Summer Reading Picks To Get Beach And Pool Season Started Right


Sticky mouths and hands covered in the juice of melted popsicles. The pop and sizzle of sparklers in the fading light of day. Gleeful screams, the tinkling of distant ice cream trucks making their way through town. Parties lasting until the break of dawn, the smell of burning charcoal.

This is summer. It’s finally here.

More than anything, summer is a release, a deep breath after the stillness of winter. And part and parcel to that release is relaxing with a good book. The long-venerated summer read. Posting up on a beach with the sound of waves crashing in the background and getting lost in a captivating story. Paging through a novel on the porch, iced tea or lemonade in hand. Breaking away from the cookout for a few to catch your break and tear through a quick chapter of your book.

For too long, the summer read has been associated with trash — poorly written yet mysteriously captivating stories du jour to be consumed like junk food. This year, we say: “No more!” No more junk food, it’s time to go high brow. Here are our picks for the literary-yet-riveting summer reads we’re most hyped for this season.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Jamaica-born James wrote this sprawling fantasy epic which he calls the “African Game of Thrones,” he says, because he got sick of the debate about where black people belong in fantasy. In an interview about his novel, he said, “I realized how sick and tired I was of arguing about whether there should be a black hobbit in Lord of the Rings. African folklore is just as rich, and just as perverse as that shit. We have witches, we have demons, we have goblins, and mad kings. We have stories of royal succession that would put Wolf Hall to shame. We beat the Tudors two times over.”

World building, a complex cast of characters, a story rooted deeply in mythologies from all over the African continent. All of these combine to make a supernatural, sexy book you won’t want to put down.

The Wall by John Lanchester

An unnamed island is hit by the Change, a nondescript environmental disaster. In response, the island builds a wall, thousands of kilometers around, to completely seal itself off from the outside world and the Others — those unlucky enough to be on the outside of the wall.

We arrive in the world long after the island sealed itself off from both the rising sea and desperate migrants, and we follow John Kavanagh from the time he arrives at the wall to become one of its fabled Defenders through a disaster that the New York Times compares to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

This book is, in many ways, a morality tale about our own reality, yes, but it is also deeply lyrical, captivating, and haunting all on its own.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

“Rage: sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage, / Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks / Incalculable pain.”

So begins The Iliad, the epic poem that follows the last 50 days of the 10-year Trojan War. As with most of human history, these tales follow the men who bring war upon one another, the glory of soldiers, and speak of women as the spoils of war.

Barker’s tale, too, is dominated by Achilles’ wrath. But instead of focusing on the warriors, she turns her eye to the women. Told through the eyes of Briseis, a captive princess, Achilles’ war prize, and, according to the epic poem, one of the chief reasons for the rift between Achilles and King Agamemnon, we see the Trojan War through the eyes of the forgotten, the abused, and the silent.

Poetic and un-put-downable, The Silence of the Girls raises the question of whose voices have been lost to history and what we have lost by not listening.

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

Love or duty: which would you choose? That’s the question at the heart of this Cold War spy novel. It’s 1986 when we meet Marie Mitchell, an FBI intelligence officer whose career is stagnant and full of paperwork. She’s offered the chance to join a task-force that will undermine the revolutionary, communist sympathizer president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, and despite her secret admiration for Sankara, she takes the job to seduce and destroy the “African Che Guevara.”

Wilkinson’s debut novel is electric and unique, a high-octane spy novel that also explores complex topics like race and what it means to be an American. And it’s all based upon a true story.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Older sister Korede is jealous of beautiful Ayoola — the favorite child, beloved by all, and, um, a murderer. Korede has to come to the rescue when Ayoola kills yet another boyfriend and needs help cleaning up after herself, and we quickly realize that Korede’s sororal love transcends even the bloodiest crime scenes. That is, until the object of her desire becomes Ayoola’s next target. Then things get complicated.

This is a rare book that will make you laugh, no less laugh out loud.

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

The Raven Tower is the first book in a new series by Ann Leckie. In the country of Iraden, the Raven Tower is home to the Raven God, who rules over the land through human servants, who are required to make blood sacrifices in order to sustain the Raven’s power. But when the heir to the human-throne, Mawat, is called home, he finds a city at risk and a tower full of dark secrets. Conflict reigns: human versus human, god versus god, god versus human, and more.

Leckie became a household name with her Hugo- and Nebula-winning sci-fi series Ancillary, and she’s following up with a high fantasy epic that will suck you in immediately. You may technically read it on a beach somewhere warm, but you’ll find yourself fully immersed in the mystical world of Iraden.

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Sylvie Lee goes to Amsterdam to visit her dying grandmother, who raised her while her parents established their lives in the United States. She doesn’t come home. Her family — mother, father, and younger sister Amy — are all distraught and at a loss as to what to do, so Amy goes to Amsterdam to retrace Sylvie’s steps. Suspenseful and engaging, Amy finds much more than the whereabouts of her sister: she finds out the truth about her complicated family history, Sylvie’s golden girl reputation, and what it means to be part of an immigrant family.

Kwok’s novel was released on June 4.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Memory is a fickle thing, ever-changing depending on our circumstances. Not as reliable as we want to believe. In Recursion, the already rocky foundation of memory is attacked by what the media is calling False Memory Syndrome — a neurological affliction that fills victims with memories of lives they never lived and eventually drives them mad. NYPD officer Barry Sutton teams up with neuroscientist Helena Smith in a race against the clock to try to save humanity from eating itself alive.

Crouch’s novel is already being developed for Netflix. The book came out on June 11.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Long a darling of literary critics, Whitehead has become a household name thanks to 2016’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Underground Railroad. Now he’s back with his seventh novel, The Nickel Boys. We follow Elwood Curtis, a quiet boy raised in segregated Tallahassee, Florida, by his strict but loving grandmother. Elwood is on the cusp of attending a local black college and starting his life in earnest, despite the wrath of Jim Crow, when he is suddenly and unjustly taken to the Nickel Academy, a school for delinquents.

Using the very real Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys as a model for the Nickel Academy, Whitehead drops us into a Jim Crow-era reformatory school which doubles as “a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear ‘out back.'” Elwood tries to fight cruelty with love and compassion, taking Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as his model, while his friend, Curtis, schemes and does whatever he can to survive.

This book is about the Jim Crow era, yes, but it’s also an examination of America’s entrenched, ever-present systemic racism at a time when it seems, to many, that we’re going backward. Whitehead’s novel comes out on July 16.

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino is best known for her deft, pathos-filled cultural essays, making zippy connections between, say, Coco and the collective emotional alienation of a world conquered by technology. Now she’s releasing her first book, a collection of nine essays, this summer. Equal parts cultural criticism and personal essay (How does one handle living in a world where we’re pressured to commodify our interests? What does it mean to lose religion and find drugs during a Texas adolescence?), Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion will grab you by the face and refuse to let go.

Tolentino’s book comes out on August 6.

The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman


Sherman begins her travelogue with a consideration of time:

“Tokyo is one vast timepiece. Its little alleys and great avenues, the forgotten canals and temples, make up the face of a great watch. Its months and weeks and hours, minutes and seconds, are beat out in the traffic bearing into the capital from the northern rice paddies, from Fukushima’s ruined power plant. They are meted out in the buildings that are torn down and the ones that rise, in land reclaimed from the sea. Time is counted out in incense sticks; in LEDs; and in atomic lattice clocks. It is measured in the lives of the people within the Japan Rail Yamanote Line that circles the city’s old heart, and in the Kantō Plain that overflows beyond that rough oval.”

This frames the entire narrative as Sherman searches for the old bells that used to mark time for the city’s neighborhoods before western clocks came along. We weave in and out of Sherman’s exploration and meet Tokyo citizens at key points in history: an aristocrat who wades his way through post-WWII Japan, a scientist who built the most accurate clock in the world, a coffee shop owner who becomes Sherman’s good friend and believes that coffee can tell you a lot about a person.

Sherman’s writing is elegant and accessible, and the story of Tokyo quickly becomes the story of time itself. It’s rare to find a meditation on place and time that feels so grounded while still allowing the subject at hand to remain ephemeral.

Sherman’s book comes out August 13, so this will be an end-of-summer read, an elegy for the heat of high season with prose to match the sadness of summer’s end.