What’s the Best Thing You Read This Summer?

Grace Kelly reading a book

What books have you read over the past few months? I’ve finished exactly one book this summer, and even though it was 832 looong pages it was totally worth it…

After seeing endless glowing reviews (“It’s not hyperbole to call this novel a masterwork — if anything that word is simply just too little for it,” one proclaimed) and getting the same recommendation from friend after friend for a couple of years, I finally made A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara my summer reading project. It was incredible — both the book and the experience of focusing on just one book.

I don’t have a Kindle, so I lugged my brick of a book everywhere. It took up all the space in my bag on weekend getaways, preoccupied me during beach days (I felt like this), and when we went on a family trip to Portugal my husband dutifully toted it in our shared carry-on. My three-year-old wanted to know “How many stories” my book contained, and approximately every 25 minutes on our flight from New York to Lisbon he gently poked me with a fistful of Silly Putty and asked, “Do you want to read your grown-up book now?” Yes. Yes, I did.

This was the first summer of my life, since reading Gone With the Wind with rapt attention in 1987, that I’ve tackled just one big book. Have you ever done that, or set yourself up for a summer reading project? My friend M. spent much of the summer reading poems because she missed studying them in college. And a few years ago, my sister assigned herself epic cookbooks like Larousse Gastronomique and The Kitchen Diaries.

I love the idea of making a reading goal and going for it! This list by Italo Calvino always makes me laugh:

Sections in the bookstore —
– Books You Haven’t Read
– Books You Needn’t Read
– Books Made for Purposes Other Than Reading
– Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong to the Category of Books Read Before Being Written
– Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
– Books You Mean to Read But There Are Others You Must Read First
– Books Too Expensive Now and You’ll Wait ‘Til They’re Remaindered
– Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback
– Books You Can Borrow from Somebody
– Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too
– Books You’ve Been Planning to Read for Ages
– Books You’ve Been Hunting for Years Without Success
– Books Dealing with Something You’re Working on at the Moment
– Books You Want to Own So They’ll Be Handy Just in Case
– Books You Could Put Aside Maybe to Read This Summer
– Books You Need to Go with Other Books on Your Shelves
– Books That Fill You with Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
– Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time to Re-read
– Books You’ve Always Pretended to Have Read and Now It’s Time to Sit Down and Really Read Them

What about you? I’d love to hear which books you loved this summer, or which ones you’re hoping to squeeze into the last few weeks of long days and warm nights.

P.S. The most beautiful thing you’ve ever read and 10 great thrillers.

(Top photo of Grace Kelly by Howell Conant.)

  1. Emily L says...

    I’m late to this, but I just read “I Will Find You” by Joanna Connors. Connors investigates the life of a stranger who raped her and tried to figure out what had led him to such violence. It was thought provoking and well worth the read. She does describe the rape in depth, though. It’s horrifying, so gloss over that part if you feel you can’t stomach it.

  2. I have one! I’m currently reading through this PBS NewsHour list…

    And the book “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” by Balli Kaur Jaswal is EVERYTHING. At its core, it’s a book about feminism, but mixed in are some incredibly memorable characters, erotic “stories” that made me blush, and a murder mystery. I also love the pace of this book…longer chapters in the beginning and shorter ones near the end, when it becomes sort of a thriller. Loved it so much! And I love all of your book recs Joanna! I’ll gladly read recommendations from anyone who includes an Olive Kitteridge quote at the bottom of their site. :)

  3. Lesley says...

    A Kind of Freedom (by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton)
    Late to the party, but couldn’t pass without highly recommending this amazing book! It is extremely relevant right now in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and overall an important read.

  4. Mandy says...

    I read A Little Life this summer as well. It was so well written, and so interesting, but so hard to read the content. I actually can’t bring myself to recommend it to anyone.

  5. Emily L says...

    I read Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” during a trip to Italy — a place where it was easy to be happy. I’m also ready to delve into Brene Brown’s books.

    I just added tons of books to my “to read” list, so thanks for all the recommendations!

  6. I’m fascinated with WW2!! I read Winter Garden and Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I cried like a baby in both of them. It’s hard to believe how people lived and the choices they made to help others. I’ve wondered if I would be brave enough to help others while putting my families lives’ at risk. I highly recommend them both. I’m still on my WW2 kick so if any y’all have any suggestions, please let me know.

    • Caitlin says...

      I’m with you on the WW2 books, I’ve been interested ever since I read Number the Stars back in 4th grade. I just finished ‘Irena’s Children’ by Tilar J. Mazzeo. It’s a biography of Irena Sendler, the Polish woman who saved thousands of children. It was excellent

    • RACHEL APOSTOL says...

      You have to pick up The Nightingale next. Its SO good :)

    • Ellie Hayes says...

      Megan, All The Light We Cannot See is the best WWII story I’ve ever read. It is simply gorgeous. (I suspect you’ve read it by now!) In fact, I think I may have to reread it.

    • Lexie says...

      If you love WW2 you should read band of brothers by Steven Ambrose It’s just the most incredible story. And it’s true. Which just makes it so moving.

  7. Danielle says...

    I’m so late to this party, but in case anyone is reading this blog a week late like me, the best book I read this summer was Beneath a Scarelet Sky. Seriously, do yourself a favor! Other notable mentions: The Lilac Girls (can you tell I have a favorite genre), Mudbound, & The Secret Keeper.

    • Courtney says...

      I absolutely LOVED Lilac Girls! Such an incredible story and so well done.

  8. Christy says...

    I seem to prefer non-fiction lately, and was fascinated by the behind-the-scenes look at high-risk heart surgery in “Open Heart: A Cardiac Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table” by Stephen Westaby. Each chapter details one patient’s case – somet heartbreaking, some joyful. I found his writing style to be accessible and engaging. But my heart-strings were pulled hard while reading “Will’s Red Coat” by Tom Ryan, about a neglected dog’s second chance at life. Ryan’s writing is full of nature references, poetry and what he calls “soul work.” LOVED.

    • Courtney says...

      Have you heard of “Walk on Water: The Miracle of Saving Children’s Lives” by Michael Ruhlman? I haven’t read it personally but I listen to the “What Should I Read Next” podcast with Anne Bogel and she recommended it in an episode I listen to recently. It sounds up your alley!

    • Christy says...

      Courtney – I love Michael Ruhlman! I haven’t read this one yet – will check to see if my library has it. :)

  9. Paige says...

    Two recent favorite reads are Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

  10. Twyla says...

    Endurance by Alfred Lansing was seriously one of the most exciting books I’ve ever read. I never thought I’d say that about a historical book about Shackleton’s voyage to Antarctica in 1914 – but it came so highly recommended to me, I was willing to dish out the $10 to check it out. I seriously couldn’t put it down and devoured it within days. When I was done – I gave it to my husband, who read it in a week (unheard of for him) and loved it. It then passed through four more family members and I still haven’t gotten it back. Make sure, though, that you get the one written by Alfred Lansing – there are quite a few with that title, but he’s the only one who had direct access to the survivors and their diaries. It would be a great gift for a Dad, brother or grandfather who likes reading.

  11. “Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult was the best thing I’ve read this year, much less this summer. It’s a really amazing novel, and it’s particularly relevant right now.

  12. Karin says...

    This book sounds interesting! I like reading long books in the winter. I’ve done IQ84, War and Peace, and Infinite Jest and all were worth it.

  13. White Fur by Jardine Libaire was my favorite read of the summer. Jardine is a friend and used to be the manager of my favorite restaurant–she is kind of magical in person. I had no idea she was also a writer until her book was announced. I’m so happy for the success she’s had but I would recommend this book even if she was a stranger. :)

  14. Courtney says...

    I’ve LOVED reading through the comments on this post. Nothing like fellow book lovers coming together to share recommendations. :) Please post more book posts!

    This summer I’ve been reading more poetry, which I used to love reading when I was young. I particularly love Mary Oliver.

    This summer I’ve read and really enjoyed:
    A Thousand Mornings – Mary Oliver
    Why I Wake Early – Mary Oliver
    A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman (Loved and cried)
    Dark Matter – Blake Crouch (Flew through this in 2 days)
    Once and For All – Sarah Dessen
    Pachinko – Min Jin Lee (Beautiful story!)
    It Ends With Us – Colleen Hoover (Couldn’t put down!)
    The Kind Worth Killing – Peter Swanson (Also couldn’t put down!)

    Really enjoyed this post! I added so many books to my GoodReads accounts. :)

    • Sharon says...

      I’ve never posted on here, but you just listed two of my favorite books I’ve read this year (Dark Matter and Pachinko) so totally downloading some others :)

  15. Samantha says...

    I read This is how you lose her, by Junot Diaz. It’s easier to understand the jokes if you’re latino, it’s mad funny! But it’s also very heart felt. Definitely an emotional roller coaster to read, specially if your relationship is not at it’s best.

  16. Talya says...

    I’ve been lucky enough to read so many great novels, but the one I’ve been recommending to everyone is “Stations Eleven” by Emily St John Mandel. It was so good that when I finished it I immediately made my husband read it. We don’t usually like the same books but he loved it as well, and then my teenage son read it and loved it too.
    Happy reading!

    • BBDC says...

      Tayla, this was one of my favorite books that I read last year. It sticks with you! So glad to see it on this list!

  17. Nicole says...

    I did something similar this past winter and read 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. The 928 pages took me months to finish but it was a love affair.

    • Amy Cadusch says...

      Me too! So weird but so good. I still think about it a lot.

  18. Susan says...

    It has been a summer of memoirs for me and I can recommend all of them:

    The Mighty Franks – Michael Frank
    In The Darkroom – Susan Faludi
    The Rules Do Not Apply – Ariel Levy

    And now just finished a novel – A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell

  19. Mukta says...

    I have been recently reading a lot of young adult literature. Loved the “Back Home” by Michelle Magorian and currently completely taken by the “Tillerman cycle series” by Cynthia Voigt. The strong characterizations make this series a perfect summer read.
    Some books which have stayed with me are To kill a mocking bird which gives me a different perspective after every read, All the light we cannot see: cannot recommend it enough and almost all the books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie “Americannah”, “Half of a yellow sun” (set against the background of the biafran war) ” The Purple Hibiscus”.

  20. Liz says...

    The Vegetarian! (by Han Kang)

  21. justine says...

    That picture of Grace Kelly….
    Also, I’m loving Al Franken, Giant of the Senate and What is the What by Dave Eggers. Thanks for posts about books! Because of this blog I picked up All the Light We Cannot See and it made the month of June really magical, weeknight evenings reading in my backyard.

  22. Rue says...

    After having a used bookstore copy on my shelf for several years, I finally read The Poisonwood Bible and am still stunned by the reading experience. It was consuming (in the best way) but I could still spread it out over several weeks. It feels surprisingly/heartbreakingly relevant and timely. And it actually told a story all the way through to the end, rather than leaving you hanging in the immediate wake of the action.

    • Val says...

      Oh I read it last year after having a used copy lying around for a while. I was so upset after what happened to Ruth May. Why, why? I thought about the book for days after I finished it.

  23. Stefanie says...

    I read “Three Martini Lunch” last week while on vacation. The book takes place in the late 1950’s set around NYC and the writing/publishing scene. I highly recommend it.

  24. Katie says...

    I loved reading A Little Life. I was jet lagged after arriving to Paris and stayed up the first nights of my trip reading. It’s been nearly a year since I finished A Little Life and I hadn’t found a book that I was that committed to until this weekend, when I started Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It feels so good to fall back in love with a book!

    • I loved that book. I was so sad once I finished. The writing was outstanding.

    • Sorry, didn’t see you had a 2nd book. I loved A Little LIfe. Amazing!

    • Kaitlin says...

      I loved loved loved A Little Life. Heartbreaking, beautiful, and desperately sad. I cried on the subway, cried in the coffee shop… just poured tears until I finished, but wow. What a read.
      I also loved Americanah… Katie, I think we’re book mates. What else have you loved?
      I’m in school, so have basically read econ textbooks all summer (double yuck), but I just started reading Into Thin Air (finally) and am enjoying it!!

    • Katie says...

      @kaitlin – I just downloaded Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi this afternoon after finishing “Americanah” – this will be my next read, which I’m itching to get into.
      I love, love all of Junot Diaz’s books. Donna Tartt’s “A Secret History” was such a dark, juicy read.
      In my early 20’s I went through a lot of Dave Eggers…which was so perfect for that period in my life!

  25. Sam says...

    I finished The Handmaid’s Tale pretty quickly and loved it. I plan to start watching the Hulu series too.

  26. Irene says...

    I couldn’t finish A Little Life. It felt needlessly violent and sadistic, which dehumanized the hero, making him nothing but The Victim. I know that many people love it, but it made me mad.

  27. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. He captures the hilarious in a life that might be seen as only heartbreaking at first glance; this book reminded me that life is always a bag mixed with both. I never wanted it to end!

    • CM says...

      I am reading a Gentleman now and have slowed down because I don’t want it to end! It is such a beautiful story about what makes life truly meaningful.

    • I LOVED A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility. Amor Towles’ writing is beautiful, charming, and captivating. I have been recommending these to all of my buddies.

  28. I read ‘a little life’ last year on holiday and found it completely heartbreaking, I probably wouldn’t recommend it as a holiday read! I have struggled to find a good book this summer, starting many and never finishing them. One stand out though that I LOVED was “Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine” by Gail Honeyman – can’t recommend it enough!

  29. Courtney says...

    About half the books I’ve read this summer I can recommend: Still Alice, The Nightingale, and The Long Goodbye. I am currently reading A Gentleman in Moscow and need to go put down my laptop now so i can continue reading it by the pool before summer ends. All books have the same thing in common – they are beautifully written. All these authors have a way with words and description, details, character development, and nuance that I just love.

  30. The Circle by Dave Eggers. I love all his work.

  31. Saz says...

    Not just this summer, but most of the year so far really, I’m been working my way through the Lee Child “Jack Reacher series” books.
    They’re not terribly literary, the Jack Reacher character is ridiculously implausible, and at about the halfway point of every single book, he randomly gets intimate with the female lead (which changes for every story), which irritates me.
    BUT, I love them!
    I’ve had a difficult year so far, with a lot of family stuff, work stuff, and unpredictability. And because of that, a series of books, with a well-known character, doing the same old thing, and behaving in predictable ways, is what I want right now.
    Reading is my distraction, and where I am right now, I want the predictable.

  32. Page says...

    I’ve moved overseas this summer which has been a wonderful yet emotional task so I’ve fallen on rereading old favorites to bring me comfort. I reread the Anne of Green Gables series for the first time in years and it was wonderful. I also listened Where’d You Go Bernadette which was funny and fun!

    • wendy says...

      Anne is a wonderful series to get lost in as an adult and rediscover!

  33. Olga says...

    The best book I read this summer was The Painter by Peter Heller. I’d recommend it for anyone who’s into the grit and raw passion of writers like Hemingway and Lara Santoro.

    We Shall Not All Sleep by Estep Nagy was a pleasant surprise.

    I read A Little Life last winter. Though compelling and well-written I wouldn’t consider it a masterpiece. Though I don’t mind rawness or heartbreaking honesty, it went too far and seemed unnecessarily long. Certainly not a light summer novel. A bit too extreme and superlative in everything — especially how all the friendly became exceedingly successful in their fields.

  34. nicole says...

    Just Mercy. As others have mentioned, everyone should read this book. I had to take deep breaths after every chapter because it was so powerful.

    • Ris says...

      That book was incredible! Ugh, and heartbreaking. Such an important, powerful read.

  35. Some of the best books I’ve read this summer were The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Idiot by Elif Batuman, Beyond the Label by Maureen Chiquet, and Touch by Courtney (everyone should read Touch!)

    Briana |

  36. Casey says...

    I started the Greg Isles trilogy with Natchez Burning. It’s 800 pages and I’m a working mom so I was intimidated but everyone I knew that read them said it was worth it and it made the NYT best seller list. It’s about the unsolved Civil Rights murders in the Deep South, based on true events. I’m from the MS and found it enlightening and heart breaking. A thriller. I got through book 1 and now on The Bone Tree. Also 800 pages…