I’m an August baby born into a family of Lit majors—Summer is my favorite season and you can’t tear a book out of my hands. Favorite summer activities include: reading, eating popsicles, soaking up the sun, and swimming anywhere and everywhere. When I was a kid I had to read 25 books each summer for the New York Public Library Reading Program. That’s still the goal in my heart, but for now start with these five:
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
If you’re looking for a beach read, this is it. If you’re looking for a book to read while lying on your couch sweating in the lack of A/C and dreaming of actually going on a beach vacation, this can also be it. A book about relationships, family drama, and and how we perceive those closest to us, The Vacationers chronicles the Post family’s summer vacation to the island of Mallorca, where they learn less about the actual place they’re in (which sounds like a dream) and more about their selves and each other. A light and easy read, Emma Straub’s novel is effortlessly entertaining with a slew of characters who are both hilarious and highly relatable in their faults and quirks, much like I’d imagine my own family would be if we were stuck with each other for two whole weeks.
Drown by Junot Diaz
Nothing makes for a great summer read like a collection of short stories (you can read one at the beach, one at the lake, and one at the pool—summer is just for swimming right?) and this collection by Junot Diaz is one of the best. These snapshots take you in and out of the life of “Yunior” as a child in the Dominican Republic and later as a teenager and young man of color in suburban New Jersey and Washington Heights. A master of colloquialism, Diaz’s stories are as gripping as they are powerfully raw and his characters so memorable you’ll take them with you long after you’ve put the book down.
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
This book begins in summer as Reno, a young artist obsessed with mapping speed, tries her luck on the Bonneville Salt Flats, riding a Moto Valera donated to her by her much older boyfriend, Sandro, a New York artist who is heir to an Italian motorcycle company. I love The Flamethrowers because it takes you so many places (Nevada, New York, Italy) and explores so many different themes (the New York art world in the ’70s, being an outisder and doing your own thing in the constructs of a larger scene, and radicalism and workers rights in Italian politics at the time) while still managing to be a cohesive story about a young woman figuring out who she wants to be in her early twenties. The character descriptions are on point, and many of the artists Reno meets will leave you rolling your eyes, but amused all the same. So well-written that at times a single line will give you chills, whatever Kushner is going for, it comes at you in waves.
The White Album by Joan Didion
Another collection of short writing, these essays by Joan Didion are an entertaining and insightful read. They’re mostly set in California and Hawaii so that’s like, endless summer, right? Whether she’s writing about the Doors, James Pike, Georgia O’Keefe, or the California waterworks, each essay is poignant and and imbued with a sense of the writer herself. I could read this book forever, in part because there’s so much to soak up, but also because every time I read an essay by her, I learn something new and practical about how to put writing down on the page.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Just in case you didn’t hear—you’ve probably heard—Harper Lee is coming out with a new book this summer and it is a very big deal. Go Set a Watchman comes out in less than a month and I for one haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird since I was in Mr. Hannon’s ninth grade English class. One of the most important and influential works of fiction and social commentary written in the twentieth century, I am so looking forward to re-reading this book. Plus, it’s set in the summer!