Think of your favorite reading experiences and you'll probably picture turning pages in the summertime. Last year I dug into the Sherlock Holmes canon, which fueled my love for the BBC television series. In 2012, I tore through Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl in one sitting, then spent the rest of the summer raving about it. And my all-time favorite hot-weather read may just be the wintry Anna Karenina, which I lugged all the way to a beach in Mexico. I spent a month with Tolstoy, and my copy of Anna is lovingly stained with sunscreen and sand.
The best thing about summer reading is that there are no rules. School is out. No homework is due. You can read anything you like. Here are 10 titles I'm excited to read before September.
By Emma Donoghue
Raise your hand if you're still creeped out by Room, Donoghue's engrossing 2010 novel, in which a 5-year-old boy and his mother are held captive in a small shed. Her new book happens to be set in summer, and it's based on a true story involving an unsolved murder. In the San Francisco of 1876, citizens are enduring a heat wave and a smallpox outbreak, and someone has killed Jenny Bonnet in a boardinghouse. Donoghue researched the case and has written a possible explanation of the crime. This one feels like a hit for fans of historical fiction and true crime.
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
By Joshua Ferris
You can file this under Most Anticipated Novel. Ferris' first book, the award-winning Then We Came to the End, is fueled by hilarious, slyly profound observations about what it's like to work in a modern office. This latest story follows a man whose identity has been stolen on social media. The thief seems to be living the hero's life better than he was. If you like your worldly observations with a side of wit, pick up a Ferris novel.
On Such a Full Sea
By Chang-rae Lee
Thanks to the immense popularity of The Hunger Games series, dystopian novels are still a big part of the young-adult genre, but Lee's book reminds us that they aren't just for teenagers. Lee sets his story in a future America that has labor camps filled with Chinese workers and a 1984-like totalitarian government. The book follows the journey of a young woman who abandons her colony and goes in search of the man she loves, an action that could start a revolt. Lee is known for his beautiful prose, and fans of literary fiction should love this.
Land of Love and Drowning
By Tiphanie Yanique
An epic family saga set in the Virgin Islands? Yes, please. Yanique's debut novel follows three generations of the Bradshaw clan. It has a shipwreck in the Caribbean Sea, a dramatic rescue, love, loss, war, betrayal, and even some magic. It also tells the history of the islands as they transferred from Danish to American rule. I won't be jetting off to the Caribbean this summer, but reading this may be the next best thing.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
By Gabrielle Zevin
A.J. Fikry is the cranky owner of a small New England bookstore, and he's having a rough time. His wife has died, his shop is almost bankrupt, and his rare collection of Poe poems has been stolen. His fortunes change when a precocious child turns up at his store, and he gets another chance at love with a fellow bibliophile. Zevin's story is part mystery, part knowing tweak of lit culture and part romance. And if there's a happy ending, you won't hear me complain.
Little Failure: A Memoir
By Gary Shteyngart
Humor! Pathos! Culture! Satire! Shteyngart's memoir has it all. He was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States in 1979, when he was 7. After being beaten by other kids, he changed his name from Igor to Gary and spent years trying to lose his thick Russian accent. His mother wanted him to become a lawyer or a Wall Street type, but he couldn't do it, so she nicknamed him "little failure." Shteyngart is actually a big success on the literary-fiction scene: His novels include the acclaimed Super Sad True Love Story. I hope this wonderful memoir brings more attention to his work.
My Life in Middlemarch
By Rebecca Mead
Mead's loving tribute to George Eliot's Middlemarch is the latest in the growing genre of bibliomemoirs. Mead writes about her attachment to the English masterpiece and how it has shaped her, including along the way biographical details about Eliot's unconventional life. I am not sure which to read first, the memoir or Middlemarch itself. Either way, I'm eager to dive into the classic that Virginia Woolf described as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people."
Capital in the Twenty-First Century
By Thomas Piketty
Who wants to read a 700-page tome about wealth inequality? I do! I do! Also, everybody else: It is the No. 1 best-seller on Amazon and, at this writing, tops The New York Times nonfiction list. French economist Piketty created a huge historical database of income and wealth distribution from 20 countries, crunched the numbers and found that, indeed, the rich continue to get richer. Anyone who has chanted "We are the 99 percent" won't be surprised by that news, but Piketty's fluid collation of data and history has become the stuff of op-ed battles. It's a book that's going to get referenced a lot. If you want to rage like Karl Marx this summer, break out the Piketty.
The Knowledge: How to Rebuild
Our World From Scratch
By Lewis Dartnell
If you're worried about the collapse of civilization, this is the book for you. If society crumbled from an asteroid collision, a flu pandemic or a zombie onslaught, the result basically would be the same: We might have to rebuild our technologies from scratch. Astrobiologist Dartnell here synthesizes humankind's knowledge into 300 pages of instructions on agriculture, food preservation, medicine, transportation, communications and chemistry. Better skip the e-book and buy a print copy — maybe two.
Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes
By John Waters
I love travelogues, but I doubt that I've read one quite like this. Cult film director Waters hitchhiked from Baltimore to San Francisco, carrying a sign that read "End of 70 West." Mustachioed high jinks ensue. But instead of writing a typical travel journal, Waters here imagines a best-case scenario, then follows with a worst-case version and, finally, the real thing. If you like musical accompaniment, he also includes a playlist. I can't wait to hear what happened to him in Kansas.
Diane Kockler Martin is a librarian at Metropolitan Community College and is ranked as one of the top-100 reviewers on Goodreads. Her book reviews can also be found on the blog Shelf Inflicted.