My favourite memories of summers past don’t include splashing in the lake, sun tanning on the beach or toasting marshmallows by the campfire. My best summers involved books, books, and more books. Since I basically detest being out in the sun, I’d curl away somewhere slightly cool or breezy and spend my days reading and napping.
Finding the time to drift in and out of consciousness with a book in hand is harder and harder to do nowadays, but I do get a sense of childlike comfort finding every opportunity to read in the summer.
My summer reading binges have had some pretty specific focuses. One summer I read every single V.C. Andrews book I could get my hands on — weird! One summer, I read almost the entire Lucy Maud Montgomery canon (ummm, Emily of New Moon is a personal hero). One year I did a deep dive into Robertson Davies, another year I tore through anything written by a Margaret. Do yourself a favour and re-read The Stone Angel, because I know you didn’t enjoy it to its full extent in high school. It’s beyond brilliant.
This year started off quite nicely with the deeply satisfying Poisonwood Bible and then the ’80s standard, Heartburn. I was on a roll, and I didn’t want to jinx it. So, I put out a call to my (extremely well-read) Facebook community — what should I read this summer?
My parameters were slightly narrow. I needed to be a book that was both literary and a page-turner. It also had to have a strong central female character.
Here’s what I heard:
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah — “Definitely a page turner.”
The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell — “It’s not fiction, but this is a great into to the Mitford sisters — six incredibly strong women, most of whom went on to author books of their own.”
Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn
Clothesline Swing by Danny Ramadan
Find a Way by Diana Nyad
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrente — “It’s the first of a quartet and is brilliant. I ripped through it.” “It’s the Thorn Birds of our Time.”
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Witches of Portobello by Paulo Coelho
Entangled by Graham Hancock — “Very strong female leads. Mix of historical fact and fantasy. I recommend to everyone I know!”
Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling — “For adventure.”
Death Series by J. D. Robb — “For murder and mystery.”
Anything by Ivan Coyote — “For knowledge and humour.”
Laughing all the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawae
Eleven Pipers Piping by C. C. Benison
The Girls by Emma Cline
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
Any Mary Karr memoir
Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill — “Very interesting and confusing. Read it on holidays and felt like I need to read it again…”
The Suitcase by Sergei Dovlatov
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters — “Read it right now. You have to read this book.”
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn
Educated by Tara Westover — “For a non-fiction pick.”
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn — “!”
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Wonder by R. J. Palacio — “For a fast and good read.”
What I ended up choosing:
I had read a few of these suggestions, so that narrowed it down slightly. Some didn’t quite fit the bill of having a strong female lead — I’ll save those for the future. A few of these books have really captured my attention. Fingersmith sounds amazing, but I can’t find it in digital form. I have yet to read any of the Harry Potter series — I keep vowing to read them and never get around to it, despite many recommendations from totally trustworthy sources. I started reading a preview of Little Fires Everywhere and was entranced — maybe it will be my next choice.
I ended up going with My Brilliant Friend, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made all summer. It was truly astounding. Plus, it’s the first of four books, so I’ll be able to really enjoy the characters. My friend convinced me to read this book by saying this book was the Thorn Birds of our time. That’s all I needed. And I’m not looking back.
What’s on your summer reading list?
By Ricky Zayshley
Want more reading suggestions? We asked some of our favourite Calgarians what they’re reading, and this is what they said.