Ah, the summer heat – abroad of course, not here. Take it or leave it, the dog days are anigh. Time for frenzied summer holiday logistics, thanking (and re-thanking) the good men who invented air conditioning, and of course a damn good book.
From a collection of short stories by one of our favourite childhood authors to an emotionally exhausting murder mystery that hurts so good you just might give yourself a paper cut keeping up, our collection of 12+1 books should keep your summer free of ADD-inducing twitter feeds, teasingly short blog posts, and the visual-porn succubus we fondly call Pinterest. And in a showing of how much summers have changed (high-school dittos shoved into backpacks come to mind), we’ve kindly included links to Kindle and iTunes bookstores as well as those old-school hardbacks. Crank up down the AC, crack open a drink and get reading. Summer is officially here.
Skin and Other Stories by Roald Dahl
Best Twist Endings: Roald Dahl is a household name in children’s stories. If you haven’t read his adult fiction, though, you’re missing out. Skin and Other Stories resumes the witty, weird happenings and characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and Dahl’s other books and artfully mixes in the macabre darkness of murder, madness and deeply hilarious deaths. You’ll find no cheap tricks in any of these short stories: instead, profound, shocking twists that will delight your guilty pleasure.
Raylan by Elmore Leonard
Best Crime Thriller: From the great crime writer Elmore Leonard himself comes the next chapter in U.S marshal Raylan Givens’ story. Some of you TV junkie’s might also recognize it as basis behind the FX show Justified. Raylan follows the marshal as he tracks down the dope-dealing brothers Dicky and Dewey Croew, delving into the darker side of black market dealings that plague Harlen County, Kentucky — specifically, the buying and selling of human organs. Raylan, with quick wit and an even quicker trigger finger, sets out to halt the shady transactions before he finds himself under the knife. Suspenseful, witty, and quite the page-turner, Raylan will have you flipping through its pages quicker than the protagonist’s pistol draw. Who wants to wait for the next summer blockbuster, anyway?
Tasteful Nudes by Dave Hill
Best Humor Writing: Tasteful Nudes presents the best kind of absurd and awkward situations: those you don’t have to endure personally. The genius collection details Dave Hill’s struggles with life, growing up (he still hasn’t) and generally any “misguided attempt at personal growth.” If you hate mirth then you might not enjoy stories about “stolen meat, animal attacks, young love, death, naked people, clergymen…” well, you get the idea. A riot and a half, this breezy read will have you laughing well into fall.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Best Classic Tale: Fish stories are a dime a dozen – head to your local bait shop and you’ll be sick of them in no time. But The Old Man and the Sea is, as you hopefully know, not a throwaway tall tale. Ernest Hemingway – one of the best authors of the 20th century, and hands-down the manliest – weaves a simple, tragic narrative in his measured prose. Barely over 100 pages, the book is a relaxing and unchallenging read. Its main character, an old fisherman who has nothing but a love of the sea and a lion’s determination, is instantly and thoroughly endearing. The physical and emotional gauntlet he runs delivers nothing short of pure inspiration and emotion. Knock it off your “must-read” list this summer, and keep it around to peruse during tough times. This one’s a lifer.
Calico Joe by John Grisham
Best Sports Fiction: The great American pastime has been given a new voice in John Grisham’s latest sports writing (law fiction aside, the man sure can wax nostalgia), Calico Joe. In Grisham’s latest foray into sports, young Joe Castle is the greatest rookie to ever play the game. Playing for the Chicago Cubs in the summer of 1973, Castle knocks ball after ball out of the park and shatters every record in baseball. His cool demeanor and pleasant personality capture the hearts of every up-and-comer and veteran alike. We won’t ruin the entire plot of the darn book, but believe us, there’s conflict, and a whole lot of it. The drama of each game is riveting, but what really will draw you in is what happens off the field. For the fan and non-fan alike, Calico Joe might just be you summer’s pennant chase.
After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh
Best Short Reads: The end of the world is currently center stage in pop culture — even if we’re a bit over this whole zombie thing. Sure, we’re willing to jump on the bandwagon, but only in true stand-out instances within the genre. After the Apocalypse is one of those examples. The book’s nine short stories, based on how people continue after our world order ends, stretch from zombies to bird flu to economic collapse. Most importantly, they avoid cliché with notable dexterity. McHugh’s characters are strange and unique yet distinctly believable; her writing is terse and roughened, just like her topic. McHugh’s stories narrow in focus from the overarching cataclysm to individual accounts that explore the continuance of humanity — rather than its destruction — with chilling realism.
Canada by Richard Ford
Best “Hurts So Good” Read: Disastrous decisions breed gritty drama. Such things are Richard Ford’s modus operandi. The Pulitzer Prize winner’s latest novel engrosses from the first lines: “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.” Ford’s sentences are lean but, like a certain famous American author mentioned previously in this list, his words pack a raw emotional punch. Canada is a case study of defunct relationships and the survivors of destroyed families. If you want a novel that cuts to the bone this summer, head no further than the northern border.
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
Best Historical Non-Fiction: World War I created tragedy on a scale that is impossible to grasp. Barbara Tuchman narrates the outbreak of the war to end all wars with prose worthy of a best-selling fiction novel, yet still manages to honor the individual costs paid by so many. A chain of events that is both glossed over in high school history and misunderstood by many, the groaning friction and flashes of emotion that encompassed the beginning of WWI are the ultimate true drama. Tuchman does a great service to history and her readers in this absolute classic — she creates a military page-turner that will fascinate even the most history-shy reader.
Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone
Best Mentalist Memoir: We all remember the first time we saw a magic trick. Whether it was the card trick Pop showed you as a kid or a top-hatted man pulling a rabbit from a hat at your friend’s birthday party, magic has always intrigued us with a child-like fascination. For Alex Stone, it was love at first sight when his father bought him a magic kit at the age of 5. Fooling Houdini recounts Stone’s story of trying to make it in the wacky world of professional magicians. From the upper echelons of the Vegas strip to the back of a grungy New York pizza parlor, Stone dives into what it takes to deceive the human mind. At the same time, he imparts valuable lessons on perceiving our world and those around us. A good-natured and insighful read, Fooling Houdini is a sure way to trick yourself into a relaxing summer book.
The Red House by Mark Haddon
Best Multiple-Viewpoint Novel: “Family” has different meanings for everyone, but one thing’s for certain: families don’t come easy. The Red House follows the recently remarried Richard as he joins his estranged sister Angela and her family in sharing a vacation home in the English countryside. The character-driven narrative that emerges from this setting is both heartfelt and compelling in exploring the joys and difficulties of relationships under one roof. Haddon’s insightful writing gives the reader an all-encompassing picture told through the skewed viewpoints of every character. We’re not sure it’ll help you understand your insane Uncle Dave, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Best Sci-Fi Classic: With the recent passing of the great American writer Ray Bradbury, we deemed it only appropriate to add one of his classics to the list. Fahrenheit 451 follows main character Guy Montag in a dystopian future where television and and technology rule. Printed books and other literature are hunted down and burned by “firemen.” As one of these firemen, Montag finds himself coming to grips with the harsh realities of his existence and those of his wife, Mildred. An almost eerie commentary on today’s world, Bradbury’s creation is a compelling and diverse read. A shining (and fiery) example of a great American classic written by an American legend.
Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum
Best Eye-Opener: What is the internet? For something so voluminously integrated into our lives, it’s surprising how few of us can answer that question well. Andrew Blum’s here to help us out with the surprising and encompassing answers in Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet. Journalist Blum investigates the surprisingly tactile foundations of the interwebs, from fiber-optic caverns underneath Manhattan to rewired telegraph buildings and undersea cables that link continents. What he finds is a very concrete reality to the abstract world wide web that we think we know. Guaranteed to inspire you to think differently every time you open your browser.
Bonus: The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen
Best American Dream Biography: Carnegie. Rockefeller. Vanderbilt. These are the brilliant, ruthless men who built capitalist empires in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Samuel Zemurray? Never heard of him. In The Fish that Ate the Whale, Rich Cohen brings to light the life of this “banana king.” If that sounds like a silly title, think again. Zemurray’s rise from fruit peddler to commercial emperor is a brutal and hemisphere-spanning tale. From taking on the United Fruit Company to overthrowing Central American governments, Zemurray’s story is an intriguing one, exhaustively researched and masterfully told by Cohen. You’ll never look at yellow fruit the same way, we promise.