Everybody loves the last day of school. The tension is palpable, focus is practically nonexistent, and everybody is finishing last-minute yearbook signings before that final bell rings to usher in summer break. Most people don’t want to think about doing anything remotely academic during the summer, but there is something to the phrase “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”
Among the benefits of finding a book and settling down into a comfy chair on the back porch or curling up on a beach towel under an umbrella are the following: stress relief, vocabulary enhancement, memory improvement, better concentration, and better social skills. Reading novels, then, can help you do better on the SAT or ACT, make friends, and keep calm after a long day. Reading a crime or mystery novel can help fire up your synapses and improve your analytical thinking skills. Nonfiction books increase your knowledge base and provide conversation starters.
Here are some books that the Student Caffé staff recommends:
- Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes: I was never one to reread a book (except the Harry Potter books, obviously) until I read this one for the first time. It tells the story of a brand new lieutenant in the Marines who is deployed to Vietnam to fight in the Vietnam War. The author is a Vietnam veteran, so many of the experiences in the book are likely real, but technically, the book is a work of fiction. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Vietnam War. -- Megan C.
- Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach: Mary Roach is funny, smart, and manages to pick the most interesting topics to write about. This book focuses on dead bodies and what happens when they’re donated to science. She writes about crash test bodies, forensic science, and medical students. Her other books, Bonk, Packing for Mars, Gulp, and Spook (about couples, outer space, the digestive system, and the afterlife), are also incredible, but Stiff is the best. -- Megan C.
- The Bees by Laline Paull: This book takes place inside a beehive, and the main character is essentially a janitor. She’s born into the position but aspires for more and ends up coming into contact with the queen, leaving the hive, and questioning the entire system. It doesn’t take any work to read this book. It’s entertaining, interesting, and perfect with a glass of iced tea. I, for one, will never look at bees the same way again. -- Megan C.
- Grendel by John Gardner: Prepare for a creative spin on the Old English epic poem Beowulf, which was written sometime between the eighth and early 11th century. Gardner brings readers into the psyche of the monster Grendel, who was killed by Beowulf. The novel, published in 1971, introduces us to the young, bear-like beast who is simply curious about the world of men. As he grows and is exposed to the violence they thrust upon him, Grendel becomes crazed and seeks ways to plague the kingdom of Hrothgar, the King of the Danes. The new perspective on the age-old story is intriguing and insightful, reminding us that there are always two sides to a story. -- Katelyn
- Zen and the Art of Happiness by Chris Prentiss: If you’re looking for a book to change the way you look at life, this is it! Prentiss’s writings teach readers to find happiness and live full lives. Despite its small nature, the book is not to be taken lightly. It contains short stories, history, and philosophical quotations. This self-help guide is packed with enlightening advice on growth, being present, and letting go of the past. -- Katelyn
- Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri explores America, England, India, and Thailand in this collection of short stories. The first five chapters do not relate to one another except for their themes and their characters’ Bengali heritage. Differently, the last three illustrate two characters who meet as children. Though their lives seem distant, they are intricately woven as soon as the pair reunites as adults. Moving through these eight chapters, you’ll experience the challenges characters face regarding immigration, culture, family ties, and pursuit of happiness. -- Katelyn
- Adamtine by Hannah Berry: I’m a fan of graphic novels, and this one still haunts me months after I read it. Before the events of the story, in the world in which Adamtine takes place, a group of strangers disappeared. Only one man claimed to have witnessed these disappearances, and he presented bizarre notes left by the missing as evidence. According to this man, the victims were taken by a monster, but no one believed him. As the book begins, another disappearance seems forthcoming. Adamtine plays with the fear of the unknown. The images are so ethereal and dark that I couldn’t tell if I was imagining faces in their shadows. -- Gwen
- All Fires the Fire and Other Stories by Julio Cortázar: If short stories are your thing, consider one or several by Cortázar, an Argentine writer who built complicated characters in just a few words. My favorite story in the book is “The Health of the Sick.” In it, a man sets out on a trip, but as time passes, his siblings receive no news from him. Not wanting their ailing mother to learn of the presumed death, they write letters to her and sign them from their brother. They build a world for her and for themselves. It’s surreal, compassionate, and harrowing at the same time. -- Gwen
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: This book, a long letter to the narrator’s son, won the National Book Award, among many other recognitions, and it deserves its praise. It isn’t a breezy read by any means and the subject matter (race in the United States, police brutality, black bodies) is difficult to confront, but it’s well worth it. The writing is vulnerable and grieving yet strong. -- Gwen
Hopefully at least one of these recommendations grabs your interest! Reading can be fun, thought-provoking, and life-changing. Grab a novel, grab your sunglasses, and have at it. Enjoy your summer!