One of my absolute favorite things about summer is that it gives me large chunks of time to waste (if you can really call it wasting) with just reading. My book list—books that have caught my eye and I want to read—is absolutely ridiculously long. I know with the rate at which I add books to the list (one or two every week) compared to the rate at which I read, there is no humanly possible way for me to ever finish everything on my list (an interesting article on this predicament).
And even though this is my first summer working full time, which cuts significantly into the hours I’ve spent in the past lazing about and reading, I’m still managing to do some pretty good work on the list. I’ve read six books so far since mid-May, only two of which were actually on my list—the other four I stumbled upon randomly and decided they looked interesting (do you see how this list continually perpetuates itself?).
So in case you have some free time to while away whilst waiting for the drought to break, here are my reading recommendations for the summer!
For something literary and classic…
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
A governess takes a post caring for two children in the English countryside—idyllic at first, but soon she discovers the children are not as innocent as they seem. The story is short, really a novella, and the eeriness of the plot makes for a quick but engaging read, but without skimping well-crafted language and technique. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, there is also tons of fascinating literary criticism/essays written about The Turn of the Screw, which may help elucidate the ambiguous ending.
For something magical but relatable…
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
This book first caught my eye on a list of recommendations for those who had grown up with Harry Potter and were interested in something along that vein, but more adult. The Magicians is to Harry Potter what Wicked (the novel by Gregory Maguire, not the musical) was to The Wizard of Oz. Not in the sense that The Magicians is Harry Potter but with a darker backstory, but that it’s what would happen if Harry Potter went to college in America. With a bit of The Chronicles of Narnia thrown in. I adored all things fantastical as a child, and this novel was a hearkening back to those days of fascination and longing for a magical world, while at the same time capturing the complicated and not-so-sunny reality of early adulthood. Basically, sex, drugs, and magic.
For a new take on a familiar story…
The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski
It’s no secret that this is a modern adaptation of Hamlet, but unlike others that I’ve read, the novel doesn’t cling so closely to the established storyline that you are hung-up on its predictability. Wroblewski carves out the setting—a farm in rural Wisconsin—and characters so well that they seem completely original, and references to the infamous play are subtly woven into the larger story. Although the books is long, almost 600 pages, the language is beautiful and I appreciated every moment of it.
For a family more dysfunctional than yours…
This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper
Suffering through a family reunion this summer? Take pleasure in someone else’s pain. While the Foxmans sit Shiva for their recently deceased patriarch, all of the skeletons come tumbling out of the metaphorical family closet. Both hilarious and poignant at times, the novel captures the complexities of grief with surprising honesty. Apparently it’s also being turned into a movie in the near future, which is both exciting and terrifying to me.
For short snippets of hilarity…
Naked, by David Sedaris
If you don’t have time to commit to a whole novel, then I recommend this book of non-fiction essays by one of my favorite humor writers. I first discovered David Sedaris on NPR’s This American Life, and have been a fan ever since. With his dry wit and tales so ridiculous sometimes I can’t believe they’re true, Sedaris manages to find humor and insight in all situations. From his struggle to come out, to his experiences at a nudist colony, Sedaris bares his life open to the reader with his unforgettable voice.
Read a good book lately? Let me know! (and the vicious cycle continutes…) Also, NPR Books has great recommendations if you’re looking for more.
Picture from http://dianaellefson.com/articles/2010/9/26/new-york-city-literature.html