Required summer reading: occasionally awesome, but more often than not, a stack of unexciting books that sits around gathering dust until the very last possible moment. Can’t we all agree it’s time to add some new ink to the list? If I had my way, you’d all have to read these this summer (and hand me a 500-word book report on the first day of school. I’m nice, not a pushover)
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
Shadow is expecting to be released from prison and return home to his beautiful wife. Instead, he learns his wife has died in an accident, and he enters the employ of a strange man named Mr. Wednesday. Soon, he’s entrenched in a battle between the old and new deities of the world, dealing with some of the most powerful tricksters of all time. Not only is American Gods an excellent read, it’s also an educational foray into various ancient religions of the world—a book that’s sure to make you just as interested in the myths behind them as you will be in now reading every Neil Gaiman book ever.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Cal’s family has a secret: a little trick of DNA that’s enough to turn Calliope, a nice Greek girl, into Cal, an American living in Germany who’s telling us his story. Over the course of three generations, he reveals how traits got passed down along his family tree, making him the man he is today—and not the girl his family originally thought he was. With loads of history and medical information to spare, Middlesex explores the world of personal transformation and self-discovery in a way that’s both fascinating and relevant.
Love and Misadventure, by Lang Leav
Because no summer reading list would be complete without a bit of poetry, right? Lang Leav’s Love and Misadventure is the perfect choice for a wide audience. The writing is simple and unassuming, an easy segue into poetry for the non-poetic, and the topic is universal: love. It’s an easy-to-follow narrative, tackling the ups and downs of infatuation and heartbreak and everything in between. Bonus: there are even a few illustrations.
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Reverend John Ames knows he’s not going to see his son grow up, so he’s writing him letters. As he explores his own life and the lives of his father and grandfather before him, Ames records his musings on life and love and faith, often choosing to focus on how beautiful and strange the world is. Gilead fills the dark and brooding spot on your required reading list—something to remind us you can be perfectly confused and lost and still feel an extreme amount of joy and wonder.
Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
Meet Nimona, the shape-shifting sidekick of Lord Ballister Blackheart, villain extraordinaire. Together, they aim to reveal the dubious nature of the kingdom’s most well-loved heroes, especially Blackheart’s friend-turned-nemesis, Sir Ambrose Goldenloin. Why read it? Because in between all the hilarity and color, there are some important thoughts on the nature of good and evil and what it really means to have morals. (Yes, villains can have rules, too.) Plus, okay, it’s just fun to read.
On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
Meet the Belseys, an interracial family living in a very white, collegiate town. With their marriage on the rocks and their children set on chasing after very different (somewhat problematic) lives, Howard and Kiki hardly know which issue to pursue first, especially now that Howard’s arch-rival has moved to town. Caught between two very different cultures, each of the Belseys has to decide which standard of beauty they’re going to live for—because what else is there? It’s an important look at how our perceptions of what’s ideal affect how we treat ourselves, and what’s it’s like to feel out of place in a homogenous world.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem, by Joan Didion
Rounding off your new required reading with a little bit of nonfiction, Joan Didion’s essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem explores the world of 1960s California, contrasting lifestyles that are at opposite ends of the political, financial, and social spectrum—and yet still, somehow, eerily similar. Understanding without judging, Didion shows you can disagree and still respect the common thread of humanity that runs through us all. It’s not only a fascinating look at recent history, but also a glimpse at the joy of well-honed writing, with nothing extra to get in the way of the facts.
What books do you think everyone should read this summer?