Not everyone has the same summer, so why should people share the same summer reading list? We’ve curated six summer reading lists based on how you feel about the brightest season, or how you might plan (or dream) to spend it. The titles are gleaned from a recent poll that revealed America’s 100 most-loved novels. The Great American Read on PBS will discuss all of them and asks the country to vote for their favorite novel now through October 18.
1. I Can’t Stand Anything About Summer Except Summer Reading
The heat, the tourists, the stench of city streets? While the masses cavort on the beaches and at summer festivals, you’d rather stay in alone and read a book. Keep calm, cool and dark while exploring some misanthropic tales this summer.
1984, by George Orwell
. Root for Winston Smith as he tries to escape Big Brother and the Thought Police in the totalitarian state of Oceania.
And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
. Set in the month of August, this mystery ensnares 10 people who have committed dark deeds. They’re lured by an invitation to an isolated island off Devon, and then begin to disappear, one by one.
The Coldest Winter Ever, by Sister Souljah
. A charismatic protagonist lies, cheats and steals to regain her family’s stature in the drug-dealing world. Her name is Winter, and so is the season in this novel, set in Brooklyn and Long Island.
Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
. An ex-student living in St. Petersburg, Russia, discovers that his intellectual capabilities and moral reasoning can’t assuage his guilt over committing murder.
Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews
. Four siblings are locked in an attic for years to save an inheritance and in the meanwhile, their evil grandmother abuses them. The shocking element of incest helped sell 40 million copies of this Gothic novel set in the late 1950s–60s.
Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer
. A social outcast and newcomer in a small town in Washington falls for a 104-year-old vampire in her high school. Things get more complicated when the vampire hunters arrive.
2. Summer is My Great Escape: Into Other Worlds
Escape your reality this summer with a world a created by a writer. Step into a geisha’s sandals in her highly regimented cultural niche, plug into a virtual reality designed by a fan of the 1980s, journey to other planets or discover the literary origins of the hit series Game of Thrones.
Dune, by Frank Herbert
. This epic of science fiction is set on the desert planet Arrakis. You will be thirsty for weeks and find yourself conserving water as if it were a precious commodity.
Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin
. Ruthless royal families, murderous dragons and other beings only George R.R. Martin could imagine battle for control across the continent of Westeros, from bleak snowy tundras to kingdoms of epicurean plenty.
The Martian, by Chris Wier
. On an exploratory mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney becomes stranded on the planet with no way to signal that he’s still alive. Can he pull off the greatest MacGyver feat ever and survive?
Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
. Travel back in time and to Japan. A former geisha tells her story, from being taken as a slave from her fishing village as a nine-year-old, to her meticulous training in ritual and discretion while working in the geisha district of Gion in Kyoto.
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
. Try to keep up with time-traveling Claire Randall as she is buffeted on the Scottish Highlands between her life in 1945, and a Scotland torn by war and raiding clans in the year 1743.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
. In the dystopian year of 2045, teenager Wade Watts spends most of his time plugged into the virtual utopia game OASIS. One player will inherit the creator’s fortune if they can solve a riddle left in references to 1980s films and culture.
3. My Summer is All About the Kids
Even when kids pay unwitting homage to rocker Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” (1972) on the last day of school, chanting “No more pencils, no more books…” don’t take them literally. Adolescents love stories that represent their emotions and stir the imagination. Here are classics to share with the kids you play with, entertain and educate this summer, or just to remind yourself of what the world can look like through a young person’s eyes.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
. Growing up poor in Williamsburg is tough for Francie Nolan, who, along with her family, faces a heavy share of adversity from the ages of 11 to 17. She has hope for her future, despite the odds.
Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery
. An irrepressible 10-year-old orphan lands on a Canadian farm owned by a brother and sister. They had requested a boy from the orphanage, and consider sending her back, but Anne stays and rises above the mean girls and mishaps.
Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
. This coming of age classic follows a young boy as he questions his faith and beliefs in family, religion, and other aspects of his Chicano culture.
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
. The 16-year-old antihero Holden Caulfield is back in New York City because he’s been kicked out of prep school. He considers all adults phonies and provides one of literature’s best examples of teen angst, all while showing a soft spot for kids. Trace the origins of the book
with American Masters
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
. The team effort of a family is a theme in this acclaimed novel by a 19th-century feminist. Four sisters, ages 12 to 16, and their mom get by while their father is away at war. Two sisters find jobs and all discover their joys and talents, too.
The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton
. The 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis narrates his story of being in a poor teenage gang that clashes violently with the one from the rich side of town in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hinton was just 18 herself when her novel debuted in 1967.
4. My Summer is for Traveling
A guide book is a must for perfect trip planning, but a great story can be just the thing you need to soak up setting and history before, after, or during your trip. Even if you’re not traveling this summer, these books are all about journeys.
Call of the Wild, by Jack London
. It’s a dog’s life in the Yukon Territory and Alaska, where London takes his main character, Buck, a mistreated, mixed breed dog.
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
. Find your adventure with the crazy knight Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho in La Mancha in central Spain.
Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift
. Through misadventures in four imaginary nations, Swift satirizes European governments and questions differences in religion and whether corruption is nature or nurture. (Swift was greatly admired by George Orwell).
Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurty
. Aging Texan cowboys feel the call of the Wild West and set off what might be their last long-distance cattle drive.
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
. Fancy a sea excursion on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans? This search for a whale and safe harbor is no three-hour tour.
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
. After being told his fortune, a young shepherd in Andalusia goes on a quest that leads him to the pyramids in Egypt.
5. Summer Is My Busiest Time of Year – What’s a Short Read?
These short books all pack a memorable punch. Think of these classics as a healthy snack for those on the run – literature for people who need the words they read to last them a long time. (Page counts vary by edition).
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
. See what happens when you rush product development. It can go monstrously wrong. 166 pages.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
. To live or lose the American Dream, or just be a wallflower at a Jazz Age party, set on Long Island. 180 pages.
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
. A poetic treatise on opening your mind and building relationships, according to a boy prince, who lives on his own planet taking care of a few life forms. 96 pages.
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
. European Imperialism in the Congo will not end well, in fact it’s maddening, observed the author in this novella first published in 1899. 72 pages.
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
. The tragic downfall of a Nigerian tribal leader in the time when colonists and Christians arrive. Achebe was an outspoken critic of Heart of Darkness
for its racism. 176 pages.
6. Summer Lovin’: Bring on the Romance
From the moors in England to the seaside in South Carolina, to the city lights of New York City and Vancouver, Washington, you can still work travel time into your fraught romance. One shady title on The Great American Read list raised more eyebrows than the others when the list was revealed.
Another Country, by James Baldwin
. Set in New York City, the novel centers on those mourning the suicide of Rufus, a drummer. A thread of anxiety connects the shifting couplings of heterosexuals and gay men; bisexuality; and interracial relationships.
Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
. The steamy dominant-submissive romance that no one seemed embarrassed to read on the subway, now the subject of The Book Club
, starring leading ladies Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
. The quest for true love on equal terms is drawn out in northern England between governess Jane and her employer Edward Rochester – a brooding father with an insane wife.
The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks
. True love can’t be separated by time, interlopers or illness in this tale set in South Carolina. A couple who were married for 60 years inspired Sparks’ first novel.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
. Love hurts. On the windy moors of Yorkshire, England, Cathy and Heathcliff are separated by class, but haunted by their passion for one another. Singers Kate Bush
and Pat Benatar
nail the emotional intensity of the novel with their musical covers of it.
More Book Recommendations
We haven’t plugged all the titles in our six summer categories, so for more literary recommendations, dig into the full list of 100 books. If you’re in New York or New Jersey, consider picking them up at THIRTEEN’s partner bookstores, libraries and festivals. Thanks for sharing this post – it means a lot to us, local independent bookstores and readers!