Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Reads

There are two kinds of books in this world (okay, there are a lot more kinds than two, but stick with me here, folks): those that are well-suited to summertime consumption, and those that are not. Anna Karenina, for example, is best read while snuggled into a big, comfy chair (preferably by a fireplace, ideally, during a snowstorm.) Likewise, I would argue, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. A summer book, by contrast, should be bright and vivid and a little colorful, so that you can put it down to play Frisbee for a while, and then dive right back in where you were (when the Frisbee inevitably gets stolen by a dog), and feel like you never left. You should feel something (other than melancholia) while you read it, and you should like being around the characters. Easier said than done, not all authors achieve this -- not even all great ones (I'm talking to you, Tom Wolfe). And, lastly, it certainly helps if the book has a sense of humor. I'm not that into airport-shop thrillers, too-breezy chick-lit, or supermarket bodice-rippers (though I don't judge, if those are your tomes of choice). I like a story that sticks to your ribs a little bit, and one you'll remember after the leaves start to turn.
Here is a list of some great summertime reads -- I am not saying "top" or even "favorite" (since choosing those would be too difficult a task. But all these books pass the Frisbee test, and each one of them will take you somewhere wonderful, even if you spend the whole summer in your own backyard. Happy reading, bookworms!

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini- The author's follow-up to The Kite Runner got less attention, but is a beautiful story about the struggles, triumphs and friendship of two Afghan women. Pretty impressive and moving stuff (and I always give props to men who write women well).
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner- A slow-paced, but thoughtful story-within-a-story, told from the perspective of an old man writing the life-story of his grandmother. A subtly-framed reminder that we are all the products of series of events that take place long before us, and that we all do the best we can in this life.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole- The bitingly hilarious and surprisingly profound story of a misanthropic underachiever. You'll be amused how often you find yourself agreeing with him. This one's a classic.
Life of Pi by Yann Martell- This beautiful book tells the story of a boy who is shipwrecked and survives on a life raft with a bunch of animals. It sounds like it would be bleak, but it is really beautiful and almost whimsical.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez- Again, I'm sure I'm not the first person to tell you to read this one, but here goes: read it. Especially for you bodice-ripper fans, this one tells the the lovely, imperfectly romantic story of a relationship that transcends time (translation: old people in love). As an added bonus, it takes place on a lush, tropical island. Just in case you aren't.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides - This mesmerizing book deals with the subjects of hermaphroditism and incest, yet manages to be heart-breakingly sensitive to the subject, deftly dodging the grotesque. It simultaneously tells the stories of a young, um, person growing up in Detroit, and the character's immigrant grandparents, in vivid, imaginative language.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl - A quirky, charming mystery told in a truly unique voice. Some might say it borders on gimmicky, but you'll have hard time tearing yourself away from it long enough to worry about that.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - If you've ever thought about running away and joining the circus, save yourself the trouble and read this, instead. The rich and colorful writing will make you feel like you're there (preferably not as the Bearded Lady).
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving - I read this one when I was in high school, and I still remember so much about it. Irving has a gift for flawed, oddball characters you love being around (take a lesson, Wolfe), and these ones will stick with you.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris - Sedaris's autobiographical short stories about his childhood. Touching, real, and pee-your-pants funny.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon - Another quirky (do you sense a theme with me?), unusual story, told simply and beautifully from the perspective of a boy with autism.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett- Admittedly, I just started reading this one myself, but I am already sucked in. It takes place in the South during the Civil Rights movement and delicately and amusingly explores the relationship between the white people and their black servants during the shifting social paradigm. I have a feeling I'm going to cry...

Word up! What are reading this summer/what are your recommendations?

photo credit: Cosmo Girl


Anonymous said...

Terrific list, Lily! Thank you so much..just What I was looking for!!

Anonymous said...

Lily Elise Fink- You never cease to amaze me! What a splendid list of summer tomes!

Unknown said...

I just read The Help and loved it. Another great Stegner is Crossing to Safety - one of my favorites. Also recently read Jhumpa Lahiri Unaccustomed Earth, which is beautifully written.

Unknown said...

I think autobiographies of interesting people are also great summer reads. I would add the very entertaining Audition by Baba Wawa to your list :-)