A summer reading list that pulls no punches

This compilation may be more valuable for telling you which books to avoid, saving you time to enjoy all those other books.

It’s summer; reading list season. Beware. While you have extra time on your hands, it isn’t unlimited. I’ve read some bad and mediocre books so you don’t have to.

  1. Avenue of Mysteries.” John Irving is one of my favorite authors. So when this book was billed as returning “to the themes that established him as one of our most admired and beloved authors,” I was all in. But I couldn’t get through it. It’s almost as though Irving is overthinking every single word and every last sentence structure to the point that it is agonizing to read. I’m probably going to give it another shot, but if you put it on your list, I recommend putting it near the bottom.
  2. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.” This is a series of short stories from Stephen King. While some of them did give me bad dreams, I almost prefer his longer form writing. For many of the stories, I just was starting to get into them when they ended. But if you want something you can read in quick spurts, this is the book for you.
  3. Everyone Brave is Forgiven.” This is by Chris Cleave, the author of “Little Bee,” so I was excited to read it. And, to be fair, I did start to read it in a restaurant in Las Vegas, where there were way too many distractions. But even by the pool or during my normal reading time before bed, I couldn’t get into it. It’s another one I’ll go back to when I can be a little more focused but add it to the end of your list.
  4. Good Riddance.” This book, by my friend (and client) Whitney Fay and coauthor Collin Parker, is perfect for the pool or beach. It’s a fun look at high school reunions and all the things we encounter when we return to see our “friends.” It also has a great nod to ’80s culture.
  5. Me Before You.” Yes, I know this Jojo Moyes novel is more than four years old, but my mom told me I had to read it before the movie came out. I’ll just say this: It’s great, it’s an easy read and you’ll bawl your eyes out. You’re welcome.
  6. Primates of Park Avenue.” I did not like Wednesday Martin’s memoir about the social elite of New York City because it was more anthropology than storytelling. That said, it has really stuck with me, and I quote from it more than I care to admit. Her description of the cult that is SoulCycle, which is now in Chicago also, is very accurate. If you see it in the bookstore, flip it open and find that section. It’s funny—because it’s true.
  7. Rogue Lawyer.” I love John Grisham. It goes against my literary tastes (and my creative writing advisor would be so disappointed), but I do. I read everything of his, despite the fact his books are all the same, but if you’re looking for an easy read, this is it.
  8. The Big Fear.” I wanted to love this book by Andrew Case. It was intriguing enough that it kept me turning pages and I finished it quickly, but there were big holes in the story. The main character, Ralph Mulino, has a dark and sordid past, but when the author finally lets you in on what happened, it’s too little, too late – and not all that dark and sordid.
  9. The Girl in the Spider’s Web.” David Lagercrantz certainly tried to bring back Lisbeth and Blomkvist. Had it been finished by Stieg Larsson, it probably would have been a fantastic read. But for Millennium series fans, it doesn’t quite meet expectations.
  10. The Martian.” I could not get through this book. I loved the movie. I loved the idea of the book and loved the storytelling. But Andy Weir’s writing is so horrible that I was rewriting it in my head, and it was taking me three times longer to read it than it should have. I finally had to put it down and just settle for having seen the movie.
  11. The Nest.” When I finished Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s book, I was furious. I texted my friend Abbie Fink, my virtual book club friend, and asked, “Why did I just read that?” Now, all of that said, it’s a must-read. It’s well written, and the story is fantastic. But the ending will infuriate. So when you finish it, text me and yell at me. I’ll be your sounding board.
  12. When Breath Becomes Air.” This memoir by Paul Kalanithi is heart-wrenching and a must-read. It’s written by a neurosurgeon who, at the age of 36, discovers he has stage 4 cancer. His wife has to finish writing the book for him, and it is one of the most compelling pieces of art you will read in your lifetime.

Wow. With the exception of the last two, I’m either becoming a harder critic (or extraordinarily grumpy) or someone needs to write another “The Nightingale.”

Or maybe a little of both.

Still on my list

Maybe one of these will be that book for me.

  1. “America’s First Daughter”
  2. “Good Night, Mr. Tom”
  3. “Good Omens”
  4. “The Gargoyle”
  5. “The Gunslinger”
  6. “The Japanese Lover”
  7. “The Kind Worth Killing”
  8. “The Last One”
  9. “The Life We Bury”
  10. “The Secret Daughter”
  11. “The Thirteenth Tale”
  12. “Unbecoming”

It’s your turn. Have you read any of the 24 books in this article? What other book recommendations do you have?

A version of this article first appeared on Spin Sucks.


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