Summer reading

For some reason, people always go crazy for summer reading lists. I guess the idea is that folks go on vacation, spend leisurely days at the beach or on the porch, and generally have more time to read. I’ve never completely understood this… surely there’s little better than curling up in a quilt on a cold winter afternoon with a cup of tea and something delicious to read?

The fact is that I’m pretty much always on the prowl for a good book. Having one of the largest libraries in the world at my fingertips is a nice perk, but sometimes identifying something good to read there can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. I prefer to go in with a guide of what I’m looking for and then wander through the stacks like I’m on a treasure hunt, armed only with call numbers and a map.

The downside of this is that I’ve been kind of slow to take full advantage of the Kindle I got a couple years ago. I read a lot, and at $8 a book, it can add up fast. I’ll splurge on the ones that I can’t find elsewhere, but generally I look to borrow books from friends and libraries. I’m also generous about lending good books to friends. Almost as soon as I finish one that I like I’ll hand it off to a friend who I think would enjoy it. The best things in life are shared, right?

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That said, here are five books I recommend for your summer reading list (in no particular order):

1. The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer
The story of a Jewish Hungarian architecture student living on the brink of World War II, I appreciated that this book didn’t follow the usual war narrative, and instead begins years before, making the losses and hardships of the war even more terrible.

2. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Theodore Decker is 13 when a terrorist attack kills his mother and turns his life on end. Over the next 15 years as Theo’s life spins out of control, he finds comfort in a painting that links him to that day, and to his mother. This book is long (800+ pages!), which makes it perfect for a long trip or week at the beach.

3. The Circle, by Dave Eggers
A fictionalized account of a young woman hired to work at a giant tech firm sometime in the near future. While I didn’t love the prose of this book, the plot made me think a lot about privacy and relationships amid pervasive social media.

4. Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks
This came out a few years ago, but if you missed it I recommend you check it out, especially if you’re in New England. Set in the 1660s, it’s a mostly fictional account of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The descriptions of the colony at Martha’s Vineyard and the newly founded college are pretty interesting, particularly for those of us who know them only in their present form.

5. Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
This also came out a couple of years ago, but is worth picking up. Set in the slums of Mumbai, Boo chronicles the dramas of the city’s underclass living in the shadows of prosperity. Her prose is so honest and heartbreaking, it’s easy to forget that the book is nonfiction, and when you remember your heart breaks at the injustice and impossibility of it all.

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And here’s five I want to read:

1. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
Everyone tells me this book will have me in tears. I really want to read it before I see the movie.

2. Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage, by Molly Wizenberg
Written by the author of the popular Orangette food blog, Wizenberg recounts how pursuing her husband’s dream of opening a restaurant challenged both her and her marriage. I’m a huge fan of food memoirs, so this one should be a win.

3. Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman
I enjoyed the Netflix series, and am looking forward to seeing how the memoir reconciles with it.

4. The Son, by Philipp Meyer
I saw a guy reading this on the train last week, and looked it up (one reason I love paper books). A western saga with prose that’s been compared to Cormac McCarthy’s, I had to add it to the list.

5. The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
I loved Kidd’s best-seller, The Secret Life of Bees. Her latest work, set in Charleston (a city close to my heart), follows the lives of a slave and her owner over three decades, chronicling their loves and losses, risks and relationships.

Would love to hear your summer reading recommendations. What’s on your list?

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