summer reads

5 Must-Reads for Summer

June 11, 2009
by Rachel Balik
If you’re going on vacation this summer, you’ll want at least one book to throw in your bag, and even if you’re not, you might want to read a book in your backyard and just pretend you’re at the beach. We’ve picked five must-reads that are all quite different. Pick and choose or embrace the spectrum.

Beowulf on the Beach

Summer is the time when we tell ourselves we’ll catch up on all the books we missed reading this year. But what if you have a nagging feeling that you’ve missed a lot of books not just this year, but in the last 2,000 years—namely all those classics from the Western canon you were supposed to read in school but didn’t? Realistically, you know that even if you took a really long vacation, you’d never be able to plug through all those big guys. But there’s a solution: “Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits.” It’s a perfect blend of easy summer reading and high-brow literature. Author Jack Murnighan provides a basic summary for 50 books, and also includes “Best Line,” “What’s Sexy” and “What To Skip.”


“Trouble” hasn’t yet earned a spot in the so-called canon, but it’s perfect if you’re thinking about leaving your loveless marriage or would like to read about someone who is. All joking aside, Kate Christensen’s novel has been well-received; it concerns two middle-aged friends, Josie and Raquel, as they journey to Mexico City to escape from their muddled lives. Josie is a professional in Manhattan who decides she must escape a marriage without passion, and Raquel is a rock star from L.A who made a mistake that’s thrown her at a destructive gossip blogger’s mercy. Together, they grapple with their warring instincts, introspect on their lives and make the reader laugh on more than one occasion. It’s a little bit grim and a little bit of a guilty pleasure, but primarily an insightful piece of smart fiction.

What Would Keith Richards Do?

If you’re skeptical about what you can learn from two women encountering a midlife crisis, you might be more willing to accept the Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards as your hero. In “What Would Keith Richards Do: Daily Affirmations from a Rock and Roll Survivor,” Jessica Pallington West compiles and analyzes the wisdom and philosophy of a man who could be seen both as one of the world’s greatest icons and a derelict. West is a diehard Stones fan, and reasoned that someone who has gone through so much must have some good—or at least, amusing—advice to offer.

Driving Like Crazy

Speaking of surviving, remember way back when (for example, before Spring 2008) when gas prices hadn’t gone up yet, Hummers were still vaguely cool, Detroit still had street cred and road trips were awesome? If you don’t remember, then here’s a volume that will transport you to a time when getting in or near a car guaranteed fun and adventure. Known mostly for his political satire, P.J O’Rourke is also the child of car dealers and has collected numerous crazy tales from the road and anecdotes that delve into America’s obsession with cars.

In “Driving Like Crazy: Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-bending, Celebrating America the Way It's Supposed To Be—with an Oil Well in Every Backyard, a Cadillac Escalade in Every Carport, and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Mowing Our Lawn,” O’Rourke takes his readers on a tour of American roads that’s sure to make you forget that they are now mostly in a state of disrepair. (Can you say “stimulus package” while shifting gears?)

Shadow War

If you’re less interested in kicking back and more interested in using the spare time to educate yourself on current events, consider immersing yourself in an important work from New York Times contributing writer Arif Jamal. In “Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir,” he has collected more than 20 years of interviews and reporting about the territory of Kashmir, an area of longstanding violent contention between India and Pakistan.

Jamal is currently a fellow at Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University and unveils corruption, misused funds and human rights violations. His book is a chance to gain unique perspective from a Pakistani reporter.

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