The 2020 Minimalist Summer Reading Guide

Readers, last week I shared the 2020 Summer Reading Guide with subscribers, kicking off my favorite reading time of the year.

This year’s guide includes 30 titles—or 42, if you got the expanded edition—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 five total. (Minimalists and decision haters, rejoice!)

It’s never easy to choose just five titles to spotlight, but this year was torture, because there are so many great books in this year’s guide. That being said, for this minimalist edition I strove to select titles that were highly engaging, skillfully written, and wonderfully 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.

Speaking of discussable: it’s no coincidence that three of these titles are Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club selections. We’re reading This Tender Land in June, The Last Train to Key West in July, and The Jane Austen Society in August. I’m thrilled that each author will be joining us to chat; click here for the full calendar.

I hope you enjoy this short and sweet summer list, and I’d love to hear more about your own summer selections in the comments.

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The 2020 5-book Summer Reading Guide

This Tender Land

This Tender Land

Part Grapes of Wrath, part Huckleberry Finn: this tough and tender coming-of-age story focuses on four Minnesota kids during the Great Depression, whose respective situations become ever more impossible due to human cruelty and circumstance. After a tornado demolishes the last of life as they know it, they realize no one is going to save them—and so they make a plan to save themselves that starts with escaping down the river. This is one of my husband Will’s favorite books of the year. A great story, beautifully told. More info →
The Last Train to Key West

The Last Train to Key West

In this standalone novel from the author of Next Year in Havana, three women’s lives become entangled over the course of Labor Day weekend, 1935, when the storm of the century slams into Key West. The story is told from three perspectives, that of three different women who seem to share little in common, but whose lives are about to intersect in ways no one could foresee. Helen is a Key West native, poor and pregnant, fleeing her abusive husband. Mirta is Cuban, newly married to a man she barely knows, and just beginning her honeymoon. And Elizabeth, who’s come south on a dangerous search for a long-lost loved one. A captivating novel about a little-known historical event. More info →
The Jane Austen Society

The Jane Austen Society

This charming debut is sure to delight Austen fans. Jane Austen lived out her last days in the sleepy village of Chawton, and in the days just after World War II, her legacy still looms large. Times are hard, and we meet several villagers burdened with their own private sorrows, who are doing what they’ve always done: turning to the works of Austen for solace. When a local business attempts to buy the Austen property and raze her cottage, the villagers band together to preserve her legacy. At one point, a character muses that Austen’s works present “a world so a part of our own, yet so separate, that entering it is like some kind of tonic.” The same can be said of Jenner’s wonderful book. More info →
The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

Finally, a follow-up to Bennett’s smashing debut The Mothers—and it's worth the wait. Identical twins Desiree and Stella grew up in a town so small it doesn't appear on maps. They're closer than close, so Desiree is shocked when Stella vanishes one night after deciding to sacrifice her past—and her relationship with her family—in order to marry a white man, who doesn't know she's black. Desiree never expects to see her sister again. The twins grow up, make lives for themselves, and raise daughters—and it's those daughters who bring the sisters together again. It's a reunion Stella both longs for and fears, because she can't reveal the truth without admitting her whole life is a lie. Bennett expertly weaves themes of family, race, identity, and belonging into one juicy, unputdownable novel spanning five turbulent decades. More info →
The City We Became: A Novel

The City We Became: A Novel

Jemisin’s new urban fantasy, packed with explosive energy and astonishing worldbuilding, is the first installment of a planned trilogy. Every city has a soul, and the great cities of civilization—like Rome, Athens, São Paolo—finally reach a point when they come to life. Now it’s New York’s time to be born, but the city itself is too weakened by a gruesome attack to complete the process. If New York is to live, five people—or, more precisely, five avatars, one for each of the city’s boroughs—must rise up and unite to evade, and then destroy, the creeping tentacles of their opponent, the amorphous power personified by the Woman in White. Jemisin layers her fantasy upon a deeply realistic modern-day New York. A wild and wonderful ride, fantastically inventive and imaginative. More info →

What’s on your summer reading list? And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above books in comments.

The 2020 Minimalist Summer Reading Guide


Leave A Comment
  1. Shea says:

    I always love seeing your minimalist picks! I may have to pick up The City We Became as my “read outside my genre comfort zone” for your reading challenge this year. I’m not a big sci fi reader but I’ve heard such great things about her.

  2. Adrienne says:

    Hi Anne! The blog post (at least when I view it) only shows four books…. The Vanishing Half, which is in the photo, is not listed and described in the post.

    I’m really looking forward to reading these. On the fence about The City We Became though; it is definitely not something I would choose just based on the synopsis.

    Happy Reading!

  3. Shae says:

    I have the same problem as Adrienne, I only see 4 books! However, I have had This Tender Land in my TBR stack for too long! It is moving to the top!

  4. Keri says:

    I plan on reading most of the extended guide, but I love the minimalist picks because it helps me prioritize. Decision fatigue is a real problem for me! I have spent hours trying to decide which book to read next.

  5. Nakeli says:

    I always look forward to your Summer Reading Guide! I want to read This Tender Land and The Vanishing Half. I read The City We Became and I’ll be honest, it was not my favorite. I expected a lot more action; it was too dialogue heavy.
    I just finished The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires and I loved it! I definitely don’t read books about vampires but this one was a fun time.

    • Terry says:

      Hi Nakeli,

      Boy did the title of your recommendation intrigue me—just read some goodreads reviews and have put the Southern Book Club on my list. During this stressful time, I’m reading outside my comfort zone and your recommendation fits the bill. Thanks! 😊

      This is what I plan to read from the big list:
      This Tender Land-Krueger, Right up my alley
      Simon the Fiddler-Jiles. Definitely, I’ve already purchased it
      Writers and Lovers-King, have been on library list since March
      And maybe…Musical Chairs-Poeppel maybe because it’s supposed to be hilarious, which I could use more of right now!

      Happy reading everyone!

    • Camille Wilson says:

      Good to know about The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. I’m awaiting my turn on the Overdrive app. Vampires seem to prowl the literary world. Dracula, Salem’s Lot, The Historian. I wouldn’t want to meet one in a dark alley but I do enjoy them between the pages of a novel!

  6. Laurie Carlson says:

    I read and loved “This Tender Land” after my mother and sister gave me a signed copy of the book they received at a William Kent Krueger book signing. They enjoyed meeting him and hearing him talk about the book. I’m so excited that you will be talking to him in June so I can listen in as well! Author talks are my favorite part of the book club.

  7. Melinda Malaspino says:

    I am very excited to read This Tender Land with my IRL book club this June. I’m currently reading The 10000 Doors of January, and I’m enthralled. A book I’m looking forward to is Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet. It didn’t make your list, but it has been receiving high praise. I’m a Shakespeare junkie and am also part of the Shakespeare 2020 challenge, reading the entire works of Shakespeare in 2020.

    • Debi Morton says:

      Melinda, I’m currently doing 10,000 Doors on audio, and I’m loving it, as well. So intriguing. I just ordered Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet. It sounds so fascinating.

  8. Colleen Bonilla says:

    Sometimes it feels like I’ve never grown up. Seeing the lovely photo of those five enticing books stacked and ready to be read gives me that butterfly feeling in my stomach, just like Christmas morning when I was a child (…and, I must confess, every Christmas since). I have stacks of books to be read near my bed and on my dresser, and the Summer Reading Guide just feels like an embarrassment of more riches! Which one will I read next? Oooooh, that delicious sense of anticipation!

  9. LIz Babb says:

    I am picking up The City We Became from my Library tonight and I have been counting down the days till my pre-order of The Jane Austen Society comes next week! I added the other three to my TBR list after I received your Summer Reading guide last week. Thank you as always for the great recommendations.

  10. Cheryl says:

    Based on your suggestion, Anne, I just listened to The City We Became on Libby–in one day! (It’s my MMD Challenge choice for something in a genre I’d not normally consider.)
    I’m not very conversant in sci-fi/fantasy, so I can’t speak to anything “technical”. However, as a native New Yorker, I found this story to be an absolute hoot!!! Lots of fun, lots of energy, lots of truth (mixed with common misunderstandings), lots of cleverness. I highly recommend it, with the understanding that the real Staten Island is a fantastic place 🙂

  11. Rebekah in SoCal says:

    My library has Jane Austin Society and I’m shocked! (Our library just got a massive coronavirus budget cut so I figured new books were a thing of the past.)
    This might be just the thing when I finish Karen Swallow Prior’s edition of Sense and Sensibility.

  12. Susan P says:

    I’ve got the Jane Austen Society and This Tender Land on my TBR—and I own Ordinary Grace already and that is next up!
    Separate subject, Anne—I’ve been seeing the #stackyourstatechallenge on Instagram, and wonder if you’ve ever done it. I would look forward to seeing Kentucky authors and settings in your pile! I want to do a Maine stack, myself.

  13. Sharon Barnard says:

    I plan on reading all three MMD picks. Writers and Lovers, This Won’t End Well, and Big Summer. For my bonus I plan on starting the Deborah Crombie series. I don’t think I’ll like The City We Became. I have tried sci fi but just doesn’t work for me. Oh and I do see five titles.

  14. Lynn says:

    This Tender Land was absolutely a top favorite last year and likely on any all time list if I were to make one. Fascinating story with such vivid characters. I have ordered The Last Train to Key West and likely will read The Jane Austen Society as well. Thanks for all the great ideas Anne!

  15. Deepa says:

    I have (had?) William Kent Krueger lined up to come and discuss This Tender Land with my neighborhood book club in August. He lives in the Twin Cities and he is such a lovely, down-to-earth, humble man that he did this before with Ordinary Grace. Now I don’t know what life will be like in August. 🙁

    But regardless, we will be reading the book and discussing it. In a socially distanced backyard meeting, like the one we had yesterday, or over Zoom, or something. I am looking forward to reading my autographed copy. I am so glad that you picked it for your pared down list, it definitely deserves the spot!

  16. Mimi Hurd says:

    I just finished This Tender Land also and loved it. It is my favorite from this year so far. I’m trying to get my IRL book club to read it in the fall. I always love an Odyssey story, and the Depression era setting reminded me so much of the O Brother Where Art Thou movie.

  17. Tara L. Western says:

    On one of your older podcasts, you mentioned a list of books with female protagonists over 40, I think. Where can I find it? LOVE your podcasts. Just found it and working backwards. On number 187. So happy that I have so many still to listen to.

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