The Summer Reading Guide: New Arrivals, Plus the Classics that Will Never Do You Wrong
Every summer shepherds in a wealth of can’t-put-it-down reads, some inarguably lighter than others. Below, you’ll find some of our favorites from the bunch, which all hold their own (and then some) as great books. We also compiled a list of titles that we can consider “Classics,” curated in part with your help via Instagram. Some of these require a serious time commitment, though all justify the investment, and are more pleasure than “work.” It was really hard to cull this list down, particularly when it came to writers who issued masterpiece after masterpiece. We would love to continue the conversation via #weekendreading and hear what you think should be on this list.
by Rumaan Alam
As a longtime magazine writer and editor, Alam adroitly observes what happens to childhood friendships with the inevitable drift into adulthood, and the incipient struggle to reconcile feelings of enduring sisterhood and shared history with the reality of who we might be today. In Rich & Pretty, the two protagonists navigate this dichotomy, though it’s also an unabashedly fun read about what it’s like to live and strive in NYC in your 20s and 30s.
by Virginia Heffernan
So immersed are we in a wired and connected life, it’s easy to forget that this is a new reality, that we are still in the midst of one of the most groundbreaking cultural shifts…perhaps ever. Virginia Heffernan brilliantly explores what this means to us all, and why the internet might be the greatest (certainly the largest) piece of art ever created.
by Flynn Berry
This is the sort of book you will likely plow through during a single session at the beach: It’s the story of two sisters—one found murdered, the other on a relentless search to find her killer, but it’s deftly told, quirky, and full of small surprises.
by Yaa Gyasi
This incredible book follows the descendants of two half-sisters, separated in 18th-century Ghana. One thread follows Effia, married to a wealthy Englishman, who lives through Fante and Asante dissent. The other thread follows Esi, who is sold into slavery and shipped off to America.
By Adam Haslett
As one of the country’s most compelling writers, it’s no surprise that Haslett’s latest novel is gripping and gorgeous. The story of a family both destroyed and united by depression, it is deeply human and wrenching, with pockets of humor and hope.
by Richard Russo
Russo easily deserves a place on the list of “Classics” below, which makes this new arrival so easy to both celebrate and love: The characters are familiar and wonderfully told (whacky, memorable, inexorably human), making this the sort of book you’ll be loathe to actually finish and put down.
by Wallace Stegner
There might be no finer American writer than Stegner, whose starkly elegant prose tells the story of settling the West, in so many of his various masterpieces.
by Evelyn Waugh
This is Evelyn Waugh’s most beloved work, in part because it has some incredibly lovable characters (Lord Sebastian Flyte and his teddy bear, Aloysius, for one). It’s one of the most vividly drawn tales of the English aristocracy.
by Jane Austen
It’s hard not to be won over by Austen’s quick-witted protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, though you can find strong and smart heroines in pretty much all of Austen’s classics.
by Joan Didion
Joan Didion’s memoir of the year after her husband passed away is a poignant tale of grief, as well as an honest, intimate tribute to marriage.
by Rebecca Skloot
Skloot’s true account of the first human cells to be cloned, and the African-American woman from whom they were unknowingly taken in 1951, is a provoking investigation of science, ethics, and race—and a story as engrossing as any novel.
by Jonathan Franzen
Franzen is brilliant at capturing American family life on the page—a skill best-represented by the incredible scope and storytelling in Freedom.
This is the Bronte book we can happily read every summer—and still never want it to be done.
by Truman Capote
Capote’s defining true crime narrative is chilling and sad and gripping, while also being an unexpected lesson in love and empathy.
by Richard Yates
Yates’s portrait of a 1950’s suburban couple, and their subtle, complex flaws, is both beautiful and sad.
by Anthony Doerr
A Pulitzer Prize winner, Doerr’s 2014 novel about the colliding paths of a blind, French girl and a German boy-turned-soldier takes its place among the best WWII fiction of our time.
by Laura Hillenbrand
In Hillenbrand’s genius hands, the life of Olympic track star and POW, Louis Zamperini, is so much more than a classic war story—it’s not surprising that this incredibly inspirational story spent three years on the New York Times bestseller list.
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Overshadowed in popular culture by The Great Gatsby, this equally affecting novel is the last completed one that Fitzgerald wrote. Its French Riviera setting makes it a strangely good beach read.
by Katherine Boo
Every page of Boo’s intricate account of a Mumbai slum and the very real people who inhabit it is an astonishment. This is the kind of book that can change the way you look at the world.
by Vladimir Nabakov
Decades later, Nabakov’s love story still shocks—while there are many incredible books to his name, this will always be his most memorable.
by Edith Wharton
While it’s a toss up between this and The House of Mirth, this classic tale of New York society during the gilded age justifies the investment of time (plus, Wharton won a Pulitzer for it in 1921, becoming the first woman to score the prize).
by Philip Roth
Nobody can lay claim to the Jewish American story like Roth: In American Pastoral, Roth’s alter ego and narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, who details the life of Seymour “Swede” Levov, whose daughter is on the run after setting off a bomb in protest of the Vietnam war and killing an innocent bystander.
by Toni Morrison
Beloved is possibly Morrison’s most deeply felt novel, an epic examination of the aftermath of slavery. Incredibly prolific, it’s easy to justify reading all of her novels in succession.
by Marilynne Robinson
A story of two orphan sisters, Housekeeping is a masterpiece that speaks to the human sense of longing, by one of America’s most formidable writers. After Housekeeping, Robinson took a 20-plus-year break from writing fiction, before returning with the equally wonderful, Gilead.
by John Cheever
Short story collections have unfortunately grown increasingly rare. This volume from literary great John Cheever reminds us how profound the art of the short story can be—plus, each snippet can be dispensed during a single session before bed.
by Don DeLillo
The ordinary meets the extraordinary in DeLillo’s famed book about a dysfunctional family. While published in the ’80s, it still feels relevant as commentary on American culture.
by Cormac McCarthy
This is the first book in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy—as a Texas-based coming of age tale, it sticks with you in a way that most of McCarthy’s books manage to do.
by William Faulkner
It’s nearly impossible to say which Faulkner novel is the most classic of them all, but if you haven’t visited his work in a while, this is a compelling place to start.
by George Eliot
There are seemingly endless conversations to be had about Eliot’s deeply layered novel set in the 19th century Midlands, making it a great classic pick for book club. It’s also a great introduction to the work of the humanist Eliot, otherwise known as Mary Ann Evans.
by John Casey
The most celebrated work by John Casey, Spartina is the absorbing, archetypal story of a New England fisherman’s desperate quest at sea.
by Richard Ford
Composed of The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of Land, Ford’s modern trilogy chronicles the life of Frank Bascombe, an everyman who has lost his family and his career, yet soldiers on, quietly looking for meaning.
by Herman Melville
The relentless pursuit of Moby Dick by Captain Ahab is, simply, required reading. While it may seem like a daunting invitation to re-create a high school English class, it is actually a riveting read.
by Michael Chabon
A must-read for anyone who grew up a fan of comic books, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is an inventive novel that spans the eras leading up to and beyond WWII, centered on two cousins who fall into the comic business in New York City.
by Leo Tolstoy
Admittedly a beast of a classic, but so, so good—particularly if you find yourself with a good solid uninterrupted week at the beach. If you’ve read it before, consider a revisit, as it tends to look differently at different ages.
by Virginia Woolf
While in her feminist manifesto, Woolf wrote: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” the statement extended well beyond writers, becoming a battle cry for women everywhere. Meanwhile, her novels are all incredible, too.
by Norman Mailer
What’s crazy about The Naked and the Dead is that Mailer wrote it when he was only 23—it is loosely based on his own experiences in World War II, which is inarguably why it’s so powerful.
by Robert Graves
I, Claudius is a masterfully written novel in the form of a faux autobiography by Roman Emperor Claudius: Historical yes, but a total page turner.
by Marcel Proust
Lydia Davis’s translation of Proust’s literary treasure is expertly done, which makes the first installment of In Search of Lost Time even more pleasurable. Have August off? Consider tackling all seven.
by Jane Smiley
Jane Smiley reimagines Shakespeare’s King Lear in this classic of her own, set in the plains of Iowa.
by Elizabeth Strout
Set in Maine, this is 13 stories that revolve around a beloved, occasionally crotchety retired school teacher.
by Katherine Dunn
Katherine Dunn passed away last month, re-fanning the flames for this classic, which resonates with everyone who has ever felt like a bit of a misfit: It’s the story of a circus family, full of children bred to be different, and it’s wonderful.
by Edward St. Aubyn
This heartbreaking series follows the life of British-born Patrick Melrose, born to an incredibly wealthy mother and an abusive father. While it’s tough going at times, you won’t want it all to end.
by E. M. Forster
Published in 1910, Forster’s Howard’s End explores class and romance—set against a classic English estate. A Room with a View, and A Passage to India are also great.
by John Banville
John Banville is one of the more quietly compelling (and prolific) writers working today: Everything he turns out is a total gift. in The Sea, his 18th novel, the protagonist Max Morden revisits his childhood and early life after the death of his wife.
by John Dos Passos
Following 12 characters as they navigate what it means to be American, John Dos Passos’ epic trilogy is probably the most compelling survey of early 20th-century life around.
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Stunningly beautiful, The Remains of the Day is told from the perspective of Stevens, a butler at an English estate, and his love for a co-worker, Miss Kenton, who worked alongside him in the lead-up to World War II.
by Michael Ondaatje
Set in an abandoned villa in Italy at the end of World War II, this is the story of a nurse, a thief, a horribly-burned patient, and a man who clears mines. It is gorgeously told, memorable, and haunting.
by Robert Penn Warren
This Pulitzer Prize winning book is based on Huey Long, the onetime governor of Louisiana who was assassinated in 1935: It’s the story of Willie Stark who adeptly maneuvers his way, however dirtily, through Southern politics in the ‘40s, and it is riveting, whether you like politics or not.
by Emily Bronte
One of the most iconic tales of class-based romantic rejection—and a spurned and angry lover—Wuthering Heights is the sort of book you can return to year after year.
by Richard Wright
Published in 1940, this is the story of Bigger Thomas, a 20-something kid in Chicago who accidentally kills a white woman and finds himself inextricably caught in a downward spiral. Nearly 80 years later, it still resonates.
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Magical realism at its best, 100 Years of Solitude tells the multi-generational story of the Buendía family, which is really a metaphor for Colombian history as a whole.
by Salman Rushdie
Saleem Sinai, born at the stroke of midnight on the moment India gains its independence from Britain, has magical powers—and is switched at birth, meaning he is raised as the son of a wealthy Muslim family rather than in the Bombay slums.