I am not the type to make lists and methodically plot out every detail of my vacation, but I do know that some of it will involve reading.
Over the years, I have read many great books over the summer. Below are five that I especially liked and/or left a huge impact on me. As eclectic as the list is, the books all share one thing in common: they are not on any current best-seller list.
In fact, many of them were never on any sort of list even when they were first published. While some of the authors are well-known, many are not.
Therefore, in no particular order, here are five of my favorite summer reads:
1. Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories
Nearly all of us read, “The Metamorphosis” in high school. However, Kafka wrote so much more besides that. While many don’t think of him in such a way, he was a pioneer in the suspense/horror genre. His short story, “The Judgement” remains one of the most chilling and unforgettable things I have ever read, and it features no elements of the supernatural, but rather the main focus is a conversation between an overbearing father and his grown son.
Likewise, “In the Penal Colony” is also one of those stories that refuses to leave the reader’s head long after they have finished it and arguably, is even more relevant today than it was a hundred years ago when it was first published in 1914, as people continue to debate the use of the death penalty.
2. Naturally by Jo Wood
This guide to green living, which was published in the UK in 2007, is my favorite go-to guide and the first book that I recommend to anyone who is interested in green living. Usually, most lifestyle guides leave me cold—most are way too complicated. Lifestyle guides written by celebrities—most with unlimited time and money—tend to be even worst. However, this is one major exception to that rule.
Wood (who is the now ex-wife of Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood) manages to do the impossible and write an entertaining and useful how-to-guide to organic living that nearly everyone one on any budget can follow. While she makes no qualms that she happens to live a very privileged life where money is no object, her tips make it clear that it is not necessary to have her assets to live an organic life. Plus, if she, a woman who, by her own admission, was heavily into the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll lifestyle before a major health scare, can go green and have fun doing it, then anyone can.
While anytime is a good time to go green, I happen to think summer is the perfect time with so much fresh and local produce available as well as the fact that the increasingly hot weather, numerous wild fires, etc., have made it clear just how much of an effect global warming is having on all our lives.
Even as a kid, I looked down my nose at comic books. Not only were they overwhelmingly written for boys, but they just seemed so, well, childish. How could anyone take them seriously?
Writer Alan Moore has arguably done more to change that perception than any other contemporary writer. His works are called graphic novels for good reason: these aren’t kids’ comics. Rather, they are novels that happen to be written in graphic form.
While Moore has written several excellent works, Watchmen remains my favorite. While the story may be set in an alternate version of the 1980s, the themes and philosophical elements (such as, “What makes a person good or evil? and, “Is it ever okay to kill innocent people in order to save or help the majority?”), are still things that people grapple with today and most likely will for as long as humans are on Earth. Add to this a cast of morally ambivalent superheroes and even those who never dreamed to liking, much less admitting to liking, a “comic book” will be hooked.
4. Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge by Eleanor Herman
Despite its lengthy title, this is a quick read filled with fascinating facts about the various women who were royal mistresses to some of the most powerful men in Europe.
What surprised me the most is that the majority of these women were not ravishingly beautiful nor were they even that much into sex. (For example, the legendary Madame de Pompadour, the official mistress of France’s Louis XV, was frigid.)
What most of these women had, though, were brains, ambition, and the ability to appear absolutely fascinating to the men whose hearts and minds they captivated.
While some made history of their own like de Pompadour, many are largely forgotten about today. Some were set aside after the king they were with grew tired of them while others were erased entirely from history from jealous family members. (One thing that Herman makes clear is that being a mistress was not glamorous, and there was no job security.)
Luckily, most women today aspire to more than being mistresses to powerful men, but it is nonetheless fascinating to read about these women who were able to seize some measure of power and status for themselves in times when few women possessed either.
5. The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
Best known for her debut novel, The Secret History, and last year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, The Goldfinch, Tartt’s 2002 second novel is just as good as either of them. The novel, a suspense/who done it, centers around a girl named Harriet growing up in Mississippi during the 1970s. Harriet had an older brother, Robin, who supposedly died by committing suicide by hanging. Convinced instead that Robin’s death was actually a murder, Harriet becomes obsessed with finding the killer and punishing him or her for their crime.
While some people I know were left dissatisfied by novel’s ending, I happened to like it. The novel really isn’t so much about who killed Robin but rather Harriet’s journey into adulthood as she navigates the world and discovers among other things that it is strange, sometimes brutal, and rarely contains nice tidy endings.
In conclusion, there are many great summer reads that aren’t one the best-seller list. Therefore, while everyone else on vacation is reading the same #1 bestseller, break away from the pack and take a chance with any one of these. Most likely, you’ll be glad you did. Also, if you don’t happen to read these before the summer ends then don’t fret: these are great to read any time of the year.
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Editor: Travis May