Shackleton’s failed attempt to cross the Antarctic in 1914. Shackleton’s ship, after which the book is named, was trapped and eventually crushed by ice, leaving its crew stranded and scared for their lives.
Author Lansing had access to real diaries kept by crew members and was able to interview surviving members as he was writing this book, making it incredibly honest, scary, and arresting. As it is a tale of near hopelessness, it is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re able to read it, you’ll find yourself talking about it for a long time.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
If keeping cool is not your goal, check out Born to Run, which is partly about the author’s path to self-discovery and partly about the history of human beings and our innate ability to run long distances.
This book was recommended to me because I like to run. And while it did inspire me to get out and run more–I only partially subscribe to McDougall’s running philosophies–it ended up appealing to me in a much broader sense, too. Anyone who is interested in learning about new cultures, meeting quirky and nearly certifiably insane characters, or anthropology in general should check this out. You might even find yourself thirsting to be outside to test his theories.
I’m going to make this a regular, seasonal feature, so stay tuned for Mama Bear’s Fall 2016 Reading List.
In the meantime, please feel free to comment with your summer favorites!