My younger self’s most dreaded document — my summer vacation reading list, assigned by my school — is now among my most anticipated. Back then, summer was for exploring my neighborhood. The thought of sitting and reading was the plot of fever nightmares. But by now the neighborhood’s been well explored. The trees have been climbed, and the skateboard was lost long ago in a move. As I exchanged juice boxes for boxed wine, my exploration shifted from geographical to mental.
While the most immediate explorations of what it means to be human come from nonfiction writing, the most complete are found in fiction. After all, nonfiction is bound by the rules of truth and timeline, and the answers to life’s hardest questions don’t play by those rules. The best fiction is exercise for the curious mind, an author trying to explain their interpretation of humanity in the only way they can, through a made-up story: a girl slowly joins a fictional version of the Manson family; a son tracks down the life story of his estranged mother; a terrorist is disappointed with his latest bombing. Here are ten great options for discovering a bit more about yourself this summer. It’s also worth checking out our spring list, which includes some summer fiction options as well — Zero K, The Noise of Time, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.
In a reimagining of the tale of Noah’s Ark, set over one night in London in 2052, a homeless man named Cuthbert Handley decides to release the animals of the London Zoo. His quest is spurred by voices he hears, which he calls “the Wonderments,” and his timing coincides with a suicide cult’s desire to destroy all of the world’s animals. It’s an Orwellian, mystical affair with a peppering of environmental morality, but more than anything it’s a wild, weird ride. $23 (Out July 5)The Association of Small Bombs
Written from the perspective of both the victims and the terrorists, this novel by Mahajan, his second, opens with the bombing of a marketplace in New Dehli in 1996. It’s just a “small” bomb, one that won’t grab headlines across the world. But it’s enough to devastate a family and consume its maker. $16The Sport of Kings
C. E. Morgan
The Forges, one of Kentucky’s most powerful families, are trying to breed their own Secretariat, a superhorse to shatter every record. Soon a black man comes to work on their farm, causing a clash between present-day morals and the family’s slave-owning past. $17Homegoing
In this epic work lauded by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Gyasi begins in Ghana, three hundred years ago. In visceral detail, the story details the lives of two half sisters — one sent to America is chains, the other a spectator to war in Ghana — and the lives of their children and their children’s children as their family tree takes root on opposite sides of the world. From slave chains to jazz clubs, it’s a monumental undertaking of the evolution of black culture birthed in the midst of violence and oppression. $18 (Out June 7)Barkskins
This is a doorstopper, the master work of Proulx — a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. The story follows two poor young Frenchmen who become woodcutters in New France, working under a feudal lord. The book then follows their descendants for the next 300 years, showing how the destruction of a once “infinite” resource impacts the world today. $22 (Out June 14)Monterey Bay
Existing in the same universe as John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, the action follows Margot Fiske, a 15-year-old who moves to Monterey Bay, where Steinbeck is hiding out because of his celebrity status. Fiske quickly becomes infatuated with Ed Ricketts, who is Doc in Cannery Row, and their relationship begins to impact all of Monterey Bay. $21 (Out July 21)The Fireman
The fourth novel from Stephen King’s son, Joseph Hillstrom King (who writes under the pen name of Joe Hill), was inspired by a childhood obsession with spontaneous combustion. In The Fireman, a plague known as Dragonscale is spreading across the world. Victims break out in black and gold rashes before combusting, burning up everything around them. But the protagonist, a nurse named Harper, finds out about “The Fireman,” a man who learned to control Dragonscale and harness its power. $17Here I Am
Jonathan Safran Foer
Foer’s first novel in 11 years (since 2005’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) is rumored to be his best yet. The action takes place over four weeks in Washington, D.C., where a fractured family is thrown into crisis mode by an earthquake in the Middle East. The novel asks questions about identity, family and home. $21 (Out September 6)The Girls
This debut novel is written from the perspective of Evie Boyd, a teenager living in Northern California in the 1960s. She becomes infatuated with an older girl and slowly becomes involved with a cult-like group that draws direct comparisons to the Manson Family. It’s a masterful study in how an innocent girl can go on to commit terrible violence. $18 (Out June 14)The Nix
Samuel Andresen-Anderson, a failing writer, is watching television when he sees his estranged mother throwing rocks at a presidential candidate. Never knowing this side of his mother, he embarks on a quest to learn her story — which he will turn into his breakout book. His search takes him all over the United States and to Norway, where he find the “Nix” that his mother told him about when he was young. $22 (Out August 30)
Want More? The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of Summer
Here it is, your library for summer. This round is nonfiction. Read the List