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10 Perfect Picks for Your Summer Reading List

Summer’s back, and with it the long, loungey days and sun-drenched vacations that give way to cravings for a good book.

Whether you’re looking for a nail-biting thriller or a sweet love story, whether you want writing that gets you thinking or a lazy beach read, here’s a summer reading list with something for (almost) everyone.


1. For the Traveler

I'm a Stranger Here Myself, by Bill Bryson

Summer is a time for wandering: Road-tripping in the sticky hotness of a car filled with friends, jet-setting to spend a week or two (or three or four) abroad, spending weekends galore at beaches and lakes and mountains, and—always—coming home again.

In 1998, Bill Bryson made travel writing fun and funny with A Walk in the Woods, his rambling memoir of rambling through the Appalachian Trail. But this book, published two years later, is equally funny and perhaps more touching. In it, Bryson chronicles the strange adjustments he made when returning to America after 20 years in England. Bryson’s writing style is elegantly informal, and his part-British, part-American voice is unique. If you’re an avid traveler (and avid laugher), read this on your summer journeys.

2. For the Troublemaker

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain

While its brother-book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is a perennial favorite in English and American History classrooms alike, this is Twain’s lighter-hearted tale of the mischievous Tom and Huck. The book at first seems little more than the story of an average young boy playing pretend with his friends, developing crushes on schoolgirls, and playing pranks around town, but when Tom witnesses a murder and testifies against the perpetrator, the tale unravels into a mystery and a manhunt. With its old-timey southern vernacular and its rich depictions of character and setting, this novel is a fun summer read for every goodhearted troublemaker.

3. For the Detective

The Millennium Series, by Stieg Larsson

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy—comprised of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest—is pure crime-busting magic. If you love detective thrillers and pride yourself on one-upping the scowling detectives on Law and Order, then you’ll devour this series. The first in the trilogy acts almost as a teaser, piquing your interest in mysterious badass Lisbeth Salander, who keeps her enemies (and her readers) guessing throughout the novels. The content can be explicit and at times overwhelming, but the overall message—combating violence against women—is a positive one.

4. For the Adventurer

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Before Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow made pirates sexy, these marauding, malicious swashbucklers ruled the high seas with no nonsense (and a bottle of rum). A hybrid between young adult and grown-up fiction, Treasure Island is the story of Jim Hawkins, a young boy who happens upon a map leading to a pirate’s buried treasure. When Jim shares his information with Dr. Livesey and Squire Trelawney, the gentlemen buy a boat, commission a captain, and hire a one-legged sea cook, Long John Silver. It isn’t until they’ve set sail that Jim and company realize that Silver is a ruthless, murderous pirate. The bounty-hunt that ensues is completely enthralling—and a perfect summer read for the adventurer.

5. For the Hipster

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

If you chill out to Bon Iver, embrace quirkiness as a lifestyle, and fill your wardrobe with skinny jeans and flannel (even in summer), then you just might be a hipster. And if you are, odds are you will (or already do) love On the Road, the beating heart of the Beat generation, a five-part odyssey of one man, Sal Paradise, who is heavily influenced by his friend Dean Moriarty. Together and apart, the two men drift aimlessly and excitedly across the country and attempt to catch a glimpse of meaning in their lives.

6. For the Cook

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book, by Jake Godby and Sean Vahey

Does anything scream “summer” quite like ice cream? Dribbling gently from a cone or sitting royally in a dish, ice cream is a summer staple, like sunburns and crickets. Written by the folks behind Humphry Slocombe, a San Francisco ice cream institution hailed for its delicious treats and bizarre renditions (its menu boasts relatively normal flavors like candied ginger and chocolate orange as well as unique combos like pink grapefruit tarragon and strawberry black olive), this book provides recipes for traditional and wacky flavors for every ice cream lover.

7. For the Trendsetter

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

It’s currently only available for pre-order, but this new book by Gillian Flynn has already been met with rave reviews. It’s a murder mystery, and the hunt for the killer begins on Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Amy goes missing, and Nick is the suspect—and what ensues is hailed to be an intricately crafted, heart-pounding read. If you’re always atop the latest trends, place your order today.

8. For the English Major

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

Hailed almost unanimously as Wallace’s best novel—quite an accomplishment—this hefty text stirs the literary hearts of every English major, past, present and future. Wallace’s heavily footnoted, darkly funny, futuristic and yet realistic tale of madness and modernity is no beach read: Pack this for the library or the plane (and consider referring to this how-to guide for help tackling it).

9. For the Romantic

The Once and Future King, by T. H. White

The Once and Future King is everything a summer read should be: A fresh take on an old classic, full of magic, action, and more than a little romance. Here, White riffs on the Old English legends of King Arthur’s court in the mystical land of Camelot. The book is a four-volume set that chronicles Arthur’s journey into adulthood, beginning with The Sword in the Stone, which follows the education of Arthur (known in childhood as the “Wart”) by the brilliant, backwards-in-time traveling Merlyn. Subsequent books introduce new characters: Arthur’s sinister half-sister Morgause, his illegitimate son Mordred, his right-hand knight Lancelot, and his beautiful queen, Guinevere.

10. For the Kid at Heart

Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell

This disappointed Pulitzer contender is utterly captivating, from its bizarre character studies to its depiction of the swamplands of Florida’s Everglades—so distinct and remote from “mainland” normalcy that they almost seem like their own world.

When her mother dies, it falls to 13-year-old Ava to maintain the stature and success of Swamplandia!, the family gator park. The family’s survivors—her father, “Chief Bigtree,” her dreaming, supernatural-obsessed sister Ossie, and her brilliant, cynical brother Kiwi—keep the story always interesting with their eccentric perspectives. Ava is a strong little heroine, propelled by a sense of urgency that matches the titular exclamation point. Read this and decide for yourself if Russell was robbed when she didn’t take home a Pulitzer.

Want more? Check out our picks from last year. Then tell us! What’s on your summer reading list?

Photo courtesy of Jhayne.