Now that the longest day of the year has come and gone, summer is officially upon us. Although the season is savored mostly for beaches, fireworks and road trips, one of the finer points of these longer days is the additional time to read outdoors, a chance to finally conquer that growing stack of books on your bedside table.
If you’re unsure just which books you should be paging through during these bright days, don’t worry, we have you covered. Here are 50 must-reads that we couldn’t imagine our summer without:
If you’re using up your ever-so-precious vacation days on a trip with your family that you already know will be one parts vodka and two parts stress, try a novel that tackles just how “relaxing” family vacations really are: The Vacationers by Emma Straub.
If you’re starting summer with a broken heart, grab a poetic novel about relationship difficulties to heal and comfort you: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.
If you’re spending the summer attending wedding after wedding, you’ll want a hilarious and heartwarming memoir from a woman who knows your pain: Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest by Jen Doll.
If you’ve declared that, no, seriously, this is going to be the summer you stop focusing on social media and just live in the moment, get that extra push with a novel that tackles the perils of social media in a truly refreshing way: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris.
If you’re spending the summer wondering what the hell you’re supposed to do after getting that Bachelor’s in Creative Writing, grab an anthology that offers some perspective into two popular options: MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction Edited by Chad Harbach.
If you have so much going on this summer that you really and truly do not have a ton of time to read, try a book of (very) short stories that pack a lot into a little package: Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis.
If you’re spending your summer cooped up inside, fight off boredom with a heartbreaking and captivating story about a daughter kidnapped in Haiti: An Untamed State by Roxane Gay.
If you’re spending your summer vacationing with friends, read a book that will remind you that no one — and no vacation — is perfect: Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro.
If you’re spending your summer on trains, planes and automobiles, pick up this short story collection for a little commiseration: We Were Flying to Chicago by Kevin Clouther.
If you’re a 20-something aspiring literati who just moved to New York, read this funny, poignant memoir about what it was like to assist Salinger’s literary agent in the ‘90s: My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff.
If your goal for the summer is to expand your heart by learning how to better understand those around you, read a collection of essays that will make you grateful for what you have: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison.
If you anticipate spending your summer longing for more episodes of Louie, fill the void with this self-deprecating, hilarious and heartfelt memoir: Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart.
If you’re one of those readers who declares that Tom Robbins changed your life, spend your days on the beach reading his early attempts at fiction as a child, how he got into psychedelics and that one time the FBI suspected him to be the Unabomber, all in his memoir: Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life.
If all you’re dreaming about this summer is buying a one-way plane ticket somewhere, anywhere away from your current life, read: Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey.
If classic, trashy beach reads make you gag, read this hilariously witty and sinister novel about a group of elderly folk in London who are coming to terms with death: Memento Mori by Muriel Spark.
If you’re spending your summer berry picking and still don’t know how to make jam, take it to the next level with this cookbook: Better From Scratch by Ivy Manning.
If this summer feels like any other and you need a dystopian novel to awaken your senses, read this poetic narrative about a young diver working in the bleak Baltimore of the future: On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee.
If you really want to learn something this summer but don’t have any money to shell out for a class, let this book take you to a literary seminar in your mind: Between Parentheses by Roberto Bolano.
If you have aspirations to hitchhike your way across America this summer, read an outlandish account of a famous filmmaker trying to do the same: Carsick by John Waters.
If you’re on a quest to find yourself this summer, read a novel that puts Eat, Pray, Love to shame: Nine Rabbits by Virginia Zaharieva. (It’s even laced with great recipes to feed your soul!)
If you’re spending your summer learning how to brew your own beer, read up on a few small-town badasses who produced the best whiskey money could buy during prohibition: Gentlemen Bootleggers by Bryce Bauer.
If your motto for the summer is “good fences make good neighbors,” learn how to make crossbows, smoke bombs and book safes with this fine guide: Defending Your Castle by William Gurstelle.
If you’re going through a quarter-life, mid-life or any other life crisis this summer, read about an artist in Paris who loses the life he underappreciated in one swoop, only to try to win it all back again: I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum.
If your goal this summer is to get your sense of humor back, read up on how the greats like Amy Poehler, Mel Brooks and Bill Hader learned to be professionally funny: Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers by Mike Sacks.
If you’re on the hunt for dinner party recipes that are simple enough to ensure you won’t burn down your summer sublet but are decadent enough to impress your friends, pick up this culinary how-to: Summer Food by Paul Lowe, Nina Dreyer Hensley and Jim Hensley.
If you recently purchased an ice cream maker, be sure to get: The Ice Creamery Cookbook by Shelly Kaldunski. (If you don’t already own one, you’ll want one after reading this.)
If you feel like your summer’s falling apart, a tale of unemployment, singlehood and anxiety: Petty Theft by Pascal Girard.
If you’re finding summer hookups difficult because you won’t respond to any OKCupid messages that aren’t grammatically correct, you should probably own Bad English by Ammon Shea.
If a crazy summer work schedule has left you feeling more capable of spending your nights drinking Trader Joe’s wine than exercising your creativity, get back on track with the coaching of The Trickster’s Hat by Nick Bantock.
If you spent your summer writing pitches and collecting rejection slips, read this brilliantly written satire about a literary award and the drama surrounding it: Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn.
If you want to spend your summer getting educated on something other than Netflix, read a heart-wrenching story of two families that the author hopes will “tell stories people don’t usually hear”: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.
If you’re a music fan but summer concerts in the park just aren’t cutting it, read about the invention of one of the world’s lesser-known instruments, the theremin: Us Conductors by Sean Michaels.
If you want to spend this summer pondering the complexities of love, do it with this collection of poetry: Someone Else’s Wedding Vows by Bianca Stone.
If you haven’t yet gotten a chance read one of last summer’s best-sellers, pick up a copy of the novel newly minted in paperback: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman.
If you’ve been spending every spare second of the summer at coffee houses populated by hipsters, read a great graphic novel set in a cafe: Over Easy by Mimi Pond.
If you’re a hard-working lady at an unpaid summer internship, read this motivational-without-being-trite account of how this CEO became her own boss: #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso.
If you’re spending summer trying to think of creative kid-friendly activities, read a book that will show you how to sew everything from quilts to stuffed robots: Let’s Sew Together by Rubyellen Bratcher.
If you want to spend this summer becoming more globally aware, read this fictional account of some very real issues in Sierra Leone: Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah.
If spending the summer with your Jewish family is making you lose your mind, read about something more dysfunctional than your grandma asking you for the 20th time when you’re getting married: A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman.
Whether you’re a young adult who’s dealing with the difficulties of growing up or a not-so-young adult who remembers what summers were like when you were a teen, you’ll want to read the beautifully drawn, heartbreaking graphic novel This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki.
If your summer goal is to start taking better care of the environment (a goal inspired, perhaps, by a trip to one of New York’s trash-laden beaches), grab a book that explores a world devastated by global warming: Pills and Starships by Lydia Millet.
If summer blockbusters are so formulaic that they can no longer entertain you, get your dose of thrills with a complex, haunting novel about a mysterious illness that only affects teenage girls: The Fever by Megan Abbott.
If you’re looking for an engaging YA book that tackles some very adult themes, try this book about how two teens, one with cerebral palsy and the other suffering from OCD, learn to embrace the way they were born: Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern.
If you’re looking for a piece of original, inspired work, read a stunning piece of poetry on the principal love interest of Marcel Proust’s Á la recherche du temps perdu: The Albertine Workout by Anne Carson.
If you’re looking for a fascinating character study to sink your teeth into, go for this novel about a reliable woman on the edge of something resembling a breakdown: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.
If you somehow missed this collection from one of America’s most celebrated authors when it first came out this spring, now is the perfect time to pick up these funny, poignant short stories: Bark by Lorrie Moore.
If your summer goal is watch less television, but an SVU-less life is leaving you bored, tear into this gripping novel about a missing boy’s return to his family: Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston.
If you’re looking for a provocative novel about gender politics, go for this recently reissued book about one woman’s navigation through life: Green Girl by Kate Zambreno.
If you’re planning on spending the summer kicking back with a stunning book of poetry, go for one full of startling observations about the human experience and our link to animals: Motherland Fatherland Homosexuals by Patricia Lockwood.
If, actually, you think summer is boring and hot and terrible, and you cannot wait for fall, read this graphic novel tackling summer ennui: Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart.
Did we miss the book you’re most excited to read this summer? Let us know in the comments below — and be sure to include where you’ll be taking it. We promise we won’t get jealous if you tell us you’re off to read on some fabulous vacation. (Well. we promise we’ll try not to get jealous.)
Black Balloon Publishing is an independent press headquartered in New York, NY, with both print and digital distribution channels. We've published literary fiction, nonfiction and memoir, and we're willing to grow our reach in any direction that suits. Our books evolve, rotate, get mapped onto cities and light up your screen. We champion the weird, the unwieldy and the unclassifiable. The Airship is our blog and chief propaganda vehicle.
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