Summer Reading List: Book Recommendations

Books a Million: Best Summer Reads

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Remember when you were 14 and complained all summer about having to read The Iliad and Animal Farm and The Old Man and the Sea for your freshman honors English course, and wasn’t Mrs. Smith just such an old hag for making you do so, because clearly three books in three months was asking way too much, when you were already finishing a whole Sweet Valley High book every night, whilst hiding under your covers with a flashlight?I’ll be the first to admit, I hardly read as much as I should anymore, or as much as I would like. I find that every spare moment set aside for reading is spent scouring blogs and flipping through each of the 25 magazines I get every week/month.

As scared as I still am as flying—I maintain that my odds are much higher compared to your average individual who doesn’t hop a flight or two a week—I look forward to my plane time because it’s always when I flip through the 10 back issues of New York that I have yet to crack and look at all the pictures before discarding moments later (seriously, New York has got to be the most boring, pretentious weekly there is out there, and had it not been for the $5 special that I couldn’t pass up, I would not have a subscription), devour the last few weeks worth of Entertainment Weeklys from cover to cover, and start a new novel that will inevitably not be picked up again until the next flight.

Still, it’s hard to walk into a Barnes & Noble without leaving with a bag full of shelf stuffers, which stresses me out even more as my growing bookshelf looms with uncracked spines. However, as it’s nearly summer—OK, technically there are about 49 days left of spring, but it feels like it at least—and some of you live in sunny places where you can lay on the beach all day and read books, or at the very least, sit on your sunporch and catch up on your reading , I give you my top picks (though, be forewarned that I’m the type of reader who heads straight for the Bestseller table—hey, if it’s good enough for Oprah, it’s good enough for me—but you will never find Eat, Pray, Love on my list of recs, so there’s that, at least).

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

If you’re a fan of Moose in the Kitchen, then you’ll love this fictional tale of her Philadelphia clone. I finished this book just weeks after first meeting Moose in person, but everything about the character reminded me of her witty, heartwarming posts, and I think if Cornelia came to life like Giselle in Enchanted, you wouldn’t be able to tell Moose and her apart — petite gals with huge hearts and charismatic personalities. I’m not too big of a sap — I’ve only cried at a total of two funerals, and not for lack of trying — but I sobbed, in a good way, after finishing this read on a plane back from Brazil a couple months ago.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve begun to appreciate historical fiction, perhaps because I went to one of those public schools, the kind where the coaches run the social studies department and you learn little more than what a royal flush is from your days spent playing poker with your classmates. I walked away with more of a grasp on the Great Depression in these 350 pages than I ever did in any organized lecture, as it’s a bittersweet tale of what life was like in those days. If you’ve been discouraged by the first chapter — it begins with a 90-something-year-old man in a nursing home and trying to escape to relive his youthful days at the traveling circus next door — persevere. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

My rating: 5 out of 5

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

You’ve seen the movie 783 times, but have you read the book? (Did you even know it was a book? If you recall, in the beginning of the film, Grandpa reads to Fred Savage from the very book written by a fictional Morgensten; it wasn’t just made up for the movie’s sake.) Bride will forever be one of my favorite movies, and often it’s tough to do the read-the-book-then-see-the-movie reverse. But there is so much in the film that was omitted, like Humperdinck’s torture dungeon of strange and dangerous creatures that Wesley must navigate his way through in his quest for Buttercup. As the author William Goldman say, the book has “”Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.” How could you ask for more? Bonus points if you can find a highly coveted, never-printed copy of the sequel, Buttercup’s Baby (it’s rumored to finally be released in January 2009, more than two decades after Goldman started writing it). And if you do, remember your favorite blogger to whom you will promptly send the novel once you are finished.

My rating: 5 out of 5

I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had been dying to check out Sloane Crosley’s first book of essays ever since the Observer article in the fall lauding the book publicist as The Most Popular Book Publicist in New York (no, I’ve never crossed paths with Crosley, but what can I say, I’m a sucker for hype). Subsequent mentions in the Chronicle and EW solidified my need to find this book (smaller shops in Nashville and Cincy proved fruitless). The thing about hype is you’re often disappointed (think: Garden State. Juno and Knocked Up for some; not me). I’m happy to say this was far from the case with Cake.

My rating: 4 out of 5

The Zahir by Paulo Coehlo

I found this inspiring novel by Paulo Coehlo even better than his popular The Alchemist (another recommendation if you’ve yet to read it). I’m not usually one for fiction with spiritual undertones, but this book was touching: A writer’s wife, a war correspondent in Iraq, goes missing in Paris without a trace, and he dedicates his life to finding her, not for a moment thinking that the inevitable (death) could have possibly robbed her of her life. His quest takes him from Paris to Kazakhstan on a remarkable journey of self discovery and love (God, I sound like a Hallmark review).

My rating: 4 out of 5

Yes Man by Danny Wallace

Danny Wallace is a funny man. The kind that are usually only invented by the cleverest of authors. So when he agreed to a bet in which he could only say “yes” to requests and demands for a certain period of time (something like six months, I believe), Wallace, a British producer for BBC, found himself saying “yes” to becoming a rabbi, attending meetings about aliens and UFOs, hopping a last-minute flight to Singapore, all sorts of bizarre-o scenarios. Once you’ve finished Cake and are in need of more laughs, pick up this page-turner.

My rating: 4 out of 5

The Summer Fletcher Greel Loved Me by Suzanne Kingsbury

Disclaimer: Just because it has the word “loved” in the title, in no way makes it chick lit. I’m not sure why this book never made it big, and I owe it to my literary guru/college suitemate Ashley for turning me on to this piece of genius five years ago. This book about a pair of high school students in Mississippi on the brink of adulthood — they must conceal a murder and an illegal adulterous affair, deal with racial issues that still plague parts of the South today (so, you know, basically the story of my childhood…KIDDING) — it’s one of those reads I could pick up every month and never get sick of it.

My rating: 5 out of 5

Other Classics I Never Tire Of

If you feel the need to boost a few IQ points (or at least look well-read in public, should you need a novel to kill some time while waiting for that next business meeting to start), may I suggest a few that never get old: The Great Gatsby, Catch-22, Brave New World, 1984, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, A Farewell to Arms. You may never visit again after this startling confession, but I’ve never understood the obsession with Catcher in the Rye (again, the hype).

What have you guys been reading lately that I must add to my list? And what do you find completely over-rated?

  • May 6, 2008

    I’m with you on Eat, Pray, Love. I could barely get through it. Right now I am in the middle of several so-so books, but recently enjoyed The Other Boelyn Girl and The Time Traveller’s Wife. Two of my oldies but goodies are Fingersmith and The Tortilla Curtain.

  • May 6, 2008

    Ugh, Eat, Pray, Love. I think I laughed out loud twice at comments made by her Texan friend, but the book otherwise seemed like a collection of crap better left between her and her therapist.

    I recently enjoyed Smile While You’re Lying by Chuck Thompson and I loved the wedding chapter of the Cake book- the rest, I just didn’t find funny even though she is a keen observer. I am looking forward to reading The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine this summer; according to the WSJ, it’s supposed to be a modern Arabian Nights.

  • May 6, 2008

    Everyone seems to be bashing Eat, Pray, Love nowadays but I did enjoy the book. Funny that you did enjoy a book that I did not like AT ALL – Love Walked In. (Sorry!)

    I did like Water for Elephants, and ditto with what K recommended: The Other Boelyn Girl and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

    I also enjoyed The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, and recently finished reading Atonement by Ian McEwan, which I highly recommend.

  • May 7, 2008

    Your classics (The Great Gatsby, Catch-22, Brave New World, 1984, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) are some of my favourite books ever..good choices.

    Have you read the I am Legend novel? (ok, the film wasnt great, but the novel is excellent)or Farenhite 451?

    Id also recommend The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick if you like BNW/1984.

    Im just starting to read The Kite Runner, im always wary of reading celebrated novels, but after the first chapter i get the hype.

    Thanks for the recommendations – i read far too much and always looking for more!

  • May 7, 2008

    I think I will be raiding your bookshelves sometime soon – reading through your list had me pulling up Amazon and making multiple additions to my wishlist. 🙂

  • May 7, 2008

    i picked up Love WAlked In at the bookstore based on a random woman’s recommendation. it’s NEXT on my to-read list! 🙂

  • May 7, 2008

    I really want to comment on this, because I’ve been working on my summer reading list as well. However, it’s some ridiculously late hour and I have to work tomorrow, so . . . look for a post from me on this topic next week! 🙂

  • May 8, 2008
    aart hilal


    I’m a big fan of Paulo Coelho! You will love this! He’s the first best-selling
    author to be distributing for free his works on his blog:

    Have a nice day!


  • May 8, 2008

    Yay! Thanks for the shout-out! I still think you need to read more Capote (Music for Chameleons) and Somerset Maugham (Of Human Bondage KILLED me). And Flappers and Philosophers is an excellent collection. I haven’t read anything in awhile…but recently started a meth addict memoir. Yup. That’s right. Getting in touch with my East TN roots.

    Love you!

  • June 24, 2008
    Anne Dayton

    Oh man. All I want to do sis go read now. Thanks for the recs!

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