Is summer reading fundamentally different from reading during any other season? I mean, not really. But there is something about reading in the summer months that just seems a little more lighthearted, or adventurous, or even magical.
Maybe it’s a residual impression from school days, when summer itself came with the promise of freedom and adventure, even if I never left my own backyard. Then later, in college, when summer meant that nothing dictated my reading choices but my own whims.
Or maybe it has something to do with the pattern of major film releases; summer is usually full of action blockbusters and superhero movies, more so than other seasons, so that could transfer over into my reading choices, too.
Whatever the reason, there are certain books and even genres or subgenres that in my mind are best read in summer. In the summer, I want a book to read that seems to fit thematically with the warm weather and long hours of daylight. A book to read on the beach or a long plane ride, or sitting out on the patio with a glass of iced tea. Often, a book that will transport me to another world, or another time, or offer a glimpse of a corner of this world most people don’t get to see.
Fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery/thriller, and historical fiction can all fit the bill. And there are also certain classics, children’s books, and nonfiction books that I’ll always associate with summer. So maybe it’s not even any particular genre or genres that I think of as “summery,” but just certain books, for whatever reason.
Here are just a few books that will always be “summer reads” to me:
1. Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady
When Jane Austen died in 1817, she left behind an eleven-chapter fragment of a novel, what would have been her seventh. In the 200 years since, there have been several attempts to complete it, based on the small number of clues within the text as to where the story was headed. This 1975 continuation is commonly considered the best of those attempts.
I will always think of this as a summer book, mostly for the obvious reason of its taking place, for the most part, in the summer, and in a fictional English seaside town known for its beaches. The story from the point where Austen’s original manuscript leaves off stays true to the spirit of Austen’s completed novels, with a level-headed heroine, an agreeable hero, a bit of domestic intrigue in the subplots, and lighthearted comedy and witty dialogue throughout. It’s truly a perfect beach read.
Perfect for fans of: Jane Austen, duh
2. The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin
I first read Cronin’s epic horror/science fiction trilogy last summer (it took the entire month of August because each of the three books is over 800 pages long), and I’ve been thinking it’s time for a re-read. Each book tells parallel stories, one an account of the first months of a viral outbreak that turns 90% of the population into scary vampire-like creatures, and the other of the struggles of human communities a century in the future, in the new world created by the outbreak.
I think of this series as a summer read not only because I first read it in the summer, but also because I think if the books were made into movies, they would be summer blockbusters for sure. The first book is actually being made into a TV series this year, which I think is probably a better medium for it than film, but the show is on FOX, so who knows how they’ll mess it up and how long it will last before it’s cancelled.
Perfect for fans of: Stephen King; Dracula; Twilight or Vampire Diaries, but you’re a grown-up now and you want vampires to be scary
3. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Sometimes when you’re picking out a summer read to beat the heat, you want a book that takes place in a really cold setting, like, say, the summit of Mt. Everest. Krakauer’s journalism background is put to good use in his visceral descriptions of the mountain, the base camps, the city of Kathmandu, and the cast of characters he encounters in his real-life account of one of the deadliest seasons on Everest in history. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the subject matter, Into Thin Air is so good that you just need to read it anyway. Trust me.
Perfect for fans of: Into the Wild; adventure stories; really, really good writing
4. Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
Really, any of Mary Stewart’s novels could fit the description of a great summer read. Many of her earlier books fall into a subgenre known as romantic suspense; most involve a young woman who arrives in a new place where things are not as they seem, as she quickly learns, and there may be a bit of danger and a dash of romance.
Nine Coaches Waiting was the first Stewart novel I read, and it remains my favorite. Linda Martin is a young English woman with limited means who accepts a position as a nanny for a wealthy French family in their ancestral chateau. Jane Eyre-like, she slowly discovers that the house, and the family, may be hiding some dark secrets, even as she may be feeling a bit of a romantic spark with Raoul, the oldest son of the house. But can she trust him?
Perfect for fans of: Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, but you want something a bit lighter; Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
5. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
I don’t know if I can really adequately describe The Eyre Affair, or any of Fforde’s books. They sort of defy genre. This is going to sound super weird, but basically, picture a universe where we can actually enter the fictional worlds of books and interact with the characters, but this also means that there’s a lot of mischief and meddling and even outright crime going on in the pages of novels that isn’t supposed to be there, so enter Jurisfiction, the book police. Thursday Next is an officer for Jurisfiction, and in the first novel in the series, The Eyre Affair, she has to go in to the world of Jane Eyre to fix the plot. There’s a lot of other stuff going on too, like with time travel and alternate realities, but I can’t really explain it. You’ll just have to read the books.
Perfect for fans of: Jane Eyre and other classic literature, but only if you don’t take it too seriously; Monty Python; puns and wordplay
6. Tales of Magic collection by Edward Eager
Less well-known than the Chronicles of Narnia, but in a similar spirit, these seven interconnected children’s novels have all the magic and mystery of the Narnia books, but with a little more humor and from an American sensibility. The summer I was 10, I devoured these books as quickly as I could get them from my local library. I still revisit them from time to time, and almost always in the summer, to relive that childlike wonder. I think Knight’s Castle will always be my favorite, and Half Magic, Eager’s first novel, is near-iconic, but they are all fantastic.
Perfect for fans of: Harry Potter; The Chronicles of Narnia; A Series of Unfortunate Events
What are your favorite books to reread in the summer? Let me know in the comments, and happy reading!