As the sunny days of June turn stickier and sleepier, as we zip our pencil skirts and duck out of the heat into air-conditioned conference rooms, we remember how we love the luscious languor of (even a working girl’s) summer. It’s the season for sundresses and bathing suits, iced coffees and ice creams, Summer Fridays and long weekends spent lounging by the pool, the lake, or the sea, with SPF 30 (or…75) and a good book.
If you’re wondering which one to pack in your beach bag this week, look no further: here are The Daily Muse's top ten picks for your summer reading list.
1. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Spend a summer afternoon luxuriating in the understated beauty of Marilynne Robinson’s simple prose with her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead. Set amid the Iowa prairies in the 1950s, Gilead tells the story of a dying preacher who grapples with life’s lingering questions as he writes one last long epistle to his seven-year-old son. Gilead gently deals with questions of loneliness, fear, racism, and faith—so gently, in fact, that you may not realize how much the novel has affected you until you turn its final page.
2. Summerworld by Bernd Heinrich
More than a season and a feeling, summer is a place: inhabited by beach-goers, by sunburned children, and by the flora and fauna that thrive in its lushness. For the curious young woman with a science-y bent, Summerworld is the go-to tome. Heinrich, a natural scientist who lives in the upper stretches of New England, chronicles the mating, nesting, feeding, and daily habits of the less glamorous summer-dwellers. Read his fascinating book and learn something new as you watch the birds and the bees throughout the season.
3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is the novel for the escapist: the girl who gets an icy thrill from feeling slightly out of her comfort zone, though she does not quite know why. Ishiguro’s futuristic tale is an odd morph of sci-fi and love story: it takes a while for the pieces of his haunting jigsaw puzzle to assemble in a logical form, but you’ll get a chill, despite the June sun, from reading his tragically beautiful pages.
4. The Kid by Sapphire
After a best-selling novel and its Oscar-winning film adaptation, Sapphire picks up her pen once again to write The Kid, the sequel to her 2009 novel, Precious. Her first story highlighted the struggles of a generation trapped by poverty, abuse, and disease—her second addresses those of its progeny. The Kid features Abdul, the nine-year-old son of Precious, and follows him as he journeys throughout the country, from Mississippi to Harlem, after his mother’s untimely death. An inspiring read for a young professional who is unsatisfied with the world as she sees it.
5. Selected Poems by William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams is summer’s ultimate poet. An effervescent optimist, nature-lover, and practicing OB/GYN, Williams channels his love of life and his belief in new beginnings through his poetry. This anthology, edited by Charles Tomlinson, gathers excerpts from a myriad of Williams’ works. Watch the poet’s tone change as years pass, or simply lose yourself in the poetic pleasure of flowers, sunlight, sparrows, or plums “so sweet and so cold.”
6. Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo
If you find yourself debating—be it internally or in public—issues of faith and spirituality, you’ll find some fascinating fodder in Heaven is For Real. Burpo, a small-town minister, retells the sensational story his four-year-old son narrated to him after his appendectomy: he died on the operating table, went to heaven, and returned. Whether or not you believe in heaven, this tale is worth a gander and an hour or two spent pondering life’s tougher questions—over pool-side cocktails, surely.
7. Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson
For those of us who grew up with our summers punctuated by the release of the latest Harry Potter literary installments, summer isn’t quite summer without a dark mystery to thrill us. Watson’s novel is an intelligent thriller about an insomniac who falls asleep and forgets who she is. Stay up late reading this novel and you’re sure to get your heart racing.
8. Wait Til Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Nothing defines both America and summer like baseball. In her memoir, which reads more like a novel, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin recalls her childhood growing up in Brooklyn and her twin passions for reading and the Brooklyn dodgers. Goodwin marries these two loves to create Wait Til Next Year, and readers will fall in love with her beloved team, her beloved family, and her beloved nation right along with the author. Read this novel near the fourth of July, when you’re brimming with national pride (and at the height of baseball season).
9. Room by Emma Donoghue
When the broad expanses of summer’s outdoor kingdom call to you daily, it can be thrilling (and unsettling) to imagine a life trapped in one tiny room. Donoghue’s novel—named one of the New York Times’ Ten Best Books of 2010—adopts an intriguing narrative style, painting a portrait of imprisonment through the eyes of a five-year-old boy. Take advantage of your freedom and read this novel—but be prepared for the tears that might find their way to your cheeks.
10. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Summer is the time of year for finally doing what we put off—in literary terms, for tackling those long novels we can never seem to find the time for when there’s ice in the air. For a treat, spend a few weeks (or a few epic days) soaked in Tolstoy’s epic: a classic tale of love, lust, life, and the thin strands that bind them all in a tragic sort of triangle. Poke into your local library to sample different translations and find which suits you—and Tolstoy’s velvety prose—best.
Bonus: The Magicians by Lev Grossman
In a world where magic is real, Quentin Coldwater find himself wrestling with questions of life and love, trying to make sense of what to do once he realizes his exceptional talents. The Magicians is set against the same fantastic background of Harry Potter, Narnia, or The Golden Compass—but Grossman doesn't wait here until the last book to bring it to an adult audience. Dark and thoughtful, funny, depressing, and genuine all at once, you won't be able to put it down.