From science fiction to audiobooks to a soon-to-be adapted film, Danielle Dorky creates a summer reading list for wherever your seasonal travels take you.
It’s funny how, even though most of us are no longer on a nine-month long school schedule, we still treat summer as an opportunity to travel more extensively, go out more frequently, and practice living life to the fullest. If you were like me in high school, you took plenty of AP and honors classes and there was never a shortage of assigned reading material to pass your free time during the summer. Ten years after graduation, I still regard summer as a time to catch up on reading, and conveniently, I’ve found that a lot of summer-specific activities lend themselves well to this habit, whether it’s a long plane ride to an exotic locale or tanning poolside.
With this in mind, I created a list of five books perfect for your most common summer scenarios. Though brief, I like to think there’s something for everyone, from science fiction to an audiobook to a soon-to-be adapted film.
1. For when you want to get away, but can’t:
Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
Genre: Historical fiction, cultural fiction, literary fiction
To quote an oft-used phrase, “We’re in a recession.” I’m not sure that most people even know what this means (or whether it’s still entirely true), but the fact remains that many of us are not in a position to jet set to our choice destination and are therefore reliant on our imaginations (or the imaginations of authors) to temporarily transport us from our mundane, repetitive lives. If that’s what you’re looking for, cast your gaze between the pages of Flamethrowers, where you’ll find vivid descriptions of Italy in the 1920s, and surprisingly romantic depictions of Reno, Nevada and New York City in the 70’s. Rachel Kushner has a talent for injecting romance into seemingly ordinary situations, and in her second novel chronicles a romance between a naive young artist and the semi-estranged heir of an Italian transportation empire. Hidden in Kushner’s rich prose are revelations about culture, feminine mystique and the struggle to shed your roots and forge your own path.
2. Pool or beach side read:
Actors Anonymous by James Franco
Genre: Contemporary fiction, short stories
Before you judge me too hard or prematurely cast aside this list, let me defend my choice of James Franco’s Actors Anonymous. First of all, how much reading are you really doing at the beach? If you weren’t reading award-winning actor James Franco’s debut novel, wouldn’t you be flipping through a similarly trashy tabloid or magazine? Why not pick up Actors Anonymous, a book renowned for its universal bad reviews, and increase your chances of a handsome/pretty stranger approaching you based on the cover jacket? If you’re not looking for a conversation starter, it’s always fun to make fun of celebrities, and it might give you hope that if Franco can publish such a flimsy piece of literature, there’s hope for your writing career yet! Insults aside, Actors Anonymous is a lightweight read consisting of short stories that revolve around Franco’s experiences as an actor and is loosely modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous’ Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions.
3. An audiobook for your road trips:
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem/Read by Steve Buschemi
Genre: Crime thriller
It’s pretty rare that I would prefer an audiobook to the real thing, but hearing Steve Buschemi perform Jonathan Lethem’s inventive and fast-paced thriller in accents that range from Japanese Zen masters to Brooklyn mobsters definitely beats the paperback. The unlikely protagonist is an orphan nicknamed “Freakshow” whose Tourette’s Syndrome causes him to count, tap and make uncomfortable vocalizations that Buschemi transforms from annoying to endearing throughout the course of the novel. Motherless Brooklyn is an entertaining play on a classic detective tale and promises to help pass the time between Point A and B, while sparing the nausea of trying to read on a bumpy ride.
4. For your never-ending plane rides:
S. by Doug Dorst/ Created by JJ Abrams
Genre: Mystery, Fantasy
Weighing in at over 450 pages hardcover, S. promises to entire you for the duration of your plane ride and then some. Conceptualized by every geek’s favorite (or nemeses) film director JJ Abrams, S. is the account of two readers who begin communicating through the margins of a novel penned by a mysterious author. What follows is a non-linear and experimental narrative that volleys between the two college-aged margin authors, the author of the book they’re defacing, and the story he’s already told. Abrams and Dorst’s self-proclaimed love letter to the written word will impress you with its attention to design, many reviewers even noting its unmistakable old book smell. There’s no doubt S. will enrapture you and make you disregard the turbulence, wailing toddlers, and stale peanuts.
5. Assigned Summer Reading:
Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie
Genre: Literary Fiction, African American fiction, Cultural fiction
A summer reading list wouldn’t be complete without a somewhat academic title, would it? No need to fret though, Nigerian-American author Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah is no Odyssey or War and Peace, but its messages concerning race, culture and how we define “home” are certainly universal and worthwhile. The novel chronicles a lost romance between two teenagers-come-adults who are displaced during Nigeria’s university strikes and provides insight into the African diasporic experiences in America and England. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Americanah was recently picked up by Brad Pitt’s Plan B studios and breakout Mexican-Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o, who will produce and star in the film adaptation.
Don’t let the summer be an excuse to let your brain turn to mush! Bring a book along and at the very least, you’ll look cultured while the rest of your friends tap on their smartphones or flip through the latest Cosmo magazine (Ew).