Putting together our annual summer reading list is one of my favorite things to do. (In 2018, and 2019, and yes, even (especially?) 2020…) No matter what else is going on, having a running list of books I’m excited about just… makes me happy. (Anyone?)
Whether you’ve spent the pandemic plowing through books, or (like many) you’ve been too busy trying to balance WFH, remote learning, hanging onto some semblance of a social life via Zoom, keeping your relationship afloat, plus errands and walking your new dog and housework and omg potty training and wait– should you sell your house RN? and all the rest…
You can always escape with a book.
Here’s what we’re digging into this season:
Summer Reading List
A Good Neighborhood, Therese Ann Fowler — For anyone who loved Little Fires Everywhere
The Whitmans, a two-parent white family with two daughters, move in next-door to Valerie Alston-Holt, a forestry/ecology professor, and her son Xavier, who are both black. This evocative (and timely) story about these two families’ dynamics and ongoings in the small southern town of Oak Knoll will stay with you — for a long time.
The City We Became, NK Jemisin — For your fantasy fix
The first book in Jemisin’s new trilogy has everything we know and love from the rest of her series — fantasy, heroes & villains, gritty characters, a plot that unfolds like it’s on speed, and (of course) unbelievable writing. The difference? It’s set in the “real world”: NYC.
When my husband asked me about it, I told him it’s sort of like the 21st-century version of Batman. (Psst: if you’ve never read Jemisin before, check out The Fifth Season (book one of The Broken Earth series) or The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (book one of The Inheritance trilogy)).
Writers and Lovers, Lily King — For anyone who loves literary fiction
Lily King’s newest book is a literary study of the proverbial starving artist — Casey Peabody is trying to cope with the sudden loss of her mother while also waiting tables, drowning in debt and living in a garage, struggling to finish her novel, and, last but not least, attempting to deal with seemingly lifelong “boy problems.” You’ll get wrapped up in her life and decisions as much as the next person.
The Glass Hotel, Emily St. John Mandel — For an eerie escape
Readers describe this book about what happens to a diverse cast of characters in the downfall of a Ponzi scheme as “spectacular,” “a puzzle,” “otherworldly,” and “atmospheric and haunting.” Much like her previous (amazing) book, Station Eleven (which follows the intersecting lives of a handful of survivors of an apocalyptic flu — sound familiar?), The Glass Hotel is a meditation on the fragility of life as we know it.
The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett — A book about family, race, identity, and generational history
This lyrical story follows the lives of identical twin sisters Desiree and Stella Vignes over the course of decades, from their girlhood lives in their strange all-Black hometown in the South to their adult lives in different parts of the country, their children, and everything in between. This is a provocative, beautiful book that touches on so many pertinent social and cultural issues from both the past and today.
The Midnight Library, Matt Haig — For a fantastical spin on the Butterfly effect
The Midnight Library is the kind of book you won’t be able to get out of your head while you’re reading it — and you’ll probably want to talk to everyone you know about it, too. As one Goodreads reviewer wrote, it’s “one of the best sci-fi dances with fantasy.” A magical and clever take on the concept that alternative realities could exist for any of us (“what if I had done X another way?”), this is a story about regret, choice, chance, and the possibilities of life.
The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller — For anyone who loves classic stories/myths, reimagined
Written by a classicist, this retelling of The Iliad (which tells the story of The Trojan War) through the eyes of Patroclus is achingly beautiful. An imaginative, expressive take on a classic text in the Western canon, this book reads with soul. “Dazzling literary feet” is right. (Oh — and if you haven’t read Circe yet (Miller’s other book, a retelling of The Odyssey), read that as well! It too is beautiful and amazing; and also, HBO just picked it up for a miniseries.)
Big Summer, Jennifer Weiner — For your classic summer beach read
Entertainment Weekly described Big Summer as “the beach read to end all beach reads.” It’s got messy friendships, a wedding, a splash of mystery, and social media fallout. Oh, and it’s set on Cape Cod. Throw it in your bag, sunshine.
All Adults Here, Emma Straub — Also for your classic summer beach read
Straub is known for delivering a charming take on your classic dysfunctional family story: quirky but relatable characters, humor mixed with cynicism, plot lines that question the border between juvenile and adulthood (see The Vacationers and Modern Lovers), and in All Adults Here she delivers just the same. The Washington Post describes it as “a smart, of-the-moment take on a family in turmoil,” and the NYT writes that the book is “literary sunshine.”
A Promised Land, Barack Obama — For… well, everyone, because yes
The 700-page brick of a book that needs no introduction… the first of Barack’s presidential memoirs was one of the most highly-anticipated releases of 2020. Like him or not, it’s a fascinating read. (Did you miss Michelle’s book? It’s awesome. And also shorter than Barack’s…. LOL.)
Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro — For your dystopian fix
The newest book from Nobel-prize laureate Kazuo Ishiguro is enchanting, emotional, and (as always, with Ishiguro) profound. The book is narrated by Klara, an “AF” (artificial friend) who is inclined to meticulous observation and who, in telling her story, raises philosophical questions about the nature of being human. (If you’ve never read Ishiguro, also highly-recommended: Never Let Me Go.)
The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, Dawnie Walton — For anyone who loved Daisy Jones and the Six
This debut novel is a historical fiction that blurs the line between reporting and storytelling. This story about Afropunk rock-n-roll duo Opal and Nev’s success, downfall, and pending reunion digs into race, place, inequality, celebrity, and family. As NPR described it: this is a “faux music history that rocks.” *And yes, reviewers are GUSHING about the audiobook format.
Clean: The New Science of Skin, James Hamblin — Nonfiction pick
Hamblin is one of my favorite writers for The Atlantic, and his new book calls into question everything we think we know about cleanliness, hygiene, and skin care. It’s an especially interesting and refreshing read given the current state of the pandemic.
The Need, Helen Phillips — For a mysterious and possessing tale of motherhood
This haunting tale about the two sides of motherhood borrows from sci-fi but reads like a quiet literary thriller. It will make you angry, sad, happy, scared, annoyed, and delighted — just like parenthood. One reviewer’s description of The Need as a “literary fever dream” is spot on. It’s a story you will be thinking about long after you finish reading.