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by Kaitlin McManus | June 02, 2020

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Happy June, everyone! (Hitting a little differently this year, huh?) I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not as excited about summer this year as I usually am. The work-from-home grind is real—does anyone else feel like, in exchange for ditching our commutes, we’ve invited work to occupy more of our personal life? Despite every measure that we take to keep work and life separate while both are in our homes, a lot of us have let the two mix—a lot. And most people’s vacation plans are shot, so it feels like there’s no end in sight. I was supposed to go on a cruise in July (womp womp), so I definitely sympathize with those of you whose plans were cancelled. But do you know what’s still a thing? Summer reading.

I love summer reading. I love all reading, but summer reading always feels like a brand-new adventure. Maybe because I take a break from serious literature to plow through as many guilty pleasure books as I can, guilt-free. But, look, summertime is for casual reading meant to relax you, not to finally work up the nerve to start In Search of Lost Time. And since reading is one of the only fun activities that we can do now with almost zero pandemic anxiety, I gathered up a summer reading list for all of us who are feeling a little burned out from the work-from-home rut with no vacation in sight. A book-fueled staycation isn’t the same, but it can help take the edge off until it’s safer out there.

For Those Who Want a Sense of Normalcy Back:

The Dutch House – Ann Patchett

The latest from Tennessee’s doyenne of literature is a tough-but-heartwarming coming-of-age story about a pair of siblings, the house that should’ve been their birthright, and how they came to terms with losing it. In my opinion, it’s one of Patchett’s best—which is saying something, as she never disappoints.

Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid

Alix and her babysitter, Emira, are embroiled in a conflict of race, class, privilege, and generation after Emira is wrongfully accused of kidnapping Alix’s daughter. This book has an equal balance of excitement, compassion, and social commentary that makes it as entertaining as it is thoughtful—hard to beat that.

My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell

There’s as much drama happening about this modern take on Lolita as there is inside its pages. In the throes of #MeToo, Vanessa must come to terms with her relationship with a much-older teacher when she was fifteen. The complexity of this one is sure to spark a lot of questions during your next Zoom happy hour.

For Those Craving Escapism:

The Cruel Prince – Holly Black

Summer is for guilty pleasure books, and this book about a faerie court, its requisite intrigues and romances, and the pair of human sisters who navigate its delights and dangers. So it’s just as delicious as it is guilt-inducing. One of my all-time favorite summer reads from the past few years, no shame. (A little shame.)

The Municipalists – Seth Fried

A hard-nosed, all-business federal agent and his Kurosawa-obsessed AI buddy do their best to save a New-York-like city from terrorists with chaos and careful city planning. This is a funny, wild ride that will help you remember what city life looks like—or what we wish it looked like.

Rodham – Curtis Sittenfeld

What if Hillary Rodham hadn’t married Bill Clinton? The author of American Wife is back with another intriguing First-Lady-themed “what if” question, and it’s poised to be one of the biggest hits of the summer. And, maybe this is me, but I’d rather read this than watch another presidential debate.

For Those Who Still Want to Learn Something:

You Never Forget Your First – Alexis Coe

…President. Get it? Coe reexamines a lot of the myths and legends surrounding George Washington with a critical eye and sharp wit. I’m not a biography gal, personally, but this one is as fun as it is informative. And is sure to get that one jerk who judges your “frivolous” reading choices off your back for once.

Sounds Like Titanic – Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

Amateur violinist Hindman goes to college for journalism, but to help pay the bills, she auditions for an orchestra and gets in! But it turns out to be a fake orchestra. What even is a fake orchestra? You’ll just have to read this bizarre, touching memoir on modern ambition to find out. (Yes, memoir. This really happened.)

The Feather Thief – Kirk W. Johnson

In 2009, flautist Edwin Rist stole 299 bird skins from a British natural history museum. The loss to the scientific community was devastating. And Rist stole them to sell to fly-tiers. As in, for fly fishing. It’s rare these days to find a nonviolent true crime book, but this fits the bill—and the story is bonkers to boot.

For Those Who’d Rather Couch-Travel Than Board an Airplane Right Now:

The Queen of the Night – Alexander Chee

Ah, Paris. Chee’s engrossing historical novel follows orphan Lilliet who, through hard choices and smart strategizing, becomes a darling of the Paris opera scene. If you want to be completely transported by something compulsively readable, this is the book for you. It’ll make you want to brush up on your Mozart, too.

The Dream Life of Astronauts – Patrick Ryan

Short stories may be the perfect genre for summer, and Patrick Ryan’s phenomenal collection embodies Space Coast Florida like no other can. I find Ryan to be criminally underread in the mainstream world, but if you’re missing out on a Florida vacation this summer, this book can help fill the void.

The Lightness – Emily Temple

Was this the year you were finally going on that yoga retreat? Reader beware. In this book, Olivia tracks her wanderer father to a Buddhist retreat and becomes close with three girls who are seeking enlightenment—no matter the cost. Engrossing, twisted, and tender, Temple’s debut is all I want in a summer read.

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