For those of us who match our reading list to the season, the warmer temps and longer days mean its time to start on our summer books. My favorite summer books are either set in the summer months, involve plenty of time in the outdoors, or have fun or exotic settings. That’s just a loose description, though: it’s really more about the feel of the book.
Remember those summer reading lists in high school? My high school favored dusty classics, and assigned about 8 of them to each student every summer. Even for bookworms like me, it was miserable. I wanted to spend the summer reading what I wanted for once.
In college, I learned that it didn’t have to be this way. Friends said that in their high schools, summer reading included “fun” books, chart toppers, and lighter fare. Some even had summer reading as an option. None had more than 4 or so books.
As an adult, summer reading is a delight. I feel like I’m making up for all of those summers I spent reading The Once And Future King and Black Boy. Here are some novels that I think make great summer reading.
But you don’t, like, HAVE to read them. What are we, your high school English department?
* Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Like us, you probably read and loved Gatsby, which is also one heck of a summer book, set as it is in the hottest months in the Hamptons. But if you read Gatsby and skipped Fitzgerald’s other works, you’re missing out. Try this: French Riviera. 1920s. Summer at a resort. Young American film actress. Mysterious wealthy couple. Drama. Intrigue. Parties. What are you waiting for? Gatsby fans, you will not be disappointed.
* Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
I know I remind you of your mom in her Oprah book club, but Barbara Kingsolver really has a knack for making you feel like you’re traveling to her settings. This story intertwines three stories in rural Kentucky. I don’t know why, but even though I’m a New Yorker born and raised, something about the small-town South and rural Appalachia just says summer to me. Some of the best nature writing I’ve read is in this book. Feel free to grab just about anything else by Kingsolver, if you like.
* Summer Crossing by Truman Capote
This novel, posthumously published in 2005, follows reluctant socialite Grady McNeil during a crazy, unchaperoned summer in the ‘40s. This is a quick, light read that will still leave you thinking for a while.
* The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
A small-town woman chaperones a teenage Louise Brooks during a summer in New York City. Too many film actresses of the 1920s on this list? This is the kind of thing that the phrase “sorry I’m not sorry” is for.
* Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee
Lee writes (beautifully) about growing up in Cotswolds in the years right before our modern lifestyle took hold. Not all of the essays take place in the summer, but the ones that do transport you to the villages and woods in Southwest England. One of the sweetest books I can think of, with the exception of one disturbing passage toward the end. Not sure why, but reading about summers long ago draws me back to my simpler long ago summers, even if mine were in the 1990s instead of the 1920s.
* Dreamland by Kevin Baker
I am noticing that summer means a few things for me: The South, New York City, the and early 20th century. Dreamland has two of those. Maybe a bit reminiscent of Ragtime, Dreamland takes place in and around New York’s grittier Coney Island environs. A bit long, but great for reading several chapters at a time on a bus or train. He can put that on the back cover if he wants: “Molly of Cookies + Sangria says, ‘Great for reading on public transit!’”.
* Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Don’t be all,”isn’t that one the book with the guy who has the affair with the really young girl?” Yes. It is. Okay? But it’s a great book and Nabokov was a genius in a world where the words “literary genius” get thrown around too freely.
*Atonement by Ian McEwan
I can’t be the only one who liked the earlier, summer-y sequence set at a proto-Downton more than the stuff set in WWII, right?
*Whatever you find at a used book shop while you’re on vacation.