Looking for the perfect book for your summer vacation or afternoon by the pool? We’ve curated a list of top picks from some of our favorite sources and they offer something for every interest.
Emily and I both love reading, and summertime brings hope of a little extra time to enjoy the many books on our must-read list. Many of our favorite and anticipated titles have been recommended by friends, so what better time to pass along the favor and share our top picks here?
As a bonus, after recommending Danielle Friedman’s Let’s Get Physical in April’s Favorite Things, she thanked us for the mention and generously took the time to share the short list of books that have most inspired her. Everyone wants to know what the writers are reading, right?
We also love to hear from you, so feel free to mention your favorite books in the comment section below. Happy reading!
If you loved Boys in the Boat by author Daniel James Brown, you may want to read his newest novel Facing The Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II. In this work of nonfiction, the reader gets to know four Japanese American men and their families, whose lives were turned upside-down the day Pearl Harbor was invaded, and who made untold contributions and sacrifices for the sake of the nation in the face of horrifically unjust treatment. Brown studied oral histories and conducted extensive interviews with families who lived through this era, and in doing so crafted a gripping account of some of the best and worst moments in our nation’s history.
Crying in H Mart, a memoir by Michelle Zauner, will make you laugh, cry, and not want to put the book down. At face value, this is a story about finding one’s identity as a Korean American girl growing up in a remote neighborhood in Oregon. It’s also a story about family relationships and conflict, sickness and loss, and finding one’s way back to her roots. All the while, food is a common theme and the writing is smart, vivid, and easy to read. With 256 pages, this story is short in comparison to many books, and chances are you won’t want it to end.
In her debut novel, Olga Dies Dreaming, Xochitl Gonzalez delivers a smart romantic comedy that lures readers in with humor and keeps them hooked with an engaging storyline. The overview: High-end wedding planner Olga Acevedo and her brother, Congressman Prieto Acevedo, navigate complicated personal and professional lives, come to terms with the trauma caused by the absence of their activist mother, and examine their cultural identity amidst the backdrop of Hurricane Maria in 2017. It’s a passionate tale of family, love, and insecurity wrapped in a highly engrossing package–and a reminder that alluring public lives might not be all that they seem.
Many of us have read at least one book by acclaimed author Barbara Kingsolver, but the start of a new growing season seemed like the perfect time to highlight an old favorite, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Part memoir and part journalistic investigation, Kingsolver details her family’s adventure moving to and living off a farm in Appalachia. The main goal was getting her family of four to eat locally for an entire year, with the intent of growing much of the food themselves. By the way, they moved from arid Arizona and never farmed before! This Anniversary Edition contains updates since the book was originally written in 2007.
Written as a collection of essays, The 2000s Made Me Gay by Grace Perry is a hilarious journey back to the 2000’s when the author was coming of age and coming out as gay. Today’s gay youth are more likely to find gay role models, both fictional and real, but Perry didn’t have that luxury. Instead, she searched for understanding amidst the pop culture of the 2000s that she was drawn to as a closeted teen.
Whether a fan of shows like The Real World and Glee, music by Taylor Swift, or books like Harry Potter, or whether you can relate to living through an era with a lack of LGBTQ+ representation, you are bound to enjoy this funny and reflective journey of self-discovery via pop culture.
I was also reminded by a friend that the classics are classics for a reason. They transcend time, and the themes remain relevant year after year. If you haven’t read Cormac McCarthy (two of the most well-known being No Country for Old Men or All the Pretty Horses for example), maybe the time is now? His first novel was published in the 1960’s and he is publishing two new novels this fall – now that’s staying power!
Though TV shows and movies can bring a story to life, there is something about reading the book that is often more satisfying. So when Emily saw a preview for Pachinko, the new series on Apple TV, it reminded her how wonderful this book by Min Jin Lee is.
The story opens with a young troubled woman in Korea who leaves her homeland for Japan with her new husband. The story follows their growing family as they work to survive in a foreign land. It’s a truly moving saga of love and sacrifice.
Cookbooks may have fallen out of favor for some thanks to instantly accessible online recipes, but Emily’s kids gifted her Cook It! The Dr. Seuss Cookbook for Kids by Daniel Gercke and they have been using it ever since.
The book is filled with beautiful food photography and family-friendly recipes, and the names of the recipes cleverly come from Dr. Seuss books. Ultimately, this cookbook reminds us how fun food can be and could provide hours of constructive activity for kids on a rainy summer day.
Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber (a college acquaintance of Emily’s) is intended for 8–12-year-olds, but it’s also a great read for caregivers to see life through a pre-teen’s eyes. It’s an authentic portrayal of a young girl struggling with body image and self-esteem in a very realistic and empathetic way.
Emily read the Neapolitan Novels, Elena Ferrante’s four-part series, along with her best friend and it was so much fun. The series follows the lives of two girls, and their respective families and friends, as they come of age in a small town outside of Naples, Italy. It’s real and raw, and tackles a lot of challenges in various personal and community relationships. Interestingly, Ferrante is actually a pseudonym, and the true identity of the author is unknown! Start with the first book, My Brilliant Friend.
Emily’s friend recently recommended Hanya Yanagihara, who is well known for her novels The People in the Trees and A Little Life. Her most recent novel, published in January 2022, is To Paradise and may take all summer to read (it’s 720 pages and spans three different time periods), but it’s an excellent choice for those who like to really dig into something. The writing is spectacular and lures you in immediately.
It covers three time periods – an alternate version of the past, the present, and the future – but the characters’ names, some landmarks (like a townhouse in downtown New York) and similar themes are maintained throughout all of the sections. It’s about love, family, and relationships on many levels and the way the book is organized makes reading it that much more interesting!
If you are looking for a non-fiction read, My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem is enlightening. She connects racism and trauma in America to body-centered psychology. She walks the reader through different exercises to help recognize and deal with how white supremacy has been ingrained in our bodies and our nervous systems, a concept routed in neuroscience and somatic healing methods.
Let’s Get Physical author Danielle Friedman shares the books that have most inspired her, in her own words:
- The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage by Kelly McGonigal, PhD
This book was truly life-changing for me. The author is a psychologist at Stanford — as well as a longtime cardio dance instructor — who beautifully lays out the power of movement to support our mental health and overall well-being. The book is filled with fascinating (but accessible) science on the amazing benefits exercise can bring, and inspiring (but not corny!) stories of people who have harnessed movement to live happier, healthier, more meaningful lives.
- This Is Big: How the Founder of Weight Watchers Changed the World — and Me
by Marisa Meltzer
I loved this biography of Weight Watchers founder Jean Nidetch. Beyond telling the compelling story of Nidetch herself, the book is also a cultural history of Weight Watchers and of the diet industry more broadly — as well as a first-person account of Meltzer’s personal experiences navigating Weight Watchers. Meltzer is a journalist who writes regularly for outlets including The New York Times and Vogue about all aspects of beauty and wellness culture.
- Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am
by Julia Cooke
I am a sucker for stories of pioneering women who have been overlooked by history! This book makes it clear that Pan Am stewardesses were much more than the glorified fashion models and sex objects they are often portrayed to be. Many were bold adventure seekers who saw a job with an international airline as a ticket to exploring the world, and they played a fascinating, unreported role in global diplomacy — all while battling a deeply sexist corporate environment. Cooke brings a unique perspective to this story: Her father worked as an attorney for Pan Am until she was nine years old.
This Sunflower Library Flower Stamp offers a fun way to personalize books from your own collection or perhaps for a teacher’s classroom. The stamp would also be a thoughtful gift for a friend who loves to read. Available on Etsy for $17.91.
We love hearing from you and encourage you to share your favorite books, authors, or what’s next on your list!