The Books to Read This Summer

We hope that you enjoy as many of them as you can. Just don't stay out in the sun too long.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

So here we are, immodestly telling you what to read. Not because we are secret authoritarians, but because we are convinced that there's something for you in this quirky list of ours. Some of the titles below you will have heard of, and rightly so; a few have lingered below the literary radar, but nevertheless deserve your attention. We've tried to include a diverse selection for a diverse readership (which we've segmented into categories that doubtlessly accord with the very latest in social science). 

We hope that you enjoy as many of them as you can. Just don't stay out in the sun too long.

For the Solitary, Perhaps Lovelorn, Person on the Lawn of Central Park Looking to Strike Up a Conversation  

Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of the Art of America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House by Boris Kachka

What it’s about: FSG is the revered Union Square publishing house that has been home to Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe and T.S. Eliot, as well as many other 20th century greats.

How long it will take to read: This is pure media porn. Chances are that if you picked up this book, then you genuinely care about the fortunes of various editors and scribes and are thus likely to blow right through Kachka's fun, gossipy tome.

Useful factoid:  Kachka is a book critic for New York magazine, where he is well regarded for his thorough profiles of authors. He conducted more than 200 interviews for this book, which has reportedly received a blurb from Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison.

You should read it if:  You pine for the pre-digital era, when writers were gods and editors were warriors. In short, if you are a media romantic stuck in, oh, 1965

It matters because: As publishing shrinks and consolidates, Kachka provides a useful reminder of sunnier days.

Perfect for: Editorial interns fresh out of college, already jaded by wading through the slush pile. Those of us who still remember when people cared about books and even paid good money for them.

Published on August 6 by Simon and Schuster.

To America with Love by A.A. Gill

What it’s about: Gill, Vanity Fair’s famously acerbic restaurant critic, turns out to actually like the United States…a lot. Here, he takes in the whole country, from rural Kentucky to Harlem. Fine, so not the whole country. But the good parts. (For more on Gill and his new book, click here.)

How long it will take to read: Pull this one out when the beach conversation gets a little stale because this ain’t de Tocqueville, OK? Gill is fun, and his writing, like lemon curd, is best sampled in small doses.

Useful factoid: “America’s greatest single gift back to the Old World is the blow job.”

You should read it if:  The above insight appeals to you.

It matters because:  Honestly, it doesn’t. It’s a breezy read from the man who once called dumplings he disliked “fishy liver-filled condoms.” Gill is good for a chuckle – many chuckles, when his knife is sharp.

Perfect for: We trust that you will know if there is someone in your life who will benefit from the wisdom of A.A. Gill.

Published on July 9 by Simon and Schuster.

The Truth in Small Doses: Why We’re Losing the War on Cancer – and How to Win It by Clifton Leaf

What it's about: We keep pouring money into cancer research, and yet many silver-bullet drugs only extend lifetimes by a few months, while an actual cure still seems distant. Leaf asks why, then considers how we can do better.

How long it will take to read: It’s more succinct than Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Emperor of All Maladies and Leaf’s magazine background (he was once an editor at Fortune, where he published a cover story on the same topic in 2004) keeps him from lingering on arcana.

Useful factoid: Leaf survived a bout of lymphoma as a child. That experience would largely inform his later interest in the intractability of the disease.

You should read it if: You liked Mukherjee’s Pulitzer-winning book but found its level of detail somewhat daunting.

It matters because: We’ve been at war with cancer since 1971, and despite endless promises, are not much closer to truly winning that battle. In this refreshingly impassioned volume, Leaf explains why while offering a path forward.

Perfect for: Anyone curious about the history of medicine, as well as the fraught intersection of pharmacology, public policy and the corporate world.

Published on July 16 by Simon & Schuster.

For the History Buff Who Sort of Likes to Sound Like a Graduate Student, Especially After a Couple of Poolside Margaritas

The Manor: Three Centuries of a Slave Plantation on Long Island
by Mac Griswold

What it’s about: In 1984, while canoeing on Shelter Island, Griswold stumbled upon Sylvester Manor, an estate dating back to the 17th century. In the ensuing years, she would meticulously uncover the history of the house and its residents, from treaties with Native Americans to a legacy of slaveholding. The result is a lively history of early American settlement that avoids being either academic or elegiac.

How long it will take to read: Brisk, but thorough enough for you to realize that outer Long Island’s history is richer than its current hedge-fund denizens suggest.

Useful factoid: A gardener by profession, Griswold immediately knew she had stumbled upon an ancient estate when she saw the boxwoods that were more than 12 feet tall.

You should read it if you enjoyed: Annette Gordon-Reed's The Hemingses of Monticello. Like that Pulitzer Prize-winning work, The Manor is American history tightly compressed, though Griswold writes with a levity that won't make you feel like you're sitting through a graduate seminar.

It matters because: We like to think that the North was uniformly superior in its racial attitudes. Not so, Griswold argues.

Perfect for: For the hybrid of archeologist/botanist/historian/anthropologist/geologist/geneologist you’ve always suspected yourself to be. It’s not an easy juggle, but somehow Griswold pulls it off.

Published on July 2 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence
by Joseph Ellis

What it’s about: The summer of ’76 – 1776, that is. You know how we grill hot dogs and watch fireworks on the Fourth of July? Well, there’s apparently a darn good reason for that. Ellis may not be treading new ground here, but he is a reliable storyteller, and he knows this story well.

How long it will take to read: If you’re familiar with Ellis’s Pulitzer-winning Founding Brothers, you know that he wears his scholarship lightly – too lightly for some, but probably just lightly enough for a lazy August afternoon.

Useful factoid: Ellis lied during a 2000 interview about having served in Vietnam, which he never did. He was suspended for a year from his teaching position at Mount Holyoke College.

You should read it if: You slept through American history class. Your childhood summer vacations were in the backseat of a Volvo, being hauled around historical sites. 

It matters because:  If you’re not sure why the Revolution matters, you didn’t just sleep through history class — you hibernated. Luckily, Ellis is among our clearest explicators of American history, so this is your chance to recall just what all those guys in wigs were doing in Philadelphia.

Perfect for: Dads, uncles.

Published on June 4 by Knopf.

Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young

What it’s about: A journalist living in San Francisco decides to move back to decrepit Flint, Mich., where he was born and raised. Moreover, he does this in what appears to be a fully sound state of mind.

How long it will take to read: It’s a densely packed 288 pages, but nobody is going to quiz you on the address of The Wooden Keg – we hope.

Useful factoid: Flint has been named one of “America’s Fastest-Dying Cities,” “America’s Most Miserable Cities” and “Worst Cities for Recession Recovery,” among a plethora of other negative superlatives Young lists right before decamping for this once-industrious place that gave rise to General Motors.

You should read it if: Your city planning experience doesn't go past SimCity and you can’t figure out why towns don’t just build tram lines, spruce up the public parks and renovate warehouses into lofts.

It matters because: As cities like Flint go, so goes much of the nation.

Perfect for: The amateur urbanist who wants to go to Flint without actually having to leave the backyard.

Published on June 17 by University of California Press.

For the Mystery Fan Who Doesn't Want to Be Seen Hauling Clive Cussler Around the Beach 

Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda

What it’s about: Two girls from the working-class Red Hook section of Brooklyn go rafting. Only one of them comes back.

How long it will take to read: Don't worry about that. This could be the summer’s fastest page-turner.

Useful factoid:  The novel is being published by the imprint of mystery maestro Dennis Lehane; his effusive blurb compares Pochoda to Richard Price, Junot Díaz and Alice Sebold in one fell swoop. Pochoda scores extra points by actually being from Brooklyn, unlike many of those who write about the borough today.

You should read it if: You are tired of people making contorted arguments about how Dan Brown’s thrillers are smarter than they seem. No, they aren’t.

It matters because: It’s rare for a young woman as intelligent and ambitious as Pochoda (once a nationally-ranked squash player at Harvard) devotes herself to the tricky craft of writing thrillers.

Perfect for: People who like their suspense smart.

Published on July 9 by Dennis Lehane Books.

Holy Orders by Benjamin Black (but you probably know him better as John Banville, he of the lyrical prose and the Man Booker Prize).

What it's about: The latest installment in Black’s Quirke series, starring a restless Dublin pathologist. A young man is murdered, pitting ecclesiastical convictions against sordid realities.

How long it will take to read: Don’t get too distracted or too drunk on a transatlantic flight, and you just might be able to polish this one off.

Useful factoid: A Quirke miniseries is coming to English television starring Gabriel Byrne. Meanwhile, Black/Banville is resurrecting one of America’s iconic detectives by writing a new Philip Marlowe novel, having been granted permission by the estate of his creator, Raymond Chandler. 

You should read it if: The complex history of the Catholic Church in Ireland seems, to you, fertile ground for a mystery.

It matters because: Banville is arguably one of the finest prose stylists writing in English today. His desire to engage with what we too often treat, derisively, as “genre fiction” is always welcome. More "literary" novelists should do it.  

Perfect for: The high-brow reader who needs extra justification to pick up a novel that features something as crass as an actual plot. Banville’s sophisticated imprimatur should do the trick.

Published on August 20 by Henry Holt.

The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell

What it’s about: In 1929, a fire at the Arbor Dance Hall is West Table, Mo., kills 42 people. One of them is the sister of Alma DeGeer Dunahew, who, 30 years later, cannot let the matter rest. Less a mystery than a meditation on the mystery of loss.

How long it will take you to read: This is lean novelistic meat, weighing in at about 160 pages.

Useful factoid: Anthony Bourdain loves Woodrell’s books. And don’t pretend you don’t care about what Bourdain thinks.

You should read it if: The Ozarks summon up a noirish landscape of shady hollows, rutted roads and taciturn natives. But be warned that this is not a conventional mystery. That's a good thing.

It matters because: Long regarded as a regional writer, Woodrell is finally coming to be regarded as merely an excellent one, region notwithstanding. The historical novel is ambitious new terrain for him.

Perfect for: Anyone who liked Winter’s Bone. The Maid’s Version is Woodrell's first novel since that one, which was turned into a 2010 move starring a young, drawling Jennifer Lawrence.

Published on September 3 by Little, Brown.

For Those Who Feel Obligated to Read the Publishing Season's Major Titles Just to Keep Up

I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman

What it’s about: The confessionalist/essayist explores the nature of villainy by writing about everyone from Hitler to Kim Dotcom to Ice Cube. Oh, and Don Henley.

How long it will take to read: Most of these essays are 5 to 6 pages in length. And, dare I say, some of them can be skipped.

Useful factoid:  Klosterman is new The New York Times Magazine’s Ethicist, dispensing moral advice to America. Also, I am pretty sure I once saw him on the subway.

You should read it if:  Honestly, you probably have a pretty good sense if Klosterman’s voice is for you. Did you think Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs was edgy revelation or cloying self-absorption? That should settle it.

It matters because: Stalin and Sharon Stone in one book, almost surely for the first time ever.

Perfect for: People who already like Chuck Klosterman.

Published on July 9 by Scribner.

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

What it’s about: The story of tough childhoods during tough times (i.e., the Nixon years), The Silver Star focuses on two girls, Liz and "Bean" Holladay, daughters of a troubled woman who travel from California to Virginia, where the remnants of their family live. Racial strife, among other troubles, awaits them in their new home.

How long it will take to read: Several drafty nights at a lakeside cabin in Maine. It feels like that kind of book.

Useful factoid:  Walls is famous for her memoir of childhood poverty, The Glass Castle, published in 2005. It has sold more than 2.5 million copies in the U.S. alone.

You should read it if: You don’t mind fiction that is more personal than imaginative. Publishers Weekly said the characters were “too familiar,” suggesting that Walls is mining the same terrain that made her famous. Meanwhile, The New York Times’s review contains this cryptic but significant line: “There’s a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird in The Silver Star, enough to remind readers that Harper Lee chose to quit while she was ahead.” Whatever do you mean, Janet Maslin?

It matters because: Regardless of what you think of the memoir’s current status, Walls is largely responsible for the format’s popularity. Like it or not, she is a literary force to be reckoned with.

Perfect for: Those who simply love Walls’s prose. You’re out there.

Published on June 11 by Scribner.

Sparta by Roxana Robinson

What it's about: Marine Conrad Farrell returns home to Westchester County from Iraq. His transition is not an easy one: “He wanted both to enter into this world and to cut himself off from it forever.”

How long it will take to read: Robinson writes books that deserve your fullest attention. So maybe not the best choice for a weekend on the Jersey Shore. On second thought, a book like this might be precisely what redeems a weekend on the Jersey Shore.

Useful factoid: Robinson juxtaposes the experience of contemporary war with that of warfare in ancient Greece, which the protagonist had studied while at Williams College. The novel takes its title from the militaristic city-state that clashed with Athens and which Robinson says “may have been the most successful warrior culture in history.” I suspect the other contender for that dubious honor, in her estimation, is modern-day America.

You should read it if: You admire Robinson’s writing in Cost and Sweetwater and are rightly curious to see if she can rise to the occasion of writing with a traumatized 26-year-old male veteran as her subject.

It matters because: We tend to think of the suffering of veterans as being a vestige of Vietnam-era cultural misunderstandings. But as Robinson reminds, returning from war is never easy.

Perfect for: Anyone who wants to read a novel about veterans that is neither mawkish nor jingoistic. In particular, The Washington Post praised Robinson for her “devastating” portrait of the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Published on June 4 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

For the Palid Postmodernist Who Knows Summer Is Just a Social Construct Anyway 

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

What it’s about: The conclusion to Atwood’s futuristic, dystopian triptych (The Maddaddam Trilogy), which started with Oryx and Crake (2003) and was followed up by The Year of the Flood (2009)Atwood calls these recent works “speculative fiction,” shunning the term “science fiction” for what she thinks of as its derogatory implications. Like its predecessors, MaddAddam promises to be wild, with the publisher's description referencing both "cultural misunderstandings" and "terrible coffee." Those do often go hand-in-hand.

How long it will take to read: With 400 pages of serious prose looming, you might want to clear your calendar for this one.

Useful factoid: If you want to read the book early, Atwood will be “previewing” the novel for passengers of the Queen Mary 2, which leaves New York for Southampton, England, on August 15. It will cost you about $1,300 more than waiting for the book to come out.

You should read it if: You’ve read the previous two books in the trilogy. Otherwise, you should start with Oryx and Crake.

It matters because: Atwood is genuinely engaged with questions of humanity’s future, our impact on the environment and the byproducts of human progress. Her fiction is not easy, but few important works are.

Perfect for: Anyone who is despairing about the state of literature and thinks that serious fiction doesn’t have a future. It does. Here is proof.

Published on September 3 by Nan A. Talese.

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem

What it’s aboutAs Lethem told the Los Angeles Times back in April, "It's about American leftists. Specifically, a red-diaper baby generation trying to figure out what it all means, this legacy of American Communism. It's set in Queens and Greenwich Village, another New York neighborhood book, very much about the life of the city.... writing about Greenwich Village in 1958 was really a jump for me, it was as much of an imaginative leap as any of the more fantastical things I've done. But really exciting, too."

How long it will take to read: A couple of listens to your favorite Yo La Tengo album; less time than a DIY butchering class; but longer than an ironic viewing of Sixteen Candles. Should we keep going or do you get the idea?

Useful factoid: Lethem once lived in Brooklyn but now teaches at Pomona College in Southern California, having maligned the borough that made him famous, saying that it has become “cancerous with novelists.” Accordingly, Dissident Gardens will be set in the Village and Queens, in the Sunnyside Gardens community that was famously planned by urbanist Lewis Mumford.

It matters because: Fortress of Solitude was 10 years ago. Since then, Lethem has done plenty, but nothing to equal that novel’s success. The stakes for Dissident Gardens are thus high.

Perfect for: Anyone who has ever set foot in Brooklyn, Oakland or Austin, as well as parts of Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. You may enjoy it if you live in Queens, too.

Published on September 10 by Doubleday.

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

What it’s about: Penguin says the novel will be set "in the lull between the collapse of the dotcom boom and the terrible events of September 11." A short excerpt from the book appeared in a Penguin marketing catalog earlier this year. But don’t expect the famously media-averse Pynchon to hold court at your local Barnes & Noble.

How long it will take to read: Considering that a page of Pynchon roughly translates to about 10 pages from a normal author, you should definitely have this one done by Thanksgiving 2015.

Useful factoid: Pynchon hasn’t set a novel in New York since his first one, V., which was published in 1963.

You should read it if you likedInherent Vice, Pynchon’s riff on The Big Lebowski. His novels seem to be getting easier and more accessible since 2006’s mammoth, little-read Against the Day.

It matters because: Thomas Pynchon wrote a book! Famously meticulous with his research, Pynchon used to take a decade-long break between novels. He has speeded up his writing some – his last novel was only four years ago. Still, any Pynchon publication is a huge event.

Perfect for: Tech geeks setting up shop in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley. You know, the ones who were still playing Nintendo 64 when the tech bubble burst.

Published on September 17 by Penguin Press.

Top photo by aafromaa via Flickr.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.