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Top Books for Summer

As summer unfolds amid this pandemic, I'm trying to find ways to deal with the inevitable feelings of claustrophobia and confinement. You can never go wrong with a good book as a way to escape, feel productive, or bring comfort. It's my go-to coping mechanism.

This is the first summer in many years that I am not traveling the majority of weekends. Last summer, I was out of DC almost every week and although it was a blast, I was definitely burnt out by the end. I remember promising myself that I would tone down the travel for the next summer. Surprise, 2020 made that decision for me. So, since my personal travel has been severely limited, I've been relying on books to whisk me away, at least in my head.

When I think about books that remind me of the summer season, several themes come to mind: exploration, coming-of-age, excitement, nature, travel, taking risks, and pushing past comfort zones. There's also that ineffable feeling of heat and anticipation, whether it might be specifically articulated by the author or hidden among the words on the page. I've come up with six books that provoke these summer feelings, each in their own weird and wonderful ways.


This might be the most hyped up, most read novel of the last few years but let me tell you, it deserves it. When I was brainstorming for this post, this was the first book that popped in my head. First of all, just look at this cover ---- this might be my favorite book cover of all time. It is absolutely beautiful and I swear it's part of the reason so many people picked up this book (just shows the importance of marketing). Why wouldn't you want to have this beauty on your bookshelf?

Putting aside its aesthetically pleasing cover, Where the Crawdads Sing is engrossing, memorable, well-paced, and beautifully written. I'm sure many of you have read it already but if you haven't, you need to. The story follows Kya, a girl living in the North Carolina marsh in the 1950s, who over the years is abandoned by her family. In order to survive, she has to intricately learn the land and rely on her instincts. Although she is mocked and bullied at school, she befriends a boy named Tate, who teaches her how to read and write and they form a strong friendship. When Tate leaves for college, Kya has to once again navigate the world on her own. At the center of the story is a murder mystery, with scenes from the trial sprinkled in throughout the book, giving the story a bit more anticipation than the typical coming-of-age novel.

So much about this story makes it a perfect summer read ---- Owens creates a world so tangible, I could feel the heat of the marsh and the blazing sun. I loved watching Kya get through her heartbreak by becoming independent and using her natural abilities to her advantage. There's a bit of romance while not being the center of the story. I'm not usually a murder mystery fan but it does add an element of tension.

This novel isn't groundbreaking but it's a great way to escape, preferably on a beach (maybe even a North Carolina beach to match the story's setting). If you haven't already read it, now is the perfect time to get lost in the heart and world of a Carolina marsh girl.


All hardcore bookworms have a niche genre that they're weirdly obsessed with ---- mine is running books. It could be a memoir, ethnography, or scientific analysis and I will run to pick it up. Running books give me strange doses of serotonin aside from the obvious motivation to lace up my shoes and get out the door. I feel like people who author books about running just have their lives together and I'm definitely trying to get to that point in life.

Adharanand Finn is a journalist who dives deep into the extreme sport of ultra running by completing the most famous ultramarathons in the world. I learned about the world of ultra running a few years ago when I read the best running book I've ever picked up, Born to Run by Chris McDougall. If you haven't yet read that niche classic, I also high recommend it. When I heard that people run ultramarathons (which is anything more than the marathon length of 26.2 miles) for fun and through all kinds of extreme settings, I was floored. Some ultramarathons are more than 100 miles, through mountains or desserts, rain or shine, and can last many days. How can the human body withstand that much stress? How can a person mentally get through such a grueling feat without breaking down?

I was amazed that Finn wanted to explore this world by personally putting himself through multiple arduous races, detailing each race's twists and turns and how he was able to push through the pain. Not only was this exciting to read, but since Finn traveled across the globe to compete, I felt like I was being whisked away to exciting places to experience this strange niche world with him. I actually just recently read this book during quarantine and I was exhilarated despite being confined to my home. Finn gives the typical running book background on the sport, describing its quick rise to a thriving global industry, and highlights some of its biggest names and their journeys. But my favorite part was hearing about these insane races through the eyes of a guy who jumped into this world feet first. He describes some of his legitimate breakdowns, including the strangest race I've ever heard of ---- a 24-hour race on a track. Yes, he really just ran around a track for 24 hours straight, having a mental breakdown and spiritual renewal in the process.

Don't get me wrong, I will not ever be running an ultramarathon but that didn't stop me from getting sucked into this crazy but addicting sport. If you're looking for an exciting nonfiction book that effortlessly integrates running, travel, taking risks, and pushing past comfort zones, this is the summer read for you.


This title alone evokes ideas of summer. I remember when I first heard of this book several years ago, I was intrigued by the title and description of "The epic story of America's Great Migration." It's a hefty nonfiction book but when I picked it up from the library, I was excited to dive in.

The Warmth of Other Suns details the Great Migration, when Black people moved from the South to the North, Midwest, and West in the 20th century. It centers around three people to tell this historical story ---- George Swanson Starling, Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster.

For me, historical nonfiction can tend to be dry and impersonal if an author uses mostly facts and figures to tell a story. I am much more engaged with a topic when there are personal accounts to help ground the history. Fill a historical nonfiction book with names, feelings, thoughts, struggles, and it makes a much more lasting effect on a reader. That's why I was able to get drawn in so deeply into The Warmth of Other Suns. Wilkerson uses the experiences of real people to better frame the entire movement, giving a more personal look at the reality of the time. If an author rattles off housing development stats in Chicago from 1910 to 1950, I won't really be able to grasp why that number is important. But if I read about the life of a sharecropper from Mississippi who took his entire family up the country to escape Jim Crow and find a better life in a Northern city, all while struggling against different faces of racism and hardship, I am going to remember that man and his life and understand why Americans need to comprehend the weight of this time period.

The title actually comes from a passage in Richard Wright's Black Boy. When Wilkerson was asked why she decided on that title she said, "Richard Wright consciously chose to call the cold North the place of warmer suns. It showed how determined he and millions of others like him were to leave a place that had shunned them for a place they hoped would sustain them, the need of any human being and the gift of any sun." Amidst the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement during this hot and crazy summer, The Warmth of Other Suns hits different and harder.


This 1992 Pulitzer Prize winner snuck up on me slowly ---- it was a slow burn of characterization, anticipation, and tragedy. This was the novel that made me realize how much I enjoy a well-written and fleshed out family drama.

A Thousand Acres is a modern and feminist take on the Shakespearean play King Lear. It centers around the Cook family whose patriarch owns a thousand acres of farmland in Iowa. When he unexpectedly decides to split the land up between his three daughters, it ignites a fire that spreads to each member of the family, slowly burning each character and causing the family and the land to disintegrate.

I have a strange affinity for stories that are set on an American farm. When an author describes the way the sun warms the ground when it's beginning to rise, the smell of grass and wheat on a summer day, or the sense of space when looking out over a field, I can't help but idealize it. There's something about the openness of a farm that evokes a feeling of freedom and excitement I also tend to associate with summer. I think I sometimes have this romantic notion of what life is like living and working on acres of beautiful land, although this novel certainly hurled those notions right out the window.

This novel showed how cutthroat farm life can be, from predatory lenders to abusive family members, and it did not shy away from the Cook family's harsh realities. It also revealed how vital land is to some people's identities, let alone their livelihoods. A farmer loses his land and he loses a part of his soul. The descent into madness looks different for each member of the Cook family, but no one is immune to the slow-burn destruction. It was a disquieting journey to watch unfold, but it was done masterfully, making this novel and its characters unforgettable.


If you Google 'Italy in the summer,' I have no doubt that this notorious book will come up. Call Me By Your Name might have one of the strongest summer sensations I've read in many years. It is set in the summer of 1983 in Italy, following a teenage boy who falls hard for a doctoral student who has come to live with his family for the summer.

It sounds so cliche as it has all the typical themes of a summer romance novel ---- a beautiful setting near the beach, a passionate first-love romance, and it's even written in a poetic stream of consciousness form. Honestly, not usually what I gravitate towards.

But not even I can deny the sheer emotional impact of this story. It was one of the first novels I read that didn't involve two straight characters, which definitely made for a unique experience. But it was Aciman's poetic prose and raw desires that really made this book unforgettable. The ending is controversial, but I absolutely loved the way Aciman closed the heartbreaking love story, embodying the pain and loss of a first-love. It's a perfect summer beach read, especially if you're looking for something a little more spicy.


Honestly, you could pick up just about any Sarah Dessen novel and it would be the absolute perfect summer read (and trust me, I've read them all). However, I'm going to rave for a bit about why The Truth About Forever is not only my favorite summer read, but one of my favorite books of all time.

The story follows Macy, a 17-year-old girl who recently lost her father and is struggling to process her grief and move on with her life. In the summer before her senior year, she meets a rambunctious catering crew, filled with the most wonderful and memorable characters, who help her realize that it is okay to be sad and it is okay to let go of control sometimes.

I read this book when I was fourteen, prime adolescence when everything just feels so intense and emotional. I can't tell you how many times I've read this book over the last decade, but I can say that every single time it still hits hard and makes me experience all those summer feelings. I love when a book gets into the weird and seemingly random details of its characters and plot ---- the color of someone's dress, the way the heavy summer air smelled, the sound of cicadas chirping in the background, the swish of a warm beer on the back porch of a house party. I live and die for those details. They make everything feel more tangible, alive, and real. Sarah Dessen is the queen of those details. I think that's what makes me read every single one of her books, even if the plots can sometimes be similar. Those details change and give life and breath to the characters, giving an immediacy to a book that makes me feel like I'm living within the pages.

The Truth About Forever was my first Dessen book, but it still to this day is my favorite. It reminds me of my own adolescent summers. Macy gets introduced to a world of mistakes, summer nights, summer jobs, and leaving comfort zones. She also falls for my favorite male character ever, Wes, the embodiment of every teenage girl's dream. And while this story has all the addicting and fun parts of a great summer read, it goes deeper and hits harder. Those details that Dessen is so good at describing also applies to Macy's relationship with her dad and the weird things she misses about him the most, like his obsession with buying random items from TV commercials to his fondness for their old beach house. Macy's pain is quiet at times, making it all the more real. I empathized with Macy and her actions and character motivations made so much sense to me. Honestly, all the characters did, which is why I still remember every name and backstory.

Never underestimate the power of good young adult fiction. I'm honestly itching to re-read this book now for the hundredth time just to slip back into that warm summer world. No matter what age, this book will have you laughing, crying, and living vicariously through Macy as she navigates a strange and exciting summer.


If none of these recommendations pique your interest, shoot me a message through the Personalized Recs page and I can recommend some summer reads based on what you specifically want. Stay safe and happy reading!


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