Due to my super-long commute on internship days and my unusual abundance of free time on others, I have read a lot of books this summer. The thing is that I’m not a very critical book reviewer; unless I really didn’t like it, the last book I read almost always skyrockets to “one of the best books I’ve ever read” for a week or two at least. So here is a list of some books I’ve read so far this summer, as well as a few “prominent aspects” to help you identify whether you’d like to read them.
1. VIOLET AND CLAIRE* by Francesca Lia Block (1999)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: the ‘90s, Tori Amos, body image, Tinkerbell, manic pixie dream girls, queer girls, not relating to your mother, Los Angeles, friendship-between-girls-is-vital, super-short books with big font
ALSO READ: The whole Dangerous Angels series by the same author, starting with Weetzie Bat. There’s really nothing else like it.
2. AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman (2002)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: mythology, mystery, prison, being confused the whole time, improving your vocabulary, super-long books with super-tiny font
ALSO READ: Re-reading the entire Harry Potter series takes the same amount of energy as just reading this book, so, you could do that. Or just watch the movies again.
3. A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD* by Jennifer Egan (2011)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: short stories, Microsoft PowerPoint, kleptomania, Bay Area ‘80s punk, multigenerational families, teenage runaways
ALSO READ: The way these characters’ lives interweave over time reminds me of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, but that’s also because I read both books concurrently when I was a freshman in high school. Still, if you haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities, you totally should. Lots of ladies fainting and French Revolution terror.
4. THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES* by Sue Monk Kidd (2003)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: death of a parent, bees, the Virgin Mary, the Moon, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, South Carolina, the idea that lots of adults in our lives can step up as surrogate parents, honey as holy water
ALSO READ: There are epigraphs at the beginning of each paragraph from different scientific books about bees— I’d check them out!
5. THE OUTCASTS OF 19 SCHUYLER PLACE* by E.L. Konigsburg (2006)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: summer camp, roses, art, activism, when a small child gets the law on her side, immigrants, community
ALSO READ: The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg takes place in the same upstate NY town as this story, and it’s a wonderful novel. Also, the protagonist routinely states the phrase “I prefer not to” throughout the book as homage to “Bartleby, The Scrivener” by Herman Meliville, so read that too.
6. HOW THE GARCÍA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS by Julia Alvarez (1992)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: sisterhood, sisters who hate each other, divorce, mental health, the Dominican Republic, parents who oppose dictatorships, immigration, sex, the Spanish language, beautiful imagery
ALSO READ: ¡Yo! by Julia Alvarez, which I also read this summer. It basically proposes that Yolanda (aka Yo), one of the four García sisters, wrote a book much like the above novel. ¡Yo! comprises different people’s reactions to reading it: her parents, her ex-professor, even her stalker. Very neat lesson in perspective.
7. THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD by Zora Neal Hurston (1937)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: womanism, sharecropping, racism, the Harlem Renaissance, dialect, biracial identity, absolutely badass women
ALSO READ: Anything by Toni Morrison.
8. GREAT by Sara Benincasa (2014)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: This is a contemporary retelling of the Great Gatsby except the Daisy/Gatsby incarnates are lesbian teens (!!!)
ALSO READ: The Great Gatsby, again.
9. CAT’S EYE by Margaret Atwood (1998)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: childhood bullying, straight-up bitches, artists, older ladies, the Catholic Church, the outdoors, exploring chronology
ALSO READ: Poetry (doesn’t have to be Atwood’s, but the lyricism of her narration made me crave poems afterward.)
10. THE WORLD IS ROUND by Gertrude Stein (1939)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: children’s lit, BEAUTIFUL illustrations, a rose is a rose is a rose (etc.), rhyming, this book will make you cry, it at least made me cry, our protagonist Rose frequently cries
ALSO READ: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
11. A WRINKLE IN TIME* by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: Evil, God, grand Greek centaur women with wings, the idea that unconditional love can fight all darkness, a girl who doesn’t think she’s pretty or smart enough, time travel, space travel, the fifth dimension, dystopian planets, there is such a thing as a tesseract
ALSO READ: The other books in The Time Quartet! Maybe also the Bible. (I know a lot of the series is totally supposed to be biblical but I also know zero about the Bible.) You could also read up on astronomy (for this specific book), biology (for the second book), Ireland (for the third); and I’m pretty sure the whole Noah’s Ark thing is the basis for the fourth.
12. SELECTED STORIES by Alice Munro (1968-1994)
(I didn’t read all of them but I read some which is ok because they are short stories.)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: narration by young girls, Canada, specifically the rural area around Lake Huron, Great Depression, retrospective. My favorite one was called “Material,” and “Postcard” was like 100% heartbreaking.
ALSO READ: Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion is the best-written non-fiction I’ve ever read, and even if it’s not “the best,” it is my favorite. These are some of the best-written short fiction stories I’ve ever read, and they are both by literary-colossal women, which is how I am bridging the connection.
13. ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L. M. Montgomery (1908)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: adoption, unmarried old siblings, farms, Canada, trying ice cream for the first time, having a “scope for imagination,” breaking a slate over a boy’s head because you’re pissed at him, red hair, academic competition
ALSO READ: When I started reading this book, I could not believe I’d never read it before. It’s so ahead of its time. Anne is a precursor to all the spunky/badass girl protagonists I love, from Princess Mia Thermopolis to Junie B. Jones. Her bluntness and strength paired with adolescent insecurity reminded me most of Mia, though, so The Princess Diaires series by Meg Cabot (especially the first book) is my best recommendation.
14. THE HANGED MAN by Francesca Lia Block (1999)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: recovery, healing, beautiful boys, beautiful little girls, Los Angeles, heroin, anorexia, death, hope
ALSO READ: same as for #1
15. ELEANOR AND PARK* by Rainbow Rowell (2012)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: The Smiths, the ’80s, Nebraska, biracial identity, small-towns, child abuse
ALSO READ: This is YA romance at its very best. I know John Green is a controversial literary fellow, and maybe now he’s a little overblown, but his The Fault in our Stars or, my by-far-favorite, Looking for Alaska, serve as great companions to this novel. All three have the potential to genuinely make you both laugh and cry.
16. THE WIZARD OF OZ by L. Frank Baum (1899)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: silver shoes, good witches, bad witches, humbugs, Kansas, is this all a metaphor for the political facades of the time, or the Gilded Age?, I don’t know, Dorothy, Toto, munchkins, flying monkeys
ALSO READ: Hm… this is a tough one, because there are so many. You can watch the movie starring Judy Garland, or also The Wiz, both of which are musical renditions of Dorothy’s journey. Baum wrote 14 more Oz books too, if you want more of the original, but tons of other authors wrote more books set in the world he created. Some of the most famous Oz spin-off books are those by Gregory Maguire, most notably Wicked, but if the book is too long and/or scandalous, just listen to the OBC recording of the award-winning musical!
17. WILD by Cheryl Strayed (2012)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: family, hiking, the Pacific Crest Trail, heroin, divorce, grief, mothers, younger brothers, highbrow lit, Snapple lemonade
ALSO READ: For this, my advice is a little more vague: read a book you’ve wanted to read for a while, but you thought you shouldn’t, because it was too girly/gory/baby-ish/intellectual/unintellectual, or whatever else. Wild came into my path a bunch of times, but I kept avoiding it because it always proclaimed on the cover that Oprah liked it, which I thought meant it was a boring-ass book for sad middle-aged ladies AND that it was trendy, too things I try to avoid. (No offense to anyone who fits those descriptions; you’re a great crew.) But this book was so thought-provoking and soul-provoking, and I’m so glad I got past my own dumb readerly pride and devoured it.
18. GIRL ON A TRAIN by Paula Hawkins (2015)
PROMINENT ASPECTS: girls, trains, affairs, therapists, missing persons, multiple perspectives, this book was scary, the whole time, I didn’t like it
ALSO READ: This book was the first self-proclaimed thriller I read, and I hated it, mostly because I hate suspense/anticipation/any surprise ever. For that reason, I’m struggling to recommend another book… You can watch “Thriller” instead, perhaps. No reason to get any more scared than you are already.
Reading doesn’t stop because summer ends! Check here for my fall reading list!
PS: *= This is a re-read. I do a lot of re-reading. Also, some books were for an assignment.
PPS: Children’s lit is equal or greater to grown-up lit. You have no argument there.
PPPS: Do you have any book recs? Send them my way! No genre is unacceptable.
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