If you’re a reader, you probably know summer reading lists have become a thing.
If you brought up children, or you’re in the process of doing so, you know about these lists from school days. It’s not enough that students read during the school year; they need to keep it up during summer.
As one who loves reading, I never argued much with that and encouraged my bundles of joy to read at least one book from the summer list.
Today summer reading lists for grownups come from book reviewers and other book lovers who have a forum — a newspaper, blog, podcast or whatever — and share their summer reading suggestions through their respective channel. Many of the picks might be considered light reading, maybe a mystery, romance or thriller that’s easy to pick up and put down, perhaps while sitting in a chair beachside.
Since I also happen to have such a forum, I can’t resist giving you my own list. I’m not necessarily representing these to be light reading, but these six (three fiction and three non-fiction, in that order) were all enjoyed by yours truly over the past year or so, and are ones I would recommend for any time of year, beach or no beach. But since it’s summer, we’ll call it the “What I Know Summer Reading List.”
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Every once in a while, my wife will read something that she insists I read. This, a selection for her book club, is one of those. Set on the North Carolina Coast in 1969, it combines coming-of-age with suspense and nature, with a heroine that will capture your heart from start to finish. And speaking of finish, the twist at the end is likely to leave you with your mouth agape. This is the first novel written by a nature writer whose descriptions of the marsh and coastline are as compelling as the storyline. I’m glad my wife insisted.
- Quiet Game by Greg Iles. This one has been around a while, and is the first in a series whose recurring character is a lawyer turned novelist (think Grisham and Baldacci). The author, a Mississippi native, set Quiet Game in Natchez, where the main character, Penn Cage, grew up. After losing his wife at a young age, Cage returns to his hometown with his young daughter to regroup a bit, only to find himself wrapped up in a blackmail scheme against his surgeon father and unexpectedly reunited with his high school girlfriend. Typical of crime fiction, there are twists and turns throughout that make for a good page turner. A friend at work recommended this as “good reading with no redeeming value,” but I told him good reading is redemption in itself. This one certainly qualifies as that and I am looking forward to reading more in the series.
- Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Oh my goodness, this one had me laughing out loud. Since it might affect you the same way, be mindful of others in beach chairs near you. In an interview, the author said his intention was “to introduce a contemporary Asia to a North American audience,” and I would dare say he accomplished his goal. Told from the perspective of five characters, Kwan unravels a tale of a Chinese-American college professor whose boyfriend is from Singapore. When she goes with him to visit his family there, she learns they are one of the wealthiest families in the country. While rip-roaringly funny, there are poignant moments as well, and Kwan’s characters are as lovable as they are hilarious. (The movie of the same name, released last year, is one of those rare films that does justice to the book from which it was inspired. I recommend it as well, although I always recommend reading the book first).
- Confessions of a Christian Mystic by River Jordan. After seeing this on the Parnassus bestseller list, I downloaded it to my electronic reader and I’m really glad I did. The memoir traces the life of this Nashville author from her Southern childhood to present, with an emphasis on the spiritual. She asks important and sometimes bold questions that most people of faith, if they’re honest, have wrestled with. Most important, her questions always lead back to the source of her strength.
- Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I did not set out to include two books by unconventional Christian women here, but somehow it happened. Be forewarned: this is not for the faint of heart, or Christians who lean toward the dogmatic. If edgy faith writers like Anne Lamott are not for you, then definitely take a pass on this one, the autobiographical story of a tattooed former stand-up comic and recovering alcoholic who had an encounter with, of all things, the living God. She went on to become a Lutheran pastor and today leads a ragtag group of parishioners much like herself. With full disclosure, I had a hard time with some of Bolz-Weber’s raw narrative and salty language, especially coming from a woman of the cloth. But her faith journey is both captivating and challenging, and I came away with much to think about.
- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. I learned about this from someone else’s summer reading list and I’m really glad I saw it. Gottlieb is a psychotherapist in California who decided to visit a therapist herself after her boyfriend unexpectedly dumped her, uncovering a plethora of unresolved personal issues beyond the former boyfriend. Her book is a combination of stories about her own counseling and accounts of sessions with her patients (whose names have, of course, been changed), with some anecdotal information from her past life thrown in. A friend who read it said it’s a good example of how easily we think we have insight into others, while lacking it in ourselves. Very true. Besides that, it’s an entertaining read.
So there you have it. While I am certain all of these are not for all of you, I hope maybe you’ll find one or more worthy of beach reading, or to take with you wherever you might be going. If you’re staying home, read one inside in the air conditioning while it’s blazing hot outside.
And if you will let me know what you think of any of them, or give me some suggestions from your own reading lists, I’ll be grateful.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.