We’ve written more than once about the benefits of reading: you’ll expand your vocabulary, you’ll become a better conversationalist, your concentration will improve, and you’ll relax. While there’s definitely something to be said about getting your tan on in Florida over spring break or summer vacation, lying on the beach and chatting with your friends can get redundant (see: better conversationalist). Instead of falling asleep and waking up to a horrible sunburn, pick out one or two of the following books and bring them down to the water’s edge with you. When the conversation lulls (or when you no longer feel like paying attention), stick your nose in a book. You’ll still get plenty of sun, but you’ll get all those other benefits too.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Bachman: Ove is a cranky 59-year old man who is struggling to find his purpose in life after being forced to retire. Ove is a creature of habit; he hates it when anyone drives in the “no driving” area of his neighborhood, struggles to understand why neighbors wouldn’t properly sort their recycling, and wakes up at the same time every morning. Things get really interesting when his new neighbors manage to knock over his mailbox while backing a moving trailer into their driveway, which happens to be in the “no driving” part of the neighborhood. The book is funny, heartwarming, and sad in all of the right ways. For those who are fond of cult classics, I also drew connections between this book and the 1971 film Harold and Maude. If you feel like branching away from American novels and works of nonfiction, this Swedish book is a real treat. - Megan C.
The Vegetarian by Han King: Recently translated from Korean, The Vegetarian centers on Yeong-hye, a quiet homemaker whose nightmares compel her to become a vegetarian. As her dreams become increasingly violent, she eats less and less, at times starving herself. The novel is told in three parts, each one through the eyes of a character who struggles to understand Yeong-hye: first, her husband; then, her brother-in-law; finally, her sister. With prose as beautiful as it is disturbing, The Vegetarian will stick with readers long after they finish the last page. - Gwen
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell: Mitchell is a master of the short story. Each chapter of his debut novel is told from the perspective of a new character in a different part of the world. At first, it seems as if they have nothing in common, but gradually, it is revealed that something mysterious is connecting them across time and space. You will be genuinely sad to see many of the characters go, but each chapter is equally, if not more, engrossing than the last. Determination to solve Mitchell’s puzzle of human interconnection and to discover what it unveils about the balance of creative and destructive universal forces will make it difficult to put this book down. - Megan R.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: On the first page of this book, you are told that Lydia Lee is dead, but the parents of the high school student don’t know it yet. To help solve the mystery of her death, Celeste Ng paints a dynamic portrait of the family by exploring each member’s memories and motivations. Lack of communication and self-reflection prove to be the source of tension and disconnection, but this heartbreaking truth is hidden from the characters until it is too late. Everything I Never Told You will invite you to consider your own family story and perhaps give you insight into why you struggle to understand one another. - Megan R.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: Henrietta Lacks, who lived from 1920 to 1951 was an African American woman who died when cervical cancer spread throughout her body. While she was undergoing cancer treatments at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, a sample of her cancerous cells was taken during a biopsy and then cultured, without her knowledge or consent, into a line of cells. These cells, known as HeLa, are still used in scientific and medical research today. The book explores the ethical issues that underlie the initial culturing of these cells and further explores ethical and privacy issues that arose after Lacks’ death (patient information was released to the public; HeLa cells were DNA sequenced and the results were published). Through this book, you not only learn about these cells, but also about the woman from whom they came. It’s an excellent work of nonfiction. - Megan C.
I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This by Nadja Spiegelman: A few years before Nadja Spiegelman was born, her father wrote a well-received graphic memoir called Maus, for which he interviewed his father and captured his story as a Holocaust survivor. As Nadja grew up, she became interested in writing a memoir of her own. Instead of exploring her father’s family, which had already been detailed in Maus, she would hone in on her mother, Françoise. Now the art editor at The New Yorker, Françoise had grown up in France, but Nadja didn’t know much else about her life before she became a mother. In I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This, Nadja Spiegelman interviews her mother and her grandmother to get answers, to fill in the blanks left in the story of her family. The book is the product of discovery, complicated relationships, and unreliable memory, but just maybe that’s the point. - Gwen
Don’t forget the sunscreen!