It’s here, folks. *Cue drum roll* …The best summer reading list ever compiled in the history of summer TBRs! Oh wait…is that wild hyperbole and not really true at all? Maybe. But it’s a pretty bangin’ list if I do say so myself. It’s a list comprised of old and new, funny, like Funny Girl by Nick Hornby (get it? funny girl), and devastating, like Radium Girls by Kate Moore.
I’ve even included two of the three books Benedict Cumberbatch recommended in this 2010 book review video he made from Mykonos back in 2010. It’s gold. Anyway, without further ado, here is my Summer 2017 TBR reading list:
Mr. Toppit, Charles Elton
Synopsis: When Arthur Hayman, an unsuccessful screenwriter turned children’s book author, is accidentally hit by a cement truck in London, his dying moments are spent with a passing American tourist, Laurie Clow, who is fated to bring posthumous fame to his obscure series, The Hayseed Chronicles, and the enigmatic and sinister Mr. Toppit who is at the center of the books. While Arthur doesn’t live to reap the benefits of his books’ success, his legacy falls to his widow, Martha, and their children—the fragile Rachel, and Luke, reluctantly immortalized as the fictional Luke Hayseed, hero of his father’s series. But others want their share of the Hayseed phenomenon, particularly Laurie, who has a mysterious agenda of her own that changes all of their lives as Martha, Rachel, and Luke begin to crumble under the heavy burden of their inheritance.
Thoughts: So this is the first of Cumberbatch’s recommendations. If I’m going to be honest, it brings me back to the summer after my senior year of high school. I was OBSESSED with the BBC series Sherlock and Benny himself for a short time. I spent most of my summer reading books, plays, and stories that had been adapted to the screen or stage and that Benedict had appeared in. This ranged from Terrence Rattigan‘s The Deep Blue Sea and Andrea Levy‘s Small Island to John Le Carre‘s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
It was a blissful summer during which I indulged my burgeoning Anglophilia. And it’s that summer when I first saw the Mykonos video. I can’t tell you why I didn’t read Mr. Toppit then, but I’m thrilled to be reading it this summer. Ah, nostalgia.
Guernica, Dave Boling
Synopsis: In 1935, Miguel Navarro finds himself in conflict with the Spanish Civil Guard, and flees the Basque fishing village of Lekeitio to make a new start in Guernica, the center of Basque culture and tradition. In the midst of this isolated bastion of democratic values, Miguel finds more than a new life—he finds someone to live for. Miren Ansotegui is a charismatic and graceful dancer who has her pick of the bachelors in Guernica, but focuses only on the charming and mysterious Miguel. The two discover a love that war and tragedy can not destroy.
History and fiction merge seamlessly in this beautiful novel about the resilience of family, love, and tradition in the face of hardship. The bombing of Guernica was a devastating experiment in total warfare by the German Luftwaffe in the run-up to World War II. For Basques, it was an attack on the soul of their ancient nation; for the world, it was an unprecedented crime against humanity.
Thoughts: Dave Boling‘s Guernica is the second Cumberbatch recommendation that I drew from the Mykonos video, but his approval isn’t the only reason I’m interested in reading it; Pablo Picasso‘s famous 1937 painting of the same name has always fascinated me, but I never knew much about the violent story that was its inspiration.
I’ve heard nothing but good things about Boling’s work, and I have no doubt that Guernica will provide a powerful back story by which to better understand Picasso’s infamous work.
Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Watching ’80s Movies, Jason Diamond
Synopsis: In Searching for John Hughes, Jason tells how a Jewish kid from a broken home in a Chicago suburb—sometimes homeless, always restless—found comfort and connection in the likewise broken lives in the suburban Chicago of John Hughes’ oeuvre. He moved to New York to become a writer. He started to write a book he had no business writing. In the meantime, he brewed coffee and guarded cupcake cafes. All the while, he watched John Hughes movies religiously.
Though his original biography of Hughes has long since been abandoned, Jason has discovered he is a writer through and through. And the adversity of going for broke has now been transformed into wisdom. Or, at least, a really, really good story.
Thoughts: I’m not familiar with Jason Diamond‘s work, but I’m sure in love with John Hughes’ contribution to film. I think it was The Breakfast Club cover that got me.
I love the idea that Diamond was so taken with Hughes’ work that his personal memoir was written through the framework of the director’s most memorable films. The idea that the broken characters in Hughes’ films, grappling with angst and insecurity, could inspire such a book from a fan is enough reason for me to put it at the top of my list.
Funny Girl, Nick Hornby
Synopsis: Set in 1960’s London, Funny Girl is a lively account of the adventures of the intrepid young Sophie Straw as she navigates her transformation from provincial ingénue to television starlet amid a constellation of delightful characters.
Thoughts: This book’s cover drew me in and had me at the phrase, “Set in 1960’s London.” Just look at that Mod dress? So fabulous. Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity was a game changer for me. No other author I’d read up to that point had so accurately described the obsessiveness and care with which a great music collection is curated. And the listing! Oh, the listing. It spoke to me on a spiritual level. If Hornby’s writing in High Fidelity is any indication of what Funny Girl will be like, I’m more than ready to dive into it.
Nutshell, Ian McEwan
Synopsis: Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She’s still in the marital home a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse but John’s not here. Instead, she’s with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month-old resident of Trudy’s womb.
Thoughts: Ian McEwan is a genius. Hands down. That’s why this book is on this list. Also, it’s told from the perspective of a fetus. That literary convention was enough to hook me.
The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson
Synopsis: East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent sabre rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.
When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking—and attractive—than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.
But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.
Thoughts: I feel like this is becoming a theme for my summer reading list: I was sold by the cover. Maybe my subconscious is telling me to become a book jacket designer. Anyone want to hire me? Yeah, you probably shouldn’t. My taste is, at best, questionable.
But certainly not when it comes to English pre-war novels. I can spot a good piece of Edwardian setting fiction from a mile a way. Just call me the Anglophile bloodhound. (Yeah, no. Don’t.)
I can tell Helen Simonson’s novel is going to be just as good as I imagine it will be because, much like Jennifer Ryan‘s The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, she fits into that pleasant bit of light hearted English fiction that’s perfect for a relaxing day at the beach or a lazy day lounging around the house. It’s tailored for summer.
The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride
Synopsis: Upon her arrival in London, an 18-year-old Irish girl begins anew as a drama student, with all the hopes of any young actress searching for the fame she’s always dreamed of. She struggles to fit in—she’s young and unexotic, a naive new girl—but soon she forges friendships and finds a place for herself in the big city.
Then she meets an attractive older man. He’s an established actor, 20 years older, and the inevitable clamorous relationship that ensues is one that will change her forever.
A redemptive, captivating story of passion and innocence set across the bedsits of mid-1990s London, McBride holds new love under her fierce gaze, giving us all a chance to remember what it’s like to fall hard for another.
Thoughts: This is part of my ambitious plan (that I came up with randomly the other day) to read all the novels written on the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist. 16 books! I follow a blogger called The Lonesome Reader who managed to read ALL OF THEM, among other notable books that have come out this year. Dude’s a machine. I wish I had that attention span. Alas, I am a flea.
Alex, Approximately, Jenn Bennett
Synopsis: Classic movie fan Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online as Alex. Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.
Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new archnemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever it is she’s starting to feel for Porter.
And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.
Thoughts: Ah, here are those pesky YA novels popping up again. I haven’t heard much feedback about this one, but I’m always interested in the concept of how young people largely interact through online resources. That was sort of the case when I was a teenager as well, but people just a few years younger than me are even more entrenched in the online universe. (Also, when did Facebook become uncool with the kids? Remember MySpace? LOL. How the times have changed.)
Synopsis: The incredible true story of the young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium and their brave struggle for justice…
As World War I raged across the globe, hundreds of young women toiled away at the radium-dial factories, where they painted clock faces with a mysterious new substance called radium. Assured by their bosses that the luminous material was safe, the women themselves shone brightly in the dark, covered from head to toe with the glowing dust. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” were considered the luckiest alive—until they began to fall mysteriously ill. As the fatal poison of the radium took hold, they found themselves embroiled in one of America’s biggest scandals and a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights.
A rich, historical narrative written in a sparkling voice, The Radium Girls is the first book that fully explores the strength of extraordinary women in the face of almost impossible circumstances and the astonishing legacy they left behind.
Thoughts: *Trigger warning* I’m about to step up on my political soap box. Ahem…
Since our honey-glazed ham of a president does not respect workers’ rights in this country, it’s important to seek out journalism and non-fiction pieces that accurately depict the harrowing struggles of working class people around the world, throughout history. The young women Kate Moore spent years researching thought they were gaining independence by joining the work force during World War I. Little did they know that the radium they regularly ingested was slowly destroying their bodies from the inside out.
These women were silenced and threatened, but they refused to give up their fight to seek justice and safety for working people in the years to come, even though death was imminent for them.
The Night She Won Miss America, Michael Callahan
Synopsis: Betty Jane Welch reluctantly enters the Miss Delaware contest to make her mother happy, only to surprisingly find herself the judges’ choice. Just like that, she’s catapulted into the big time, the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.
Luckily, her pageant-approved escort for the week is the dashing but mercurial Griffin McAllister, and she falls for him hard. But when the spirited Betty unexpectedly wins the crown and sash, she finds she may lose what she wants most: Griff’s love. To keep him, she recklessly agrees to run away together. From the flashy carnival of the Boardwalk to the shadowy streets of Manhattan to a cliffside mansion in gilded Newport, the chase is on as the cops and a scrappy reporter secretly in love with the beauty queen threaten to unravel everything-and expose Griff’s darkest secret.
Thoughts: Welch is Miss Delaware. Dela-where? My home state, friends. Pride of the Blue Hens. The place where Joe Biden eats ice cream and rides trains.
That is literally the only reason I’m reading this book. Gotta rep the 302, peeps.
The Arrangement, Sarah Dunn
Synopsis: Lucy and Owen, ambitious, thoroughly-therapized New Yorkers, have taken the plunge, trading in their crazy life in a cramped apartment for Beekman, a bucolic Hudson Valley exurb. They’ve got a two hundred year-old house, an autistic son obsessed with the Titanic, and 17 chickens, at last count. It’s the kind of paradise where stay-at-home moms team up to cook the school’s “hot lunch,” dads grill grass-fed burgers, and, as Lucy observes, “chopping kale has become a certain kind of American housewife’s version of chopping wood.”
When friends at a wine-soaked dinner party reveal they’ve made their marriage open, sensible Lucy balks. There’s a part of her, though-the part that worries she’s become too comfortable being invisible-that’s intrigued. Why not try a short marital experiment? Six months, clear ground rules, zero questions asked. When an affair with a man in the city begins to seem more enticing than the happily-ever-after she’s known for the past nine years, Lucy must decide what truly makes her happy-“real life,” or the “experiment?”
Thoughts: You have to admit that cover is sexy. Any book that concerns an “open marriage” is the type of book you would consume in the same way you can’t look away from a trainwreck, or the way you can’t stop watching the Kardashians eat salads. (It’s cathartic for me, guys.)
Any sort of dishy book like this one is perfect for summer, I will be stashing this one in my beach bag.
Have you read any of the books on this list?!
Tell us which books you’re most looking forward to reading in the comments below!
Be sure to keep up with the Paperback Paris Team’s monthly TBRs!