The 2022 Minimalist Summer Reading Guide

Trying to figure out which Summer Reading Guide selections to read? We've got you covered.

Readers, two weeks ago I shared the 2022 MMD Summer Reading Guide with subscribers, kicking off my favorite reading time of the year.

This year’s guide includes 42 titles (or even more if you got the Expanded Edition featuring our team summer picks!). Every year since 2014, I’ve narrowed the choices down to five or six total for my fellow minimalists and decision haters.

It’s never easy to whittle down the list to so few titles to spotlight. In fact, last year I couldn’t narrow it down to five selections so I went with six—and this year I decided to do the same.

For each minimalist edition, I strive to select titles that keep you turning the pages but also have substance. You could inhale these titles quickly but find yourself thinking about them for weeks, months, or even years. And while easy to read, these titles are wonderfully thought-provoking and discussable.

These minimalist titles are featured in the guide, and we also traditionally share them here on the blog, both so those who’ve read the Guide can take another look, and those who haven’t yet can get a taste of its contents with these featured picks.

Speaking of discussable: it’s no coincidence that three of these titles are Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club selections. We’re reading Bomb Shelter in June, Lessons in Chemistry in July, and The Cartographers in August. I’m thrilled that each author will be joining us to chat.

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 2022 Minimalist Summer Reading Guide

Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives

Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives

Among the finest—perhaps THE finest—memoir-in-essays I’ve ever read. This intimate look at family life is like sitting down with a trusted friend to talk about what matters most in life. Philpott’s leaping-off point is her teenage son’s middle-of-the-night medical emergency. She never sees it coming, but later wondered, Should I have known? He stabilized, but nothing is the same after that pivotal moment. In the aftermath, Philpott explores her long-held desire to keep those she loves safe through sheer will or worrying—but if that doesn’t work, what can we do instead? She wrestles through the answers in these pages. Witty and candid, deeply relatable, humorous and heartstopping, with tales of hypothetical disaster balanced with restful interludes featuring Frank the Turtle and the Philpott family dogs. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll text all your friends. More info →
Lessons in Chemistry

Lessons in Chemistry

A life-affirming tale of a chemist ahead of her time, a life-changing love affair, a dog with a huge vocabulary, and the combustible combination of chemistry, cooking, and afternoon television. Elizabeth Zott only ever wanted to be a scientist—but because she’s a woman in the 1960s, she has to go begging for beakers despite being the smartest researcher in the building. After Elizabeth is ostensibly fired for being unwed and pregnant (but really for being smarter than her boss and dating a rival scientist he loathes), she can’t make ends meet. Out of desperation she accepts a job hosting a tv show called Supper at 6. She loves to cook, because cooking, after all, is chemistry. The producers want her to smile and look pretty, but Elizabeth is much more interested in teaching housewives not just how to make dinner, but how to change their lives. Lively and life-affirming, with an unforgettable protagonist. Content warnings apply. More info →
The Cartographers

The Cartographers

A page-turning literary mystery with a dynamite premise and a little bit of magic. Seven years ago, cartographer Nell Young lost everything—her career, her reputation, her fiancé, and her family—because of an argument over a cheap gas station map. After her esteemed cartographer father unexpectedly dies, Nell learns he’d been working on some sort of secret project connected to the map, which isn’t junk at all but an incredibly rare and hotly sought-after artifact—and her knowledge of its existence may put her very life in danger. A sophisticated scavenger hunt ensues, leading Nell to a secretive and powerful band of mapmakers called The Cartographers, and to closely guarded secrets held by her own family. A gripping and inventive story of family secrets, found family, second chances, and cartography, set against the backdrop of the storied New York Public Library. More info →
Portrait of a Thief

Portrait of a Thief

Five Chinese American college students become justice-driven international art thieves in this Ocean’s Eleven-ish heist novel. When he’s made an offer he can’t refuse, MIT student Will Chen recruits four brilliant accomplices—all with looming midterms—to fulfill an audacious goal: to break into art museums in five countries, in order to steal back artifacts that were once wrongfully stolen from China. If they succeed, they’ll receive a life-changing $50 million payout. The heist storyline pops and fizzes, but Li crams in plenty of substance alongside her flashy plot: an exploration of identity and belonging, crushing familial expectations, desires, love, and calling, plus meaningful LGBTQ representation and the seamless integration of pandemic realities. Word to the wise: This reads more Hollywood than real life but you’ll enjoy the ride. More info →
Take My Hand

Take My Hand

A timely and gripping work of historical fiction loosely inspired by the real-life groundbreaking court case of Relf v Weinberger. In 2016 Memphis, distinguished Black doctor Civil Townsend prepares to retire. First she must journey to her hometown of Montgomery to make peace with the past and tell the truth of it to her own daughter. In alternating timelines, Civil reveals all that unfolded in 1973, when she was a young and idealistic nurse, stepping into her first job at a reproductive clinic serving Black women in her community. She cared deeply for the girls under her care, but grew alarmed at what she was called upon to do: administer experimental and perhaps unnecessary treatments to young patients without their understanding or consent. When the unthinkable happens to one patient and she is sterilized without consent, Civil becomes involved in a landmark lawsuit. A moving story and a testament to fiction’s power to influence hearts and impact lives. More info →
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

An intoxicating and wholly unexpected epic of love, art, belonging, betrayal, and … video games. This is the story of Sam and Sadie, two childhood friends who meet in a hospital game room in 1986. They come from completely different worlds, but bond immediately over video games. Eight years later, as students at separate Boston colleges, the pair reunite and bootstrap a Tempest-inspired video game that becomes an unexpected blockbuster, cementing their future as game designers but bringing upheaval into their personal lives. I don’t have much interest in video games but I adored this book, which is ultimately about creativity and ambition, astonishing success and what comes after, and the inevitable hurts and disappointments of a life-defining friendship. It’s a stirring meditation on the intrinsic hopefulness of games, and what they might mean for us all. Content warnings apply. More info →

What’s on your summer reading list? Have you read any of these titles yet, or do you plan to? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

The 2022 Minimalist Summer Reading Guide

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  1. Rhonda Lippert says:

    I just finished Chemistry Lessons over the weekend (loved it so much!! It was written in a time when I was a child and it left me thinking about my own mother working as a business professional during that time in history). I am wrapping up Bomb Shelter on audio today—also loving it. It’s a great start to my summer reading, as both are awesome, written by great authors!! I’m working my way through Memphis on kindle and starting Two Nights in Lisbon for my next audio selection.

    • Rhonda Lippert says:

      I’m so sorry, I meant Lessons In Chemistry. Maybe it would be better to not reply until I’ve had more coffee! 🙈

      • Julianne says:

        I’ve been on pretty good “reading roll”-fiction this time/ thanks to the Modern Mrs Darcy recommendations – along with you avid readers, commenters. I generally read through the recommendations and then sometimes check Goodreads app/ 5 star and one star reviews. Prefer to buy book vs listen audiobooks and prefer local book stores or used on Abe books site.
        Recently finished
        A Time in Between- M. Duenas- so good I’d read that one again!
        The Rose code- Kate Quinn – always interesting storyline, characters
        The Mountain Echoed- M. Husseini
        And currently reading- One in a Million Boy/ Monica Wood- really fun, quirky but very emotional
        I’ve searched through the older MMD lists and found some I want to read
        Actually wondered about book swap within the MMD community??? Thanks for the reading community and recommendations!

  2. Francine Sposato says:

    I’m listening to Lessons in Chemistry on my Libby app. It’s been my best read so far this year!

    • Patty says:

      Have you read Caste by Isabel Wilkerson? I think it is an essential read. If you are looking for something lighter, I highly recommend T. J. Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea.

  3. Patti Hartog says:

    I’m hosting my August Book Club and selected Lessons In Chemistry; I’m about a decade younger than Elizabeth Zott but recognized her career challenges in a male-dominated industry. As you said, a page turner with substance. I’d love more information on your book club, Ann, such as how to jump in, when (dates) you host meetings and how to access the meetings; sorry but I couldn’t locate this info on your website. Thank you!

    • Erica says:

      Hope it’s alright that I jumped in… The MMD Book Club info is under the Community tab and here is the link:
      It is a wonderful place to connect with other readers, read many different genres, explore many bookish topics in classes, be able to hear about the books from the authors, and of course, get to learn from Anne’s expertise. Hope you join us!

  4. Kim K. says:

    I finished Lessons in Chemistry a couple weeks ago and LOVED IT. All the others are on my list too. Currently listening to You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty. It’s good, but the expletives are a little too much for me right now. Finishing Ann Patchett’s These Precious Days (LOVE!). I have the hardcovers of Take My Hand and The Cartographers so those are next. Happy Reading!!

  5. Sabre says:

    I just finished Portrait of a Thief on audio and really enjoyed it. Every time I got in my car, first thing I did was connect it up!

  6. Suzy says:

    I’ve already read The Cartographers, but Lessons in Chemistry and Take My Hand are on my list, Bomb Shelter is on order from the library, French Braid has just come in on Cloud Library, and I just found out that there is a new Lucy Barton book by Eliz. Strout!! Lucy By The Sea, where she weathers the pandemic with William in Maine! So excited to get that.

      • Emily says:

        I think when she says content warnings apply she just means to do some research if you have things that trigger you that you don’t want to read about. For Lessons in Chemistry, there is some sexual assault. It didn’t bother me personally. It was short and not graphic. It also happens in the past, if that helps.

    • Alicia says:

      Thank you for asking this question. I was wondering the same thing. I need it to be a little more specific.

  7. Claire says:

    I am reading The Reef by Edith Wharton, Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, and a Mary Stewart mystery. I don’t love when books have a clear political agenda so end up reading older ones most of the time.

    • Diane says:

      Claire, I am in complete agreement with you on books that have a political agenda or put in nasty political digs that are entirely unnecessary to the story. It seems to be happening more frequently and in my opinion degrades their work.

    • Shelley says:

      Agree about political opinions and statements in fiction. There are plenty of places to get politics so it’s not what I look for when reading for pleasure – I’m trying to take a break from all the agendas being sold.

  8. Lin says:

    I just read “I’lll be your Blue Sky” by Marissa De Los Santos. I enjoyed the chapters alternating from 2 different characters perspectives. There is a mystery to be solved and you think you know how things will work out, but you don’t!

  9. Susan says:

    I just finished French Braid and I LOVED it! Hubby read it first – he loved it too. Anne Tyler has been writing since the early 1980’s (at least that’s when I started reading her books) and she’s still going strong! We had a toddler and 2 babies in the early 80’s and I didn’t have a ton of time for reading, but did read a few of her books back then!

    I just started Take My Hand last night – I’m reading that in tandem – Kindle version and audio at the same time. I haven’t heard this narrator yet, but she’s good!!

  10. Sandy says:

    I am starting for nonfiction, Helen Rappaport’s “After the Romanovs,” and for fiction, a Hoopla audiobook of a Pride and Prejudice spinoff, Katherine Cowley’s “The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet.”

  11. Karen Walker says:

    I’ve read Bomb Shelter and Lessons in Chemistry, and enjoyed them both! Adding the other titles to my TBR list!

  12. Susan Bradford says:

    I just added Portrait of a Thief and Take My Hand to my account. Thanks for these great recommendations!

  13. Liz says:

    I’m currently reading the Cartographers but I can’t get into it. I can’t tell if this is me or it’s a bit of a slow start. Anyone else find this? It could me the reading mood I’m in too.

  14. Katie F. says:

    I recently listened to Lessons in Chemistry on audio and I LOVED it! Cannot stop recommending it to my friends. I am currently listening to Bomb Shelter on audio and although I don’t love it I’m finding it interesting. I read The Cartographers last month in print and it was a fun read. Anything with maps and libraries is right up my alley!
    On my list for the summer are: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (currently reading and LOVING it). I read Sea of Tranquility and was disappointed and felt Cloud Cuckoo Land is what I expected Sea of Tranquility to be like. Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. This will be a buddy read with a friend of mine.

  15. Joanne Adams says:

    I am so excited to read the minimalist summer reading guide, because they give me a small selection of varied books. I like to frame my summer reading around those books, and anything else I read from the guide is a bonus:)

  16. Chris says:

    I am so very surprised that Book Lovers is on your summer guide list.
    It reads like a very bad Hallmark movie…

  17. Lisa Eichholtz says:

    Great picks! I’ve already devoured Bomb Shelter, The Cartographers, and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. The others are on my holds list, and if something doesn’t come in soon, I’ll have to buy them.

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