June 18, 2013

The 15 Best Books to Read Poolside (or Under a Tree or on the Couch).

To say that I’m an avid reader would be the understatement of the century.

I love books—passionately, obsessively, voraciously—I adore books.

I also, once upon a time, used to love summer lounging with a slightly worn paperback, rather than the prying-my-eyes-open-at-night-to-read-just-one-more-chapter routine that I perform now, as the mom of an extremely active toddler.

However, if you’re one of the lucky few who still gets to aimlessly relax by the pool (or on your couch or, better yet, under the shade of a gorgeous tree), then, first of all, cherish it and, second of all, read one of these books while you’re there.

1. In Her Shoes.

This novel by Jennifer Weiner (yes, her real name) was made into a movie featuring Cameron Diaz.

I’m telling you, though, even if you’ve already seen this film, read the book (especially considering that you probably saw this movie quite awhile ago, as it came out in 2005).

Filled with tender sentiments about sisterhood, yet also infused with the reality of imperfect families, envy and love, this book will have you weeping and laughing out loud every step of the way (no pun intended).

2. David Copperfield.

I know that most people will tell you that War and Peace is the epic masterpiece of our time, but they’re wrong (although I do think highly of it).

Here’s why: David Copperfield is the real epic tale of one man’s life—his triumphs as well as his heartaches.

In short (haha—for other Dickens fans), it’s the epitome of a Bildungsroman (a coming-of-age story, Google it). Also, if you’ve only ever read Charles Dickens as a forced high school student, then you likely lost the sarcastically witty humor that’s artfully woven throughout all of his works.

3. The Princess Bride.

This book is a must-read, plain and simple, and, no, it’s not true that it’s based on a saga by S. Morgenstern—this classically funny story’s intro is as made up as Inigo Montoya. Interestingly, this pseudonym is probably taken from the name of the man, Johann Carl Simon Morgenstern, who coined the term Bildungsroman. (Will you go ahead and Google it already?)

4. A People’s History of the United States.

Howard Zinn’s remarkable text is not light reading. It presents weighty criticisms for the U.S. history that we’re spoon-fed throughout nearly our entire educational careers. Told from the perspective of the general populace rather than the wealthy elite, this book is great to read incrementally or alongside another suggestion from this list.

5. The Yamas & the Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice.

This book is perfect for anyone interested in yoga, especially for those of us who have already sat down with Iyengar’s Light on Yoga and most of the other usual yogic reads.

Deborah Adele manages to make fairly difficult subject matter easy to read, yet she also provides the ideal tools, and an excellent challenge, to try to actually put these often demanding principles into action.

6. 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life. 

This is another book that might set you up for a potential shift in your life’s purpose and outlook. Cami Walker shares her struggles with drug addiction and multiple sclerosis, but this book winds up being nothing less than a breath of fresh air

7. Suite Française.

Be prepared to be astonished—first with the fact that you’ve almost assuredly never heard of this piece of art and then with this novel’s intense content. Irene Nemirovsky was already a famous French writer when she began her work on this masterpiece—yet she was also of Ukrainian Jewish descent and was deported to and killed in Auschwitz. This novel remained hidden for 64 years, assumed to be the author’s diary by her daughters, when it was finally read and discovered to be her final novel, a tale of the Parisian life during and following the Nazi invasion in 1940.

8. The History of Love.

I belly laughed out loud after reading just the first page. This suggestion might seem like a difficult transition from the dramatic Suite Française, but this book by Nicole Krauss tells the story of Polish-Jewish Leo Gursky, and his lifelong love of a woman sent to the States because of Germany’s concerning presence. Make no mistake, this book is written by a woman who knows how to make you giggle, but when I looked it up on Amazon, it was described with the exact same word that I always use for it—haunting.

9. On the Road.

Don’t be one of those people who sees the movie without having ever reading a Jack Kerouac book. Yes, in some ways, he’s a perpetual man-boy, as nearly anyone with a severe addiction since their youth has a tendency to be, but the way that this writer can string words together combined with how he makes life come alive as if you were right there with him is what sets him apart—and makes this a classic read.

10. Casino Royale.

If you’re a die-hard James Bond flick watcher, then ask yourself if you’ve ever read at least one of Ian Fleming’s books. If not, expect to be charmed by our favorite secret agent in this, the first of the series. (Also be forewarned that this was written before political correctness.)

11. Sh*t My Dad Says.

This one won’t blow you out of the water with its mesmerizing plot, but it is guaranteed to make you pee your pants laughing. (Hey, at least you’re already in a damp swimsuit by the pool.)

12. The Virgin Suicides.

If you don’t like dark humor, then straight-up skip this one. If, however, you want to read a modern classic about growing up,  riddled with clever observations about suburban life, then the book that put Jeffrey Eugenides (and Sofia Coppola as well as the band Air, for that matter) on the map is for you.

13. Caspian Rain.

This book is for those of us who enjoy foreign novels, as well as anyone who simply enjoys a fantastic book. Gina B. Nahai explores Iranian society with her lyrical style that’s both beautiful and unforgettable.

14. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Dave Eggers is perhaps best known for his re-adaptation of the children’s classic Where the Wild Things Are. Yet this book is absolutely one of my all-time favorites—it’s hilarious, sentimental, honest and raw.

Basically, it’s everything that any writer ever wants to create. This poingnant memoir about an older brother guiding his younger brother through the cancer-related deaths of both of their parents is sure to be featured on your own reading list the second that you put it down.

15. Walking Home.

Kelly Winters’ story of her life as a thru-hiker on the Appalachian trail will make even non-hikers want to strap on boots and get moving. If you’re looking for a book that will help motivate you to do something beyond poolside reading, then look no further.

I almost made this list “20 Books to Read Poolside” because I have so many that I want to share with you.

Still, there’s a point where you need to get away from my article and get to the used bookstore.

I sincerely hope that I presented you with some books that you’ve maybe dismissed over the years or ones that have, sadly, never even crossed your radar.

Happy reading, elephants!


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Ed: Bryonie Wise


{Photo: via Michele on Pinterest}

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