Summer reading, also called beach reading or vacation reading, used to signify mindless entertainment, flipping sandy, salty, sticky pages while adrift on a sea of leisure. Now, though, it’s broader, more symbolic of unencumbered time to read purely for pleasure. For some that might be the latest thriller or romance—a page-turner that will captivate the imagination without challenging the brain. For others, it’s just the opposite—an opportunity to plunge into Proust or “War and Peace.”
Summer reading lists have been posted by all and sundry—by the New York Times, the Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal, by Vanity Fair, Cosmo and Marie Claire, by Goodreads and Amazon, by Oprah and NPR. The lists are diverse, ranging from best-sellers to classics, from historical tomes to business how-tos to celebrity memoirs.
In compiling and recording my own version, I could tell you about books I’ve already read this year and liked, or I might impress you with the ambitious list of the books I threaten to read every year (Proust and “War and Peace” among them). Then I notice that there are 10 books on my library “hold” list—a ready-made summer reading list! The fact that there’s a backlog of requests for these means that interest is widespread, so these selections aren’t as quirky as others I might have come up with. For what it’s worth, here they are with just a word or two about each:
• “The Aviator’s Wife” by Melanie Benjamin: a fictional rendering of Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
• “A Delicate Truth” by John LeCarre: the erudite master of spy stories spins international intrigue.
• “Flora” by Gail Godwin: Guaranteed to please; I’ve read and enjoyed her novels (this is her 11th), stories and memoir.
• “Habits of the House” by Fay Weldon: Mischief among the English aristocracy, Downton Abbey revisited? Get out the sunblock.
• “I Can’t Complain” by Elinor Lipman: I write personal essays and love to read them too.
• “The Interestings” by Meg Wolitzer: She’s wicked and witty, such fun to read.
• “The Light Between Oceans” by M.L. Stedman: a lonely lighthouse, a shipwrecked baby—a scintillating saga from Down Under.
• “The Other Typist” by Suzanne Rindell: New York in the ‘20s; I’m hoping for another “Rules of Civility.” “Reconstructing Amelia” by Kimberly McCreight: secrets and lies, love and betrayal, a shocker a la “Gone Girl,” the epitome of summer reading.
• “The Woman Upstairs” by Claire Messud: her previous novel, The Emperor’s Children, is one of my favorites.
“Summer reading” is based on the premise that summer is different from other times of year, that we have more leisure time—a questionable idea unless you’re in school. While most of us don’t have the luxury of basking in “those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,” we do live in San Diego, in what many consider a perpetual summer. The pace is just maybe a little slower with the warmer days. The beach is nearby, your patio is closer, and there are always weekends.