With the official start of summer on Tuesday, the race begins to cram in your summer reading. If lucky, you can get a little sand between the pages while reading on the beach. Just don’t let the waves lull you to sleep—that to-read list won’t read itself.
If you’re still looking to add to your list, here are seven recommendations by the Mainstreet staff. Feel free to make your own recommendations in the comments below.
“The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” (Daniel James Brown, 2013)
Recommended by J.C. Derrick
There’s a reason this book went to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list and racked up more than a quarter-million ratings on Goodreads. Brown takes the time to lay the groundwork for this epic story, carefully tracing the difficult roads a group of Depression-era young men traveled to claim one of the greatest triumphs in sports history.
By the time the final race arrives, you feel like friends with the main characters, who overcome poverty, abandonment, sickness and more to compete with the greatest athletes in the world—only to face Nazi cheating under Hitler’s watchful eye. Brown brings you to the edge of your seat with each stroke of the oar.
“Seasonal Work” by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, 2022)
Recommended by Ronni Lovler
Laura Lippman is one of my favorite authors. I am currently reading her digitally on my iPad and in hard copy. She writes crime novels and fortunately for me she is prolific because I am always on the lookout for another Lippman read.
Much of Lippman’s work is set in Baltimore where she grew up. She and her husband, David Simon of “The Wire” fame still have a home there as well as in New Orleans. Both used to be reporters for The Baltimore Sun.
Laura Lippman’s latest book is downloaded onto my iPad. It is a collection of short stories, “Seasonal Work.” The title work features one-time journalist turned PI Tess Monaghan, who is the main protagonist in a plethora of Lippman books. Read that story for a taste of Monaghan and see if you don’t get hooked.
My hard copy Lippman read is “Lady in the Lake.” In it. The book jacket description tells it best, describing the tale as “classic noir about a housewife turned aspiring reporter who pursues the murder of a forgotten young woman” in 1966 Baltimore. That book is going to the beach with me this weekend. I can’t wait!!
“Stories I Only Tell My Friends” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012)
Recommended by Mike Ridaught
“Stories I Only Tell My Friends” is an autobiography about actor Rob Lowe’s personal and professional life. It chronicles his time from childhood all the way through his time appearing on The West Wing, including the opportunity to meet and get to know then President Bill Clinton.
It covers the good, his three-decade success as an actor, and the bad, such as his struggles with alcoholism, womanizing, the infamous “sex tape,” and more. It chronicles his first time working with actors like Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, and Patrick Swayze in his first big movie, “The Outsiders,” and his relationships with Demi Moore, Nastassja Kinski, and Princess Stephanie of Monaco. He also grew up next to and would hang out regularly with Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen and at times would compete against them for certain roles.
I enjoyed how hard he worked at his craft, and even though he wasn’t perfect, he always had a passion for acting. The book explored the real life struggles as an actor, as well as the potholes that come along with being famous. I really enjoyed the book and recommend the audio version as Lowe tells his story. It was good to see him turn his life around.
“Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr (Scribner, 2021)
Recommended by Seth Johnson
In 2014, Anthony Doerr grabbed bibliophiles’ attention with “All The Light We Cannot See,” which won the Pulitzer Prize. Seven years later, he leads readers back to 15th century Constantinople up to present-day Idaho and forward to space travel.
“Cloud Cuckoo Land” centers on an ancient, incomplete work by Aristophanes, “The Birds” from 414 B.C., and its impact on readers through the years.
At 600-plus pages, you’ll want to find some shade before starting if you’re at the beach, but it’s a captivating read. Like “All the Light We Cannot See,” this novel constantly shifts perspectives with major jumps in time.
But while the first novel contains two primary protagonists, “Cloud Cuckoo Land” has five, so paper and a pencil might be handy for some—you know who you are. Doerr gives plenty of clues to keep readers on the right track.
Doerr dedicates the book to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come.” He explains more about the novel’s creation in a feature interview with CBS.
“A Ring of Endless Light” by Madeleine L’Engle (Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1980)
“Nothing Like I Imagined” by Mindy Kaling (Amazon, 2020)
“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell (Random House, 2004)
Recommended by Camille Broadway
I use my summer reading time to do three things: visit old friends, make new ones and finish things I find challenging to read without the larger chunks of summer time.
Old friends read: If Madeleine L’Engle’s “Wrinkle in Time” is a fall read that makes you want to grab your favorite blanket and make some stew on a Bunsen burner, “A Ring of Endless Light”—part of L’Engle’s Austins series—is solidly a summer selection, complete with dolphins.
Teenager Vicky Austin and her family have come to Seven Bay Island to spend one last summer with her dying grandfather. While Vicky is learning to navigate loss during her summer vacation, she also is taking a dive into the choppy waters of young romance. She gets involved with a dolphin-human communication project and meets a marine biology intern (and “Arm of the Starfish” main character) Adam Eddington.
Trying to use ESP to communicate with the dolphins is the sprinkling of L’Engle science fiction in this novel. While this book is part of a series and connected to the “Wrinkle in Time” series through the shared character of Adam, it stands on its own and you don’t have to have read any of L’Engle’s other work to enjoy it. “A Ring of Endless” was a Newbery Honor Book in 1981, and is an old friend I meet up with periodically over a glass of lemonade.
New friends read: During a dark bit during the pre-vaccine COVID-19 period, I was looking for something funny and distracting to read but I wasn’t sure I had enough brain cells left for a whole book. That’s when I stumbled on the Amazon series “Nothing Like I Imagined” by Mindy Kaling. Actress-writer-creator Kaling was familiar from “The Office” and “The Mindy Project,” and I had binged her Netflix television series “Never Have I Ever” in a giant gulp (a show which hands down makes best use of a narrator for comic effect).
I could have jumped into one of her two books, but the COVID distraction was real, and I found the Amazon essay series just what I needed. The essays are honest and self-deprecating as she talks about trying to figure out single motherhood or what it means to be Hindu or navigating the emotional rollercoaster of picking up the tab for another celebrity’s lunch.
The tone feels like she’s a dear friend leaning in over lunch to tell you a story she hasn’t shared with a lot of people. The essays aren’t long so you can pick them up when you have a few moments, and best of all, if you need a break from screens, Kaling’s audio narration was included in the bundle.
If you find yourself with a chunk of time: I picked up “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell after seeing the movie version in 2012, and it sat on my to-read shelf for a number of years. Several reviews had said the book was challenging. “Cloud Atlas” does cut across time periods and literary genres and plays with the audiences’ sense of character, pacing and place.
The Booker Prize short-listed book starts in the Chatham Islands in the mid-nineteenth century and spans to a post-apocalyptic Hawaii. “Cloud Atlas” is a series of interlocking stories about an American lawyer in the Chatham Islands, an English composer in 1931 Belgium, an investigative journalist in 1975 California, a present-day British publisher, a cloned, drugged waitress in a future dystopian Korea, and a storyteller in primitive post-apocalypse Hawaii.
In the first half of the book, the stories are interrupted at critical junctures and the protagonist of the next story is depicted as reading or watching the previous protagonist’s diary, letters, books, films, etc. The post-apocalyptic story is the middle tale and the only uninterrupted one.
The second half of the book finishes the nested stories started in the first half. Each of the stories borrows from a different literary genre. For example, the 1975 journalist’s story borrows its tone and form from thriller novels while the present-day publisher’s story is told like a British comic caper.
While reading “Cloud Atlas” can cause a bit of narrative whiplash, it’s an interesting meditation on time, freedom and the power of storytelling, and features some engaging characters (who Mitchell has said are reincarnated versions of the same soul). It was worth the whiplash, but it’s a book more easily followed if you have chunks of summer time to devote to it.