I’ve always loved reading in general, but there is just something about summer and sitting down with a good book. Even as a kid, I was always so pumped to join the summer reading challenge at the library. If you read x number of pages by the end of the summer, you got a free book, and there was always a really cool treasure map you could color in to track your progress! Back then, my reading list looked something like this.
As I am trying to decide what books to pile onto my “to read” list for this summer, I figured I might as well pass on some of my lesser-known personal favorites to you: life-changers if you will, or at the least very much worth reading.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – If nothing else encourages you to read this book, a film titled The End Of The Tour just came out last year chronicling a famous 5 day interview between the author and a Rolling Stone reporter. So basically, DFW is pretty important in the literary world. I knew nothing about his work until I by chance picked up this book at the local library, his explosion of fame having taken place after its completion in the 90s, when I was still reading picture books. This book takes place alternately between a tennis academy and a rehab facility, and hosts a strange casts of characters. It is an odd comedy at the same time as it is a philosophical meditation on addiction, the powerful role of entertainment, and what the pleasures we choose say about who we are. Don’t go looking for a cut and dry interpretation, though. For there is still much speculation about what certain parts of this book really mean or what truly happened. This is not a book of answers but of questions, and I think that is why I love it.
The Girls by Lori Lansens – This book follows the life of 29-year-old conjoined twins Rose and Ruby. It puts a totally new kind of character in the spotlight. Readers will be surprised by the girls’ independence and the unexpected differences in their personalities and the separateness of their lives. The novel is written from the perspective of Rose, an aspiring writer, as she pens her autobiography. These unique main characters are treated with respect, awe, hilarity, and tenderness.
Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum – This novel chronicles the triumphs and trials of a group of adolescents. Only – these adolescents happen to live in an institution for juveniles with disabilities. It confronts important issues such as abuse and neglect within institutions and group homes, disability activism, and the infantalizing of individuals with disabilities. It also shows that disability does not define the individual’s hopes, desires, emotions, and dreams.
The Memory Artists by Jeffrey Moore – This novel revolves around a cast of characters who are all involved or affected in some way by the neurology of memory, from an Alzheimer’s patient to a neuropsychologist to a young woman suffering from blackouts and a young man with synesthesia. It is a moving and uplifting story that celebrates the power of relationships within struggle.
The Marriage Artist by Andrew Winer – I swear I don’t only read books with the word “artist” in the title. This moving, detailed story deals with loss, family secrets, inherited beliefs, societal prejudice and oppression specifically of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, and how our ancestors’ passions, perspectives, and experiences shape our own search for meaning. It is one of the most fascinating historical novels (which also branches into present day) that I’ve ever come across.
Requiem by Francis Itani – This book revolves around our need as human beings to revisit the places and people who shaped us, and confronts the harsh reality of the displacement of Japanese-Canadian and Japanese-American citizens after Pearl Harbor. It is also a sobering look at how easy it is for us as a society to turn our friends and neighbors into enemies simply because of their country of origin.
Darkmans by Nicola Barker – Nicola Barker’s favorite subject matter is described as eccentric or damaged people in mundane situations. I love heavily character-driven works as you can see from this list so far, and when I think about it, I hardly read anything that only has one central figure at the action’s center. This book is filled with strange people linked only loosely by a myriad of intertwining webs. It is strange and surreal, and I can’t really describe the plot outright. But, I promise while reading you will be tickled, emotionally moved, astonished, and entertained.
The Interestings by Megan Wolitzer – This book follows a group of four friends who meet at summer camp as their relationships grow and change far into adulthood. I may have found this story particularly interesting as one who is nearing 30 and still maintains my core group of high school friends, some of whom I have known since 1st grade or earlier! It explores how as people grow older, talent, success, money, achievements, and social class can affect one’s long term relationships. It is a fascinating character study, and highly relatable to anyone with long term friendships and connections.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami – Murakami is another writer who favors more surreal, philosophical, complex stories. However, this novel is one of his most straightforward with no strange, unexplained dream-sequence-like descriptions or complicated metaphysical symbolism. It is a story about young love and coming of age, the loneliness of beginning collegiate life, and the life altering experience of dealing with a good friend’s suicide. I normally am not one for either romantic based plots or books I know are going to be sob stories revolving around dying. I also am not one to be moved to tears during books or movies usually. I absolutely loved this book, read it multiple times, and cried.
What books do you recommend I attack this summer? Help! I need suggestions! 🙂