Well, here we are…it’s hard to believe, but we’ve arrived at the unofficial dog days of summer. July is a thing of the past, Chicago is finally enjoying a sustained stretch of near-90-degree days, and there’s a sense that nearly everyone is on vacation (or, at the very least, enjoying days that feel a little slower, hazier and lazier than usual). It’s an enjoyable time of the year, and one that calls for a reading experience that matches the current mood.
I’m not wildly in love with the term “beach reads,” because it’s generally associated with only one kind of book (the light, fluffy kind that often has an actual beach scene on the cover)…and hey, not all of us get the chance to sprawl out on an actual beach during the summer! But, without a doubt, certain books just beg to be read during the hottest months of the year. Here are a few of our favorite summery reads – some are more obvious choices than others (and yeah, okay, two of them even have “summer” right there in the title), but all are page-turners in their own right!
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume – Summer Sisters was Judy Blume’s first adult book, and it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the author who gave us Forever and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The titular “sisters” are everygirl Vix and beautiful, ultra-privileged Caitlin, who forge an intense, complicated friendship when Caitlin invites Vix to spend each summer with her family at their estate on Martha’s Vineyard. Blume’s story follows the girls through their teenage years and into adulthood, and is rife with sex, betrayals, and coming-of-age episodes (bonus: each chapter is named after a pop song from the ‘70s or ‘80s). In other words, it’s awesome.
Bird Box by Josh Malerman – Emily says: Call this horror-lite. Malerman will grab your hands and FORCE you to keep turning the pages. This is my nomination for the most compelling book that I read all last year in sheer un-put-down-ableness. Plus, it’s creepy enough to keep you cool outside the pool (so dorky, but true).
Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny – Emily says: Not only does this have the beachiest cover imaginable, but these stories are perfect for the reader who doesn’t want to TOTALLY sacrifice quality for lightheartedness. These are realistic stories of women just doing woman things… getting drinks with a friend in a skeezy New York dive, dealing with long term relationships, planning a child’s party, having an affair (okay, maybe not always NORMAL). Anyways, these are sparse, beautiful, and oddly compelling.
Summerlong by Dean Bakopoulos – This year, I’ve read an awful lot of fiction about seemingly-stable marriages hitting the skids…and Bakopoulos’ fantastically hazy and heat-soaked book might just be my favorite of the bunch. During an unusually hot summer in Grinnell, Iowa, Don and Claire Lowry make a series of strange choices that confuse their children and cause both of them to evaluate their marriage and how happy they actually are. There’s something here for everyone – booze, drugs, naked swimming pool romps, and black humor galore. It’s a blast to read, from start to finish.
The Arsonist by Sue Miller – Emily says: I love me some Sue Miller, but this book is also set during the summer in a summer community. Frankie is a 40-something lady just returning from a life spent in Africa doing charitable work. She moves in with her parents, aging academics who have just retired to their summer family home which seems great, until someone starts burning down the houses of the “summer folk”. There’s a slight mystery, but it’s on the backburner to Miller’s awesome powers as a writer who watches people just letting themselves go in all their splendor and messy misery. Frankie is stuck up, her mom is an alcoholic, her father has dementia… it gets complicated.
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple – There’s a reason why so many people adore this book – Semple tells a great story in a clever, totally original way. As her reward for a flawless report card, fifteen-year-old Bee plans a trip to Antarctica for herself, her father, and her strong-willed, enigmatic mother Bernadette. Bernadette casts aside her agoraphobic tendencies to prepare for the trip…until she suddenly disappears a few days before the planned departure. Semple’s (really funny) narrative is told as a series of emails, journal entries, and articles, all of which shine a light on who Bernadette is and where she might have gone. It’s the ideal combination of hilarious and heartwarming.
So, those are just a FEW of our favorite summer reads. Care to share some of yours?