This year’s guide includes 30 titles—the most ever—as well as tips on how to get more out of your summer reading and my favorites from past guides. But just for fun (and like we’ve done since 2014, believe it or not) I’m narrowing the choices down to 5 total. (Minimalists and decision haters, rejoice!)
These top 5 titles are hugely entertaining, have broad appeal, and cover a variety of topics, themes, genres, and perspectives. Despite their differences, they have two crucial things in common: they’re really good, and they embody what a summer read should be. They’ll keep you turning the pages, sure, but they also have substance—and I hope you’ll find them wonderfully thought-provoking and discussable.
These stories will keep you turning the pages, sure, but they also have substance. While easy to read, these titles are wonderfully thought-provoking and discussable.
If you already got your 2019 Summer Reading Guide, you’ll recognize these titles from page 9.
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While it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single, Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there’s an even greater truth: “To his Indian mother, his own inclinations were of secondary importance.” In this P&P-inspired retelling, set in contemporary Toronto, Darcy becomes Khalid, a devout Muslim man whose mother is trying to marry him off. Elizabeth becomes Ayesha, a teacher who’d much prefer to be a poet. When they first meet, it’s utter disaster: she thinks he’s rigid and judgmental; he thinks she’s not a good Muslim because of the drink (virgin) and cigarettes (not hers) she’s holding. But circumstances bring them together again, of course. I loved the supporting cast featuring good friends, a cousin dreaming of a Bollywood-inspired wedding, an embarrassing mother, and a Shakespeare-quoting grandpa. If you’re a P&P devotee, this is a delight. If you’ve never read the original, you can still enjoy this story about friendship, family, obligation, and love. More info →
Historian-turned-novelist Robson sets her latest historical release in 1947, when times are grim: so many have lost so much, war rationing continues, Britain is in ruins. But in a bleak year, there’s a bright spot: Princess Elizabeth’s royal wedding captured the hearts of a nation, and was a beacon of hope to a country on its knees. The people insisted on a real celebration, including a beautiful gown. Robson’s story shifts among three protagonists and spans 70 years, but the common thread is Elizabeth’s gown—and specifically, the women who make it. While Robson has a fine eye for detail, and her behind-the-scenes descriptions of the fine atelier's workroom are riveting, the heartbeat of the story comes from female friendship, secret pasts, and life after loss. A must-read for fans of The Crown, and recommended for all seeking an intimate take on the often neglected postwar era. More info →
I didn’t know a book could be both gorgeous and terrifying—but then I devoured this in a day. When two college friends plan a long canoeing trip in northern Canada, they anticipate a peaceful yet memorable summer escape filled with whitewater paddling, fly fishing, and campfire cooking. The first hint of danger is a whiff of smoke, from an encroaching forest fire. The next comes from a man, seemingly in shock, who reports his wife disappeared in the woods. If these boys didn’t feel compelled to do the right thing and go look for her, they’d be fine, but instead they step in to help—and are soon running for their lives, from disasters both natural and man-made. A tightly-written wilderness adventure, a lyrical mystery, and a heartrending story of friendship, rolled into one. This is the best book I’ve read this year, and that’s saying something. Pair with Sebastian Junger’s Fire for a next-level reading experience. More info →
Conklin’s sweeping family saga covers nearly a hundred years in the life of the Skinner siblings. The story begins in the year 2079, when Fiona, now a 102-year old poet, is asked a deeply personal question at a reading—the question she’s always declined to answer because the truth is too painful. But at her age, what does she have to lose? The simple question launches her into a flashback beginning in 1981, when their father died and their mother plunged into a deep depression, leaving her four children, ages 4 to 11, to effectively raise each other for a time. This years-long period—dubbed “the Pause” by the children—forged a strong bond between them, but it also broke them in ways that don’t become apparent for many years, when another unfolding tragedy makes them question everything they know about their family. The key voice in the novel is the poet Fiona, who gets her start as an early blogger, keeping a Sex in the City-style online diary detailing her sexual exploits. I inhaled this story, despite it being difficult in places, and highly recommend it for fans of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth. More info →
I've adored Reichl's food writing in the past, but if I wasn’t a devoted Gourmet magazine reader, would I be interested in reading the book aptly subtitled “My Gourmet Memoir”? The answer: YES!! The story begins in 1999, when Reichl is offered (another) dream job: to take the helm at Gourmet, with free reign to make the staid publication relevant to today's cooks. Reichl dishes like a gossipy friend, sharing the behind-the-scenes scoop on the big picture, like livening up Gourmet’s stuffy culture, and the specific, like what was going through her head when she published David Foster Wallace's notorious piece "Consider the Lobster." Gourmet’s rise—and fall—is intimately connected with the publishing trends of the aughts, and as a reader and writer I found her take on her company's troubles captivating. This is pure delight from start to finish. If you love it, read Garlic and Sapphires next, her un-put-down-able story of her years as the New York Times food critic; it's one of three summer picks for the MMD Book Club. More info →
What’s on your summer reading list? And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above books in comments.
P.S. Want to see what I’ve chosen in previous minimalist guides? Check them out below. (You’ll also get to see how the guide has evolved over the years.) • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018