This time of year, newspapers and websites are filled with “Best Summer Books of 2017”, “Greatest Beach Reads Of All Time” and so on. But how many of these books actually involve the zany, wondrous season that is summer? These 9 books, spanning many decades and several genres, stirring up all conceivable emotions with only one thing in common: a summer setting. Just remember to wear your sunscreen.
- Summerland by Michael Chabon
Chabon has made a name for himself based of his brilliant world-building talents, and they are seldom as sizzling as they are in this stab at the YA genre. Ethan Feld is terrible at baseball, despite being on a (very eccentric) team. He’s in luck though—the island on which he lives just happens to be a hot spot for magical creatures, dimension-jumping portals, and the cult of baseball. Adventure and gamesmanship await!
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Forget summer school—young Scout Finch, caught up in the lives of her friends, family, and assorted neighbors, receives the education of a lifetime over the course of a single summer in her depression-era Alabama town. Lee captures the seemingly unending mystique of lazy summer days while slowly peeling back the charming wallpaper on a deeply rotten society. Mockingbird is a classic for all seasons, not just summer.
- Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward explores a very different kind of southern summer in this frank look at the lives of one African American family in the days immediately preceding Hurricane Katrina. Largely neglected by their hard-drinking dad, Esch and her three brothers must struggle for survival as the storm rolls in. Ward is characteristically brutal in her assessment of this particular kind of poverty, but her depiction of this family’s weather-beaten love is not one easily forgotten. Winner of the 2011 National Book Award, this book has also been selected for Stanford’s 2017 summer reading list for incoming freshmen.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
It’s summer on Jazz Age-era Long Island, and old and new rich alike are gearing up for a season of untold excess and debauchery. But the handsome and enigmatic Jay Gatsby, the most fabulously wealthy of them all, has a dream that extends far beyond boozy bashes. Narrated by acquaintance and one-time friend Nick Carraway, this portrait of a morally bankrupt society too sauced to notice it’s dying will continue to resonate into perpetuity.
- Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
This 1957 novel deals not in book burning, but in the unadulterated joys of one boyhood summer. Based heavily in Bradbury’s own childhood memories, Dandelion Wine follows Douglas as he reaps the best of what his small 1920’s town has to offer—porch swings, lawn mowers, and the delicious title concoction.
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
Midsummer is one of Shakespeare’s most-produced plays, and for good reason: no other work captures the heady lunacy of a vibrant summer day quite like this one. Lovers, Fairies, Working-class Actors and Royalty fight, make-up, and run wild as the overhead solstice casts a potent spell. It’s timeless message: “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
- Atonement by Ian McEwan
Unfortunately, things don’t always end well for summer lovers. Cecilia is rich, Robbie is poor, and the two pre-war Brits want nothing more than to be together. But fate—and Cecilia’s impressionable little sister Briony—have other plans for these well-meaning kids. Be prepared to cry. A lot. Then cry some more. Yay summer!
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Next up in the addictive genre of summer weepies is this enduring work from 1943. Looking back to a summer in early twentieth century Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Smith crafts a winning narrative concerning the life of Francie Nolan, a bright young girl dealing with a volatile dad, a brusk mom, and the odds and ends of life on the edge of poverty. Watching over it all is the titular tree, which flourishes in the most unlikely of settings.
- Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
Before he landed an Oprah’s Book Club selection (and a National Book Award), Whitehead wrote this hilarious and poignant tale of of one teen’s Hamptons Summer c. 1985. New Coke is a thing. So is lite FM Radio. But maybe, just maybe, Benji Cooper will find his place among this tight-knit community of black professionals. Only reading will tell!
Featured image courtesy of Gentleman’s Gazette.