More than any other season, summer invites us to read. Whether we are traveling or staying home, working or taking vacation time, we school people are likely looking forward to filling some of our summer hours with reading things that inspire, renew, or challenge us to grow.
For us, turning to books for nourishment in the summer began long ago. Below we share stories from our respective childhoods, when summer reading both forged us and helped us to pass the time. We then list 20 recent book titles that we think may spark inspiration, provide restoration, and challenge growth this summer.
In keeping with the mission of Well-Schooled, we selected some of our favorite fictional and autobiographical stories from the last year. We selected book-length works because we believe that books are particularly conducive to the kind of immersive storytelling we love, and we linked to a variety of reviewers at a number of different news outlets.
Ann Klotz: Read to Restore
For me, summer always began with a stop at the paperback bookstore in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. July and August were spent far away from a library or bookstore, so Mother would allow me to fill my arms with stacks of Dell Yearling paperbacks. When I ran out of whatever books I had brought, I was free to browse the shelves of our old summer house and the house next door. There, I met Anne of Green Gables and read lots and lots of historical fiction.
Last summer, while dusting books too long neglected on a wooden shelf, I remembered the hours of pleasure I found reading in the hammock, in the rocking chair, on the porch swing, on the dock. I would wake and read in bed, read in bed late at night long after the lights in the rest of the house were off, moths batting at my lampshade, the old fan whirring softly in the hot July night. I read during thunderstorms and sometimes even at meals. I read on the dock, my feet dangling in the water. I read voraciously, knowing there were few other demands on my time.
I devoured books, imagined myself living other lives — Christie teaching children in Appalachia, Scout strolling the streets of Maycomb, Rebecca watching Manderly aflame, Jane feeling Rochester’s string to her heart. Summer reading is, for me, the loveliest form of summer restoration!
Jessica Flaxman: Read to Grow
I remember the summer I got through my first big book. It was Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, and I had been eyeing it for years in my mother’s library. It wasn’t an accident that Great Expectations was on my radar; my mother, an English professor, had told me to read it more times than I could count.
“You’ll love it,” she assured me. I couldn’t be convinced. It was hundreds of pages, the words were unfamiliar, and the type was very small. However that summer when I was 12, the book caught my eye for the hundredth time and I resolved to pick it up, read it, and finally figure out who had great expectations and what they were.
I sat in the carpeted downstairs family room at my house, my mother’s paperback, marked-up copy in my hands, and promptly got lost in its pages. The story began, My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.
Something in Pip’s self-naming resonated immediately with me. When I got to the second paragraph and learned that Pip was an orphan with no expectations at all, I knew I had to keep reading. The book’s title and its opening pages were so discordant that my curiosity was sufficiently piqued. Since then, summer has always been when I read things that have caught my eye or been too significant to squeeze into the margins of regular school days.
Stories For Summer Restoration and Growth
This list includes some of our current favorites. Dip in. Enjoy. Drift away or be fully present — we’ve included a variety of novels and memoirs, mostly new.
Haya Alyan, Salt Houses
Jon Cohen, Harry’s Trees
Rachel Cusk, Outline, Transit, Kudos
Esi Edugyan, Washington Black
Jennifer Egan, Manhattan Beach
Andrew Sean Greer, Less
Silas House, Southernmost
Eowyn Ivey, To the Bright Edge of the World
Dennis Johnson, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden
Tayari Jones, An American Marriage
Min Jin Lee, Pachinko
Trevor Noah, Born a Crime
Sigrid Nunez, The Friend
Tommy Orange, There There
Sally Rooney, Conversations With Friends
Sarah Ruhl, Letters from Max: A Book of Friendship
Katharine Smyth, All The Lives We Ever Lived
Namvali Serpell, The Old Drift
Dani Shapiro, Inheritance
Tara Westover, Educated
For more summer reading recommendations from English teachers and English students, visit our collaborative book review site, bookclique.