16 Great Reads for the Summer
In preparation for summer beach bags, plane carry-ons, and afternoons spent by the pool: a list of sixteen books to read—most new, some just new-to-us, and others now out in paperback for easy packing, plus a couple that make particularly compelling audiobooks for any upcoming holiday road trip adventures.
A romp of a debut novel that’s witty, as well as heartwarming without being overly sweet, All Our Wrong Todays opens in a futuristic world where cars fly, everything is automated (from breakfast to personal wardrobes), and time travel is real. After an unfortunate time travel fiasco, discontent, self-proclaimed underachiever, Tom Barren—who happens to be the son of the head of the time travel venture—finds himself in our version of the real (non-utopian) world. What complicates Tom’s existential crisis over which reality to choose is that he’s actually happy in our world—and, oh, yeah, he falls in love. Read by the author, the audiobook is a good contender for a summer road trip.
It’s 1972, and the novel’s brazen protagonist, Suzy, fresh off four years at Vassar, decides to pack her bags and follow in the footsteps of her older sister, Grace, who is working as a stewardess for Grand Pacific Airlines in California. She finds herself in Sela del Mar, a beach town within striking distance of LAX. As luck would have it, Suzy immediately gets wrapped up with Billy Zar, a local weed dealer who excels at wielding both his charm and influence on impressionable Suzy. The 388 pages are packed with a little bit of everything: drug-running, hijackings, a nod to LA’s surf/skate culture, and rock-n-roll. The plotline is fascinating, intense, and passionately told, at times reminding us of another coming-of-age story, Emma Cline’s The Girls. The book is the first by Dan Riley, a young gun senior editor at GQ magazine, who grew up in Manhattan Beach, California. You’ll be hard-pressed to put this one down.
Written for those who can’t forget the siren song of New York, and for those who choose to see the good in others, and especially for those who love love, Bill Hayes’s memoir Insomiac City will make your heart ache and break in the best way possible. Through his journal entries, Hayes—the long-time partner of famed neurologist Oliver Sacks— shares his extraordinarily private relationship, and details the most intimate and mundane interactions. The couple’s day-to-day minutiae, like drinking wine from the bottle on the roof or cuddling in bed, is recognizable (even in the midst of Sacks’s terminal health diagnosis), but the way that they see beauty in their world is extraordinary.
Another extraordinarily well-written debut novel, Goodbye, Vitamin is a thoughtful, original exploration of family, told in a diary-like form, from the point of view of thirty-year-old Ruth, who moves back in with her parents as her father, a college professor, begins to lose his memory. More engrossing and poignant than it is sad, you can easily finish this in a single sitting. It’s out early July, so preorder for the second half of summer.
Novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro’s latest book, Hourglass, is a compellingly raw meditation on her relationship to her husband (also a writer), and the ways it’s changed in the two decades they’ve been together. Of course, it’s also much more than that—really a meditation on marriage at large, the cracks that form in relationships over time, as well as all the ways that they can become stronger.
As told by a perceptive, sensitive, hilariously candid preteen boy named Isadore Mazal, How To Behave in a Crowd is author Camille Bordas’s entirely engaging—from start to finish—first novel written in English (her previous two were in French). It’s light and funny, yet so real, with touching if not scathing portraits of Izzie’s family (especially his five erudite, didactic, insanely bookish siblings, who are condescending for sport), and lucid commentary on modern middle-class society in France.
Admittedly late to this game, we’re now reading LaRose by literary heavyweight and owner of the Twin Cities indie bookstore, Birchbark, Louise Edrich. Edrich, who is part Ojibwe, returns to a Native American landscape in LaRose, which completes an informal trilogy with The Plague of Doves (a Pulitzer finalist) and The Round House (National Book Award winner). Be forewarned: This is not a light beach read. The story of a 1999 accident that binds two North Dakota families together in unexpected ways, you will be gut-wrenched—and forced to reconsider the way you think of loss and grief, atonement and resilience.
Diana, the goop staffer who read this newly released collection of essays before it came out—see more of her picks here—finished it in a few rides on the metro, most of which she spent laughing out loud. A culture writer for Buzzfeed, Scaachi Koul writes about her childhood in the States—she’s the daughter of immigrants from India—and all the trials of growing up and becoming a woman, with a hilarious sharpness.
A made-for-the-beach, breezy read that’s just been released in paperback, The Assistants puts a fun twist on what’s become a classic theme—the plight of assistants at the bottom rungs of NYC’s media world. It begins when an error on an expense report presents thirty-year-old Tina Fontana—executive assistant to the CEO of a monster media company—with the opportunity to take a bit of money from the company and pay off her debilitating student loans. Quickly, Tina goes from being someone who has always played by the rules to the leader of an increasingly risky scheme. Get one for all the up-and-coming assistants in your life.
The Awkward Age follows a widowed mother and divorced father building a new life together—a plot-line that becomes infinitely more complicated when their teenage children, now living under the same roof, embark on a new relationship of their own. Engaging and absorbing, with moments of clever comedy elegantly slotted into each scene, it’s our pick for a beach read that’s not overly flitty.
For fans of (ancient) historical fiction, Emily Holleman explores the relationship between sisters Arsinoe and Cleopatra just after the death of their father, when Cleopatra and their young brother Ptolemy are set up as joint rulers of Egypt. This is the second book in a series but you can dive in here even if you haven’t read the first.
If you’re already familiar with The Moth, a podcast that brings people to stages to share personal stories with live audiences, then you know it has this indescribable energy that comes with people allowing themselves to be honest without fear. Translated to the page, this book of forty-five collected Moth stories—which includes everyone from Ishmael Beah to astronomer Cathy Olkin to Louis C.K.—really becomes an incredible syllabus of vulnerability, one that invites you to cherry pick and re-read stories as you need them.
Don’t be fooled by the pink-ish cover—this book packs a punch. A modern memoir by favorite New Yorker writer, Ariel Levy, The Rules Do Not Apply is a longer exploration of her incredibly moving 2013 article, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” in which Levy recounted losing her baby at five months pregnant while on a reporting trip. If you’ve ever wondered about what to do when life doesn’t turn out the way “it’s supposed to,” read this book—or listen to the audiobook, which Levy narrates herself.
For those who read and loved Hannah Tinti’s critically acclaimed debut novel, The Good Thief, it’s been a long wait for her sophomore book—nearly ten years—but she’s made it worth it. A father-daughter story, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley cuts back and forth between Samuel Hawley’s wild outlaw of a past (chapters are named by the number of bullets he’s taken), and the present, in which he’s raising his curious daughter, Loo, as a single dad. You’ll race along with teenage Loo as she starts to unravel the mysteries of her father’s past and the truth about the mother she never knew.
Han Kang’s thriller is, in a word, trippy. The Korea-based author weaves an abstract story where art, sex, family order, ego, and community are rooted in reality, but colored by magic. While The Vegetarian is complex—it ultimately explores what happens when an extreme personal belief system bucks against a conformist culture—it’s written in a way that ensures you zip through it.
Published in hardcover last summer and out in paperback for your beach bag this July, You’ll Grow Out of It is the first and, not surprisingly, enormously funny book by comedy writer and
executive producer of Inside Amy Schumer, Jessi Klein. Full of clever jokes, insightful ways of looking at the world, and more relatable than you might expect, it’s a rare confessional essay collection that can make you think and laugh—hard.