Though it is painful to admit that finals are approaching, soon we’ll all be staring wistfully out of the library windows, daydreaming about how we’ll spend our free time between jobs or internships this summer. Whether you’re an English major like me who just wants to rebel and read something for fun for once (as if that’s possible) or someone engaged in unrelated studies that typically has no time to devote to reading, many of us hope to read during summer break. I know from experience that these good intentions often crumble, and this can be because of a bad book choice: for example, I have tried and failed to finish Wuthering Heights on three separate occasions over the past two summers. It’s a great book, but why did I think that a dark gothic novel would be a good choice for the summer? I surely don’t know, but now I’m here to help you not make the same mistakes and offer you a strategy for choosing what kind of books are most advantageous to tackle during the summer over any other time of year.
This category is the best of the three for people who are not typically readers but still want to give it a shot. However, even if you are a big reader, sometimes during summer vacation you don’t want to wade through dense prose and heavy topics shrouded in mystifying literary devices. Though these books are all well-written and complex, the reading experience itself is enjoyable and not exhausting.
My recommendations: Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger (or anything by Salinger, really), Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, Emily Dickinson’s collected poems (not a book, but the description still applies)
Classics You Never Got Around To
Maybe you’ve always wanted to read these novels, or maybe you just want to be more cultured and be able to understand references to them. Either way, I always find that summer is the best time to fill in gaps in my literary education. All of the books I’ve recommended below are some of my favorite classics that are also truly entertaining reads, so you won’t be tempted to put them down and abandon them halfway through. (Yes, even the 600-page Crime and Punishment. If the HONY guy stopped me and asked me what my advice would be for a large group of people, I would say: “Read Crime and Punishment. It’s fun.”)
My recommendations: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, 1984 by George Orwell, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Big Scary Monsters
Remember when I said that it’s harder to read heavy novels during the summer because your brain is out of school mode? I hate to break it to you, but summer is also the only time that you’ll ever find the time to get through these beasts unless you read them for a literature class. So, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, pick one of these and chip away at it whenever you have a moment. I’m sure that finishing these books will be incredibly rewarding, but I wouldn’t know, because this is mostly a list of books that I have started and had to abandon, swearing that I will finish them over the summer.
My recommendations: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (which I’ll be tackling this summer, because what’s more summery than a Russian novel? [This may be a repeat of Wuthering Heights.]), Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Middlemarch by George Eliot, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (not even going to pretend like I’ve read this one at all), Ulysses by James Joyce (or this one. But I swear I’ll get to them one day.)