Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Summer Reading

Summer reading, or "beach reading" has become synonymous with light fluff or guilty pleasures.  If you're into that, then that's cool, no need to change your routine.  I'll admit to reading the first two Fifty Shades books and I tore through Gone Girl like it ain't no thang.  But sometimes you want something with a little more substance.  While you do want to spend your vacation relaxing, having time off from work and/or school is also the perfect time to tackle some classics that might have been on your list for years.  I've compiled a list of some of my favorite summer reading books and a few other suggestions that will be fun and easy to read while providing a little challenge and art for those who want it.  All of these books are as enjoyable at face value as they are once you start to analyze them.

This is one of my all-time favorite books in general, but it's perfect for summer traveling because its characters are basically doing a giant bar crawl of Europe.  Hemingway's simple and direct writing style also makes it very easy to read.  If you want to imagine yourself as a disillusioned expatriate party girl with no moral compass (or you just want to see how they lived), then this book will satisfy your hedonism. It's equally satisfying if you care about things like symbolism and history.  If you're growing weary of The Great Gatsby in all its forms but still can't get enough of the Jazz Age, this is the perfect alternative.  It's just as representative of the generation, but from a different perspective.
Best for: reading while traveling, on a long train ride between cities or in an outdoor cafe

I'm almost finished reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and I'm at that awkward point where I can't stop reading it because I have to know what happens, but I also don't want the book to end.  It's a psychological, magical-realist thriller about a man who loses his cat, and then his wife, in early-90's Tokyo and encounters many strange characters along the way to find them.  It's eerie and erotic enough to keep you turning the pages, but it's also full of symbolism and philosophy.  Murakami's writing style is fairly dry and simplistic throughout this novel (you won't have to sit there trying to figure out what he was trying to say), but every once in a while there's a phrase or sentence that's poetic enough to tickle my thinking cap.
Best for: long flights, or entertaining yourself on rainy days

I know I've talked about this book on my blog before, but it's worth mentioning again.  It's a coming-of-age story that takes place during the summer and it's a murder mystery/revenge novel.  What more could you ask for?  Oh yeah, also some brilliant, beautiful writing and intense political quandaries.  This was the most recent National Book Award winner and if you read it, you'll know why.
Best for: camping trips, sitting on the porch of a cabin

Swamplandia! is another book that I really can't recommend enough. Anyone who has talked to me about books in the past year has probably heard me mention it before.  The setting is very summery -- Florida's swampy backwoods -- and it is also a mystery that keeps you from being able to put it down.  The chapters alternately focus on each of the different characters, so you really become invested in all of them.  Karen Russell also has a lot of moments of pure poetry in her writing that gave me goosebumps as I was reading it.
Best for: visiting your grandparents in Florida, road trips, if you're the only one who hasn't gone home for summer vacation after the semester is over (that's when I read it)

This is a short book that could easily be read in one sitting, but its language packs a punch.  It's a little hipstery (it's about a librarian in Portland who likes to shop at thrift stores), but it's written beautifully and there's a little love story and some life-contemplating in there, so it's fun to read and engaging.  It's written almost more like an epic poem than a novel (or maybe it's a novel in verse).  The story is easy to understand, but the words are chosen carefully for their sound, rhythm, and meaning.  The novel is based entirely in the thoughts of the main character, with only a little bit of dialogue, and it zooms in and out of time, between past lives of people in postcards, her own childhood, and present-day.  It's very interesting and artful, but cute at the same time.
Best for: pool/beach reading, carrying it in your purse/pocket and reading a little bit at a time when you're waiting for somebody

This Pulitzer Prize-winning book is also a coming-of-age story (what summer reading would be complete without that?) about two Jewish comic book artists living in New York City during the first half of the 20th century.  One of the main characters escaped from Prague in the advent of World War II with a little help from Houdini-style magic, which becomes a theme throughout the rest of the story.  You don't have to know anything or care about comic books to enjoy this novel, although you might come out of it with some appreciation for their history.  This book is full of romance, secrets, and excitement.
Best for: everyday, sitting in a city park, NJ Transit/subway reading

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