With spring and summer somehow right around the corner, it’s a good time to get those warm-weather vibes rolling. We’ve compiled some of the all-time favorite summery books for your reading pleasure. Whether they’re set in a tropical location or simply evoke the heat of a sunny day, these novels are guaranteed to ease you out of your winter funk and transport you to a land that’s bright and breezy.
Wild is the kind of adventure memoir that’ll shake you up and shake you out of your winter blues. The story follows author Cheryl Strayed as she picks her way along the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from the Mojave Desert all the way to the Bridge of the Gods in Washington. Though it occasionally dips into cliche (I mean, it is a “finding oneself in nature” narrative after all), I still found it to be deeply engaging and moving. Not only does Strayed do a fantastic job of detailing her personal thoughts and experiences, but she also renders the untamed environment in vivid hues. You’re with her every step of the way, whether marveling at soaring sequoias or feeling the scorching sun on your bare skin.
If you’re looking for a summery read that’ll inspire a heavy dose of nirvana, look no further than The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. Though many of his novels deal with similar themes (transcendental Buddhism, 1950s counterculture, the wonders of the natural world), this one, at least in my opinion, is his best. It centers on the lives of fictional characters Ray Smith and Japhy Rider as they explore the American West, using richly detailed prose to describe climbs up Matterhorn Peak and summers spent in North Cascades National Park. A must-read for folks who like considering nature through both a physical and metaphysical lens.
Set in the Everglades at the turn of the century, Their Eyes Were Watching God is a gorgeous, sultry read from Zora Neale Hurston. Undoubtedly a classic, the language here is so sublime that it’ll knock you right off your feet. Fair warning, the story of Janie Crawford is a challenging one (dealing as it does with sexual abuse, gender inequality, racial injustice, and toxic masculinity), but one that springs forth with grace and power. And unlike any other novel I’ve ever read, it uses place to great effect, drawing on the lush, tropical setting to inform and bolster Crawford’s character arc.
If you’re in the market for a sweet, sentimental novel, Strange Weather in Tokyo may be the one for you. In some ways, it’s an old-fashioned romance, tracking as it does the burgeoning relationship between two loners: 30-something Tsukiko and her former Japanese teacher, identified as “Sensei,” a 60-something widow. Though the narrative isn’t super complicated, author Hiromi Kawakami writes it beautifully, crafting paragraphs like stunning paintings. As a reader, all five of your senses will be activated at all times, whether following the pair to a hillside hot spring or watching them sip sake under a blooming cherry blossom tree.
For those in need of a long read, I recommend sinking your teeth into One Hundred Years of Solitude, which tells the multi-generational story of the Buendía family, who founded and live in the fictional city of Macondo, Colombia. Bursting with tropical fauna, potent aromas, steamy romances, and colorful language, the novel is a feast from start to finish. And, in typical Marquez style, it’s wrought with plenty of magical realistic elements, which really make the narrative come alive. A definite must-read for folks who like their plots dense, their family trees complicated, and their sense of place firmly cemented.
I absolutely love Dandelion Wine. Though written by sci-fi master Ray Bradbury, the book is surprisingly devoid of fantastical elements, focusing instead on a single summer in a sleepy Illinois town. The main character is 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding (said to be loosely based on Bradbury), but the story itself unfolds in a series of quasi-connected vignettes. More than anything, it’s a nostalgic reflection on the ephemeral magic of summer, both in how quickly it breezes in and how quickly it breezes out. Poetic, charming, and great for readers of all ages.
Intense doesn’t even begin to describe Salvage the Bones. Set in the twelve days before Hurricane Katrina hit, the novel centers on a working-class African-American family as they prepare for a storm whose magnitude they’ve yet to comprehend. The prose here is sharp and direct, leaving no detail unobserved and no character undeveloped. While the premise is clearly tragic, writer Jesmyn Ward brings humor and beauty to every scene, whether describing a dangerous dog fight, a sweaty game of outdoor basketball, or the gentle way a lone pine bends over a muddy pond.
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