When I think about the best summer reading, I think of really entertaining books that you’ll enjoy enough to want to binge read (see also: this great NYT article). But I don’t think they have to be pure fluff! To me, a great summer read should feel less like eating a ton of candy, and more like eating a delicious meal made up of of assorted dips, juicy fruits, delicious crostini, a couple of amazing pasta salads, some great Trader Joe’s appetizers, and sparkling water. It’s satisfying and filling (even if/when it’s light), and consuming it brings real pleasure.
So with that in mind, here are some of my favorites!
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
I haven’t read this book in a few years, but it’s one I think of as best in class when it comes to light summer reads. Reading it feels like watching a great Nancy Meyers movie; it’s entertaining and goes down smoothly and easily.
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Every summer, I get what can only be described as a craving to read Valley of the Dolls. The book is pure camp and I love it. It also has one of the best elements of a great summer novel: rich people and their rich people problems. I might actually start reading it again tonight because it’s been a few years!
The Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante
When I think about these four books — My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child — I just feel such genuine fondness and appreciation for them. (By the way, I actually didn’t really get into My Brilliant Friend until the last few chapters, but then I was all in.)
Middlesex by Jeffrey Euginedes
The first time I finished Middlesex, I felt like I'd just read a memoir, not a work of fiction. It’s one of my all-time faves. Also, I had heard the audiobook was better than the book itself, which I found preposterous but…the audiobook is truly excellent.
In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar
This was one of my favorite books of 2015, and reminded me just how good short story collections can be. (Also, short story collections feel very summery to me and I don’t know why.)
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Most of this book takes place in the summer and it has loads of “classic novel you read on summer break between junior and senior years” energy.
A Summer Affair by Elin Hilderbrand
I went back and forth on including this one because I think it’s fluffier than most of my other picks…but I also really enjoyed it (and The Rumor and Beautiful Day, two other Elin Hilderbrand novels I’ve finished this week) and I think Hilderband is so good at what she does that it’s worth your consideration!
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
I’ve read almost all of David Sedaris’s books, but Me Talk Pretty One Day is probably my all-time favorite; I think it has the highest concentration of David Sedaris lines/anecdotes that I think about a lot. Also: the audiobook version (which David Sedaris narrates) is fantastic — so good for road trips.
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
It took more than one recommendation from Terri for me to finally read this book, but once I did, I had to admit: it’s amazing. Like, couldn’t put it down amazing; I’m happy to report I’m now a James Garfield stan.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyou
By now, you’ve surely watched or listened to or read something about Elizabeth Holmes, but this book is the OG for a reason. It’s gripping (and way better than the podcasts or documentaries have been) and totally worth it.
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott
This book reads like a novel and, despite being about the Civil War, is a bit lighter than you might expect (while still being very informative). If you’re the kind of person who’d prefer to spend their summer vacation taking trips to Gettysburg and the like, this one’s for you.