1. The Lover by Marguerite Duras
At just a little over 100 pages, The Lover is a quick read that’s perfect to bring to the beach or poolside. It tells the true story of Duras and her teenage years as a French girl in Vietnam, where she met and proceeded to have a tumultuous affair with an older and wealthy Chinese man. The prose is spare yet haunting, and you won’t be able to put it down.
2. The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey
This book, from the same Jack Handey of Saturday Night Live’s “Deep Thoughts,” is hilarious. It’s a fast read set in tropical Honolulu, and follows the often unreliable narrator as he and his friend seek adventure and uncover an ancient civilization. It’s a breezy satire and one that will get you ready for your own summer vacations.
3. Box Girl by Lilibet Snellings
This memoir by Snellings is pieced off into small, easily digestible chapters about her life in Los Angeles as a living art installation at the Standard Hotel. Equal parts humor and coming of age, she takes us on her journey as she spends her nights in a glass box where guests can watch her lounge in what is essentially her underwear.
4. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
Not only is this coming of age story set in the summertime, but it details a young man’s sexual awakening in a way that’s both heartbreaking and funny. It will take a few pool visits to read this book; it’s a little hefty at 320 pages, but it’s a good one to blast through this summer. Also, be sure to check out these 27 Must Have Queer Summer Reads.
5. Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez
This novella, just 115 pages, is about a man who turns 90 and decides that he’s going to reward himself with a virgin whore for his birthday. While that may sound horrifying, the book takes a series of turns that shed light on the man, the woman he chooses, and his life that led up to this moment in a really beautiful way. Best of all is you could easily finish this in a day.
6. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The story of Christopher McCandless is as harrowing as it is relatable. Recreated by Krakauer, Into the Wild recounts the real events that led McCandless to graduate college and spend his summer trekking through the wilderness on his own. The story is as riveting as it is fascinating, and you won’t be able to put it down.
7. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
This story, set in 1942 Berlin, is about the unlikely friendship between two 9-year-old boys. It’s moving, will make you cry, and can be read over the span of a lazy afternoon. (Just make sure to have tissues nearby.)
8. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling!!!)
Ignore the title and the weird cover, this isn’t a chick lit book. It’s a detective novel that’s insanely well written and under Rowling’s pen name. This is a long read you can tackle over the summer, put down and come back to, while you read other books in the process. (In other words: Multitaskers, this is the book for you, and it’s worth the read.)
10. Paper Towns by John Green
Green is arguably the king of turning a story about teens into something so much bigger than what you’d expect. With Paper Towns he follows the life of soon-to-be high school grad Quentin Jacobsen as he hurries to find out what happened to his childhood crush. It’s funny and terrifying all at once, and will make you want to go on a summer scavenger hunt of your own.
11. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
This is a love story about two people falling in love with each other and a book they both adore. If you’re in the mood for a fun romantic novel with some dark turns, and have a bit of geekiness in you, then definitely add this to the summer reading list.
12. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This memoir about Strayed’s quest to find salvation while hiking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail is harrowing, if only because of Strayed’s brutally honest admissions about her own weaknesses. If you’re feeling lost this summer, or just want to read about someone’s journey to acceptance, then Wild is for you.
13. The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison
Read this collection of powerful essays on a warm summer night with a cold glass of whiskey. Jamison has a lot to say, and you’ll want to hear it all. She writes about empathy, and her own experiences with it, by confronting pain — her own and others.
14. A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
This is everything that a great beach read should be: romantic, heartbreaking, and engrossing. It’s set in Rhode Island and spans the seven-year unstoppable relationship between Lily Dane and Nick Greenwald. You won’t be able to put it down, even though it’s 432 pages.
15. Birds of a Lesser Paradise
This astonishing collection of short fiction stories is the perfect book to read right before bed, or when you want to read a chapter of something and come back to it later. It’s about nature, families, and relationships — much like summer.
16. The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Do you like The Royal Tenenbaums or stories about quirky and flawed families? Then this story about Caleb and Camille Fang’s commitment to their performance art, much to the dismay of their children, will charm your pants off.
17. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn
If you like comics, then Y: The Last Man is a fantastic summer read. The series of 10 paperbacks spans a dystopian future in which Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand are the last male mammals left on earth. The characters are compelling and will stay with you long after summer ends.
18. Death In Venice by Thomas Mann
Death in Venice is an exceptional piece of literature, and at just 80 pages, it makes it a perfect choice for a quick read at the beach. It follows an author who is disturbed by his attraction for a young man, and fair warning: You will think about this book long after you’ve read it.
20. Carnet De Voyage (Travel Journal) by Craig Thompson
Whether or not you’re a fan of graphic novels, it’s impossible not to feel like you’re traveling alongside Thompson as he recounts the three months he spent traveling through Barcelona, the Alps, France, and Morocco. The 224 page novel is filled with stunning art and will inspire all travel enthusiasts to explore their surroundings with a more astute eye.
21. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
One of the best parts of summer is the promise of new possibilities, which is a lot of what Sloan’s adventure story is all about. There’s a semi-secret society trying to desperately translate a 500-year-old text, hot geeks, and our hero: a graphic designer who’s forced to take a job at a bookstore during the recession.
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