Theme week! This week, we’re talking about summer reading recommendations.
Here’s a concept I never really understood: the beach read. The idea that summer is the time for mindless pulpy paperbacks because you’re sitting on the beach or by the pool or on an airplane and don’t want to think too hard. I mean, I get the concept. But I’ve never really engaged with the idea of the “beach read.” I’ve never picked a book because I thought it would be light or easy or mindless.
I have too little spare time to waste on mindless reading. I have too, too many books on my “to read” pile to ever indulge in reading that I won’t have to think about. I think about all my reading. Even the pulpiest, beachiest read will teach me something about writing, and reading. What’s more, I’m always looking for the novel that will blow my mind. Even in summer, even on the beach. (I imagine this is why I’m such a slow reader. Which is why my to read pile never seems to get any shorter.)
So, what I can recommend? Oh, so many things to recommend.
Classics: summer’s a great time to catch up on classics, because in the summer, on the beach, reading Jane Austen will not make you think of the horrible high school English teacher who ruined Austen for you for the next five years because she insisted that it was serious, serious literature. (A-hem. I may have some issues.) In fact, Austen is romantic comedy of the highest order. Persuasion is my favorite.
Others I recommend: Charles Dickens, Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. (There are two kinds of readers, the ones who love Moby Dick and the ones who don’t. I love it. The whole thing is one long piece of foreshadowing building to the last chapter.) Twentieth century classics like John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I didn’t read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time until just a few years ago, and I absolutely loved it.
Are you going on a trip? Find a classic novel about the place you’re visiting, and you’ll see it in a whole new light. Hit up Project Gutenberg for books that have entered the public domain. My feeling is that if people have been reading and talking about a book for fifty years, seventy years, a hundred years, two hundred years — there’s a reason. These books are “classics” because, in general, they’re really, really good.
Genre books I’ve read recently and loved: China Mieville’s Embassytown and The City and the City. I reread Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga which is always, always good. I finally read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy and loved it. (No, really!) For older science fiction: Alfred Bester is making a comeback, for good reason — he was ahead of his time. Try The Stars My Destination. Peter S. Beagle has a number of short story collections out, and I’m catching up on those — Sleight of Hand, most recently. His The Last Unicorn is a classic that I’ll always recommend. For more fantasy: Patricia McKillip’s books are what I would consider great summer reads: compact, stand-alone novels that transport you to magical places. Robin McKinley is one of my favorite writers for the same reason.
Go to the awards lists. The Hugos, Nebulas, World Fantasy Awards, Stoker Awards, Edgar Awards, Tiptree Awards. Gosh, there’s dozens. Locus Magazine has links to most of the major science fiction and fantasy awards. The communities most directly involved with these awards bicker a lot over them, but they’ve really never failed me when I needed to find something good to read.
I could go on…but I think I need to go read something.