I love the fact that Summer Reading, a tradition begun in grade school when you are sent home with a list of books to have read by the beginning of the next school year, carries over into adulthood. Each year I enjoy taking in list after list of the must-reads... admittedly because so many people ask me for suggestions, and I feel smart being able to quickly sound off several up-and-coming titles. But also because, well, I’m a librarian... it comes with the territory. I love to read.
Here’s a list for you, whether you get to them this summer or July 2015. Some are hot off the press, from an author I like or who is highly touted among us nerdy book folk... while some are old, tried and true, that I’ve read myself and recommend.
So this summer, read this if you want to...
Laugh Bossypants by Tina Fey Tina Fey’s memoir gives the reader a glimpse behind the curtain of comedy. Filled with her classic self-deprecating humor, she tells stories about growing up in Pennsylvania, working with Saturday Night Live, navigating celebrity, and now, marriage and parenthood while still juggling projects. Just like the woman who wrote it, the book keeps you laughing along with it, mostly at it... and completely in adoration.
If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won’t) by Betty White Betty White made her way into the minds and hearts of most of us decades ago. Whether it was her early comedy or, most likely for my generation, as Rose on the Golden Girls, she’s become a household name even moreso recently thanks to outlandish stunts, movie roles, and a penchant for dirty jokes and a potty mouth in her late 80s. The woman is not only a hoot, but she’s super smart and passionate about her career, animals, and other issues. It comes as no surprise that her memoir, spanning a seven-decade career, is funny, sweet, and to-the-point. She discusses rumored crushes of her youth, the Facebook campaign that landed her back on SNL, old and new Hollywood, and shares wit and wisdom that comes with being 89 years old.
Keep up with the Times While neither of these are brand new books, they’ve recently started a buzz thanks to movies that will be coming out soon. I’ve read them both and personally vouch that they are fantastic. And Raleigh was just telling me how much he enjoyed the Hunger Games after reading my review of them last year.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett Set during the Civil Rights movement in Jackson, Mississippi, the story centers on Eugenia Skeeter Phelan, home from college and eager to find her writer's muse. Disturbed by the hipocrasy and mistreatment she witnesses in her own home and among the country club circuit, she chronicles the lives of the black women who raise white children, but are not allowed to truly be part of the white families. The book she puts together shocks and scathes, but ultimately brings hope and pride back to the black community and unites others who hadn’t had the courage before to stand up.
The Hunger Games Trilogy: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins This series can be described as YA, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Romance, Action, Thriller, Mystery. It transcends genres, and has quite the complicated plot. But let me tell you this... you will not regret picking it up, regardless of your preferences (I assure you I am no sci-fi enthusiast). The books are imaginative, well-written, and keep you on your toes. And I predict Katniss, Peeta, and Gale will join Harry and Edward/Bella in the world of teen franchises. Which you may have an aversion to, but I'm telling you... you're missing out. So hop on the train quickly. And if you want more than just my prodding, you can read my more thorough review here.
Get Your Knowledge On
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson Larson has made a name for himself in writing literary nonfiction, which is basically nonfiction (with a few liberties taken along the way for dialogue and whatnot) that reads like a fictional novel. His best-seller Devil in the White City, which tells the story of a serial killer on the loose among other events surrounding the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, is a favorite of mine. His latest paints a vivid portrait of Berlin during Hitler’s early reign through the stories of two people: William E. Dodd, who in 1933 became America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s regime, and his scandalously carefree daughter, Martha. If there are any WWII or history buffs out there, be sure to not miss this one.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer Most of you have probably heard of Into the Wild, made famous by the 2007 movie starring Emile Hersch. But if you haven’t read the book, I can’t suggest it enough. In it, Jon Krakauer, another best-selling nonfiction author with a catalog of well-written books on fascinating subjects, tells and dissects the story of Christopher McCandless. In just a few short years, the recent college grad, who was ridiculously intelligent, charming, and quite well off, gave away all of his money and wound up traveling the country under the name of Alexander Supertramp... only to be found dead by starvation in an abandoned bus in Alaska's frontier. Krakauer tells the story, one full of questions, as no one truly knows how or why exactly his story played out like it did, and writes so beautifully that I found myself (I listened to an audio version) rewinding parts over and over just because I appreciated the way he spun sentences. You can’t help but to both love and loathe McCandless, wishing the best for him, though you know from the beginning of his demise. I read this years ago, and yet I find myself thinking of the story often. It comes to my mind particularly now, as his family has decided to release another book, Back to the Wild, this week with his pictures and journal entries from his travels.
Heaven is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo Raleigh reviewed this a few months ago, and I wanted to reinforce it. Four-year-old Colton, son of Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo, nearly died after his appendix ruptured. Though his parents did not realize just how close they came to losing him until the kid started talking about meeting God and sitting on Jesus’s lap, about singing angels and streets of gold. They assumed their son had a lively imagination and had dreamed of Heaven.. until he started telling stories about a miscarried sister he met (that they had never told him about) and was able to share details about a great grandfather he’d never met, among other details, convincing them that this was no dream. This is his story, told by Todd, but often in Colton's own words: a simple message that Heaven is, in fact, for real, that Jesus really loves children, and a warning to be ready, because there is a coming last battle. For Christians who perhaps struggle with their ideas of an afterlife while still enjoying their earthly lives, this is a must read.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller Christian writing veteran Donald Miller is perhaps best known for his work Blue Like Jazz, in which he tells the story of how he found God while living in Portland and auditing classes at Reed College, a school known for its predominantly atheist student body. (If you haven’t read it, I seriously cannot recommend anything more.) So while working with screenwriters to adapt his story to a screenplay, he found himself more often than not wanting to edit his story, edit his life. Which led him to a whole other idea of inspiration, and the basis of his latest book: living a better story. Full of humor, insight into the writing process, and an urging for his readers to take a good introspective look at their own stories, the book leaves you with a wanting to make a difference in the world... and to do it now.
Get Nostalgic Two oldies, but goodies.
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume Raise your hand if you knew Judy Blume wrote books geared for those of us not in elementary or middle school. No? Well you’re missing out. Summer Sisters, written in the 90s, is one of my favorite summer reads. Spanning over the course of six summers, the book tells the story of two friends, as different as night and day, who spend each season together as “summer sisters” on Martha’s Vineyard. You follow their lives, checking in year after year as they navigate the awkward teenage years, first experiences with boys and such (Blume likes to push boundaries, so be warned), to going on to college and pre-adulthood, college and marriage. But more than anything, the reader is left with memories of childhood, old friends, and endless summers full of magic of possibility.
Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, Jr. With NASA discontinuing its space shuttle program later this year, now is a great time to pick up this memoir by Homer Hickam who, as a 14-year-old in 1957, found himself inspired to build rockets as a means to get out of his West Virginia mining town. In his book, on which the 1999 film October Sky was based, he shares the story of defying his fate, as well as his parents, and the long road that brought him from humble beginnings to winning a gold medal at the 1990 National Science Fair, and, later, moving onto a career as a NASA rocket scientist. A coming-of-age story set in a poignant time for many Americans (known in my generation mainly through parents’ and grandparents’ memories), his tales of boyhood bravery, ambition, family loyalty, and pure adoration of rockets will tug at your heartstrings and leave you wishing for another go at Space Camp in Huntsville.
Read a Southern Drawl These are both brand new releases by two of my favorite Southern authors.
Georgia Bottoms by Mark Childress Many reviewers are calling sassy protagonist Georgia a modern-day Scarlett O’Hara. Childress, known for not holding back when it comes to finding the hilarity in (oftentimes true) Southern stereotypes (this is the guy who wrote the book on which 1999’s Crazy in Alabama starring Melanie Griffith was based on), delivers a story about Georgia, a woman with many, ahem, suitors among a lifestyle otherwise less than honorable. Everything always went her way... until it didn’t. And she’s left to pick up the pieces, among the sweltering heat of a Southern town that knows too much, sees too much, and talks too much. Covering everything from race relations to religion, all with a dose of charm and hilarity, her story will entertain. If you like Childress’s writing, pick up One, Mississippi, a personal favorite.
The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen Known for sprinkling her Southern stories with magical realism, Sarah Addison Allen delivers another gem in The Peach Keeper. Centered on 'The Blue Ridge Madam' - a mansion in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina built by Willa Jackson's once well-to-do family- the story unfolds as the house’s restoration as a historic bed and breakfast unearths quite a few secrets. Add in some romance, truly likable characters, and a touch of abnormal, and you’ll see why she’s a best-selling author. Hers are stories for comfort reading, but also for the imaginative - those of us who indulge in superstition, ghost stories, and a little big of magic. If you like the book, I recommend Garden Spells or The Sugar Queen.