The quintessential summer reading guide
It’s that time of year again: The summer reading list! Here are nearly 80 possibilities, from epic novels to thoughtful essays, meaty histories to gripping mysteries, enthralling memoirs to inspiring sport sagas.
“Anna Karenina,’’ Leo Tolstoy. Translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Penguin)
If summer reading is about escapes, begin (or begin again) with this masterpiece of realism — the original binge-watch-able series — about a young woman torn between her husband and her lover in late-19th century Russia.
“Barkskins,’’ Annie Proulx (Scribner)
This extraordinary saga about climate change, corporate greed, and landscape follows two families over four centuries, with one of the book’s most important characters being the forest itself.
“Everybody’s Fool,’’ Richard Russo (Knopf)
Almost 25 years has passed since Russo introduced readers to the loveable cast of North Bath, N.Y., and everything that could possibly have gone right for them has sadly gone wrong. Only Russo has the grace to turn this state of affairs into such absorbing black comedy.
“The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street,’’ Naguib Mahfouz. Translated from the Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins, Olive E. Kenny, Lorne M. Kenny, and Angele Botros Samaan (Everyman’s Library)
He was the Dickens of Egypt, and in this sprawling, bawdy, heart-wrenching epic, he takes us from the dawn of independence to the almost modern age in the life of one divided family.
“LaRose,’’ Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins)
Erdrich’s most ambitious novel to date tells the shocking and beautiful story of what happens when a man accidentally shoots his neighbor’s son in a hunting accident, and then gives over his own boy to be raised in penance.
“The Makioka Sisters,’’ Junichiro Tanizaki. Translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker (Vintage)
This absorbing tales of three sisters with varying prospects of marriage is one of the funniest and most perceptive novels of all time. You will step through a door and disappear into pre-war Japan.
“Complete Stories,’’ Dorothy Parker. Edited by Colleen Bresse (Penguin)
Beautiful and self-destructive, nasty-witted and keen, Parker was tough enough to be a woman at the Algonquin Round Table in the ’20s and ’30s and reading these stories is like spending time on a fire escape smoking a cigarette with her as the city lights come on at night.
“Sag Harbor,’’ Colson Whitehead (Anchor)
The great American childhood summer novel that remembers what it feels like to pour oneself into the seemingly endless calendar canyon between June and September. All those bike rides, the sprinkler races, unpacking the car, setting up shop.
The Neapolitan Novels’: “My Brilliant Friend,’’ “The Story of a New Name,’’ “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,’’ “The Story of the Lost Child,” Elena Ferrante. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa)
You’ve heard everyone talk about them, this addictive epic about two girls in Naples and the pathways they take into life. The size has put you off, maybe the hype. Just start with volume 1, and say good-bye to the world around you.
“In the Café of Lost Youth’,’ Patrick Modiano. Translated from the French by Chris Clarke (New York Review Books Classics)
Set in Paris in the 1950s, a city full of dealers, pimps, disguise artists, and revolutionary thinkers, this swift, stylish novel is the next best thing to a ticket to Charles de Gaulle Airport.
“Career of Evil,” Robert Galbraith (Mulholland)
Suspenseful, well-plotted fun rooted in the real world, the third of J.K. Rowling’s pseudonymous detective novels mixes grisly violence, romantic turmoil, and keen social awareness.
“The Familiar, Volume 3: Honeysuckle & Pain,” Mark Z. Danielewski (Pantheon)
Do not be put off by the book’s unusual look. Graphic design works in tandem with storytelling in this fascinating, ongoing, humungous experiment with form and the experience of reading.
“The First Bad Man,” Miranda July (Scribner)
An oddball, uncomfortable, hilarious novel about loneliness, connection, and bumbling through life. In my head, the narrator — weirder than she thinks, well-meaning, tenaciously sexual — sounds exactly like Kristen Schaal.
“The Last Painting of Sara de Vos,” Dominic Smith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
An art heist and the forgery of the canvas left behind propel this lucid, gripping novel, which pulls you into its world and holds you fast right to the end.
“Middlemarch,” George Eliot (Penguin)
Don’t read it because you think you ought to. Do it because Eliot is whip-smart, elegant, and — this is the thing they never tell you — seriously funny.
“Modern Lovers,” Emma Straub (Riverhead)
Deep friendships and established marriages hang in the balance for a group of long-ago bandmates in Brooklyn, but Straub (“The Vacationers”) has a knack for keeping relationship drama amusing.
“The Nest,” Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (Ecco)
Shrewd and diverting, the story traces a family’s realignment after a sociopathic favorite son nearly empties the trust fund his middle-aged siblings had unwisely planned their futures around.
“The News From Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story,” Joan Wickersham (Vintage)
The sole drawback to this exquisite collection is that there isn’t more of it. I can tell you from experience: It goes nicely with sun-warmed sand and lapping waves.
“One Hundred Twenty-One Days,” Michèle Audin. Translated from the French by Christiana Hills (Deep Vellum)
Thrillingly protean in its form, beguiling in its storytelling, and crystalline in its translation, this is a French mathematician’s novel about French mathematicians. It’s also a kind of intellectual game.
“The Sellout,” Paul Beatty (Picador)
An intricately imagined satire on race in America that lets pretty much no one off the hook. If you’re looking for a novel that won’t make you squirm, keep looking.
“At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails,’’ Sarah
In this vivid, vital group biography, existentialists like Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvior, and Albert Camus come to life as courageous free thinkers in an age of fascism, totalitarianism, and conformity.
“The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home,’’ George
Howe Colt (Scribner)
Colt’s loving yet clear-eyed look at his family’s history in and out of their sprawling Cape Cod summer place evokes not only a time and place but also a nearly vanished way of life.
“Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby,’’ Geoffrey Wolff (New York Review Books Classics)
Wolff’s biography of Crosby, a renegade Boston Brahmin and avant-garde publisher, is an utterly engrossing and beautifully written look at one of the Lost Generation’s most tortured souls.
“Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays,’’ Zadie Smith (Penguin)
One of our finest novelists, Smith spins beautiful essays as well, here exploring her affection for E.M. Forster, Nabokov, and Katharine Hepburn, among others.
“The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice,’’ Patricia Bell-Scott (Knopf)
A moving and sensitive look at the long friendship, mostly epistolary, between the first lady and the path-breaking black, lesbian writer and activist Murray, long overlooked by history.
“The Gene: An Intimate History,’’ Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner)
Much as he did in 2010’s “The Emperor of All Maladies,,’’ Mukherjee elegantly translates the scientific story of genes and genetics into prose that will spark both curiosity and delight.
“In the Darkroom,’’ Susan Faludi (Metropolitan)
Prompted by the surprising news that her 76-year-old father had transitioned to a female identity, the feminist cultural critic turns her reporter’s eye to her own rich and surprising family history.
“Margaret Fuller: A New American Life,’’ Megan Marshall (Mariner)
A thoroughly absorbing, lively biography of a powerfully intelligent woman whose time and place repeatedly thwarted her ambitions, this nuanced, compassionate portrait won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014.
“Naked,’’ David Sedaris (Back Bay)
Wickedly funny yet also sweet, the humorist’s second essay collection reads as an off-kilter memoir of growing up gay in North Carolina.
“Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh,’’ John Lahr (Norton)
Longtime theater critic Lahr — son of Cowardly Lion Bert — paints a passionate, gossipy, and deeply affecting portrait of the playwright.
“The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th-Century Bookseller’s Obsession With a Lost Masterpiece,’’ Laura Cumming (Scribner)
A wry, discerning look at how art, artists, and the art market have often driven men mad, this book, by a noted English art critic, will make you look at the Spaniard’s great paintings with fresh eyes.
“White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide,’’ Carol Anderson (Bloomsbury)
A brief yet powerful survey of American history as seen in the violent white reactions to black progress, from Reconstruction to the great migration to the current political landscape.
“The Making of the President: 1964,’’ Theodore H. White (Harper Perennial)
Often political commentators cite White’s 1960 book as the seminal volume of presidential-campaign writing. But in this year of Republican insurrection, the nod has to go to the successor book, the one that chronicles the nomination of Barry Goldwater and the GOP crack-up that led to the Lyndon Johnson landslide — and the ascent of Ronald Reagan.
“Being Nixon: A Man Divided,’’ Evan Thomas (Random House)
Nixon was one of the most durable figures of the 20th century, and his career went from the Red Scare to the opening to Red China. No one can understand modern America without considering Nixon, the first president to resign the office.
“A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan,’’ Michael Kazin (Anchor)
This is the story of the three-time presidential candidate, secretary of state, and principal in the famous Scopes trial in Tennessee. Bryan gave one of the greatest speeches in American history and injected the phrase “cross of gold,’’ into the political lexicon. This is another book in which comparisons with campaign 2016 will be inevitable.
“The Best and the Brightest,’’ David Halberstam (Ballantine)
In a season in which experts and the political establishment are under siege there is no better beach read than this remarkable portrait of the men who led John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson deeper into Vietnam. The title has become an evocative phrase in American culture — and a reminder that top schools and fancy resumes do not necessarily combine to produce successful policymakers.
“The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy,’’ David Nasaw (Penguin)
This is the story of Joseph P. Kennedy, but it is also the story of modern America: the ascension of an Irish family that produced a tycoon, ambassador, president, three senators, a Pulitzer Prize winner — and more tragedy than perhaps any other clan.
“Huey Long,’’ T. Harry Williams (Vintage)
This 1969 classic, winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Prize, runs almost 1,000 pages — and is so readable, so intoxicating, that it is impossible to put down. Read it carefully and you may see some similarities between the Louisiana Kingfish and a certain prominent American figure.
“The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,’’ Robert Caro (Vintage)
Caro’s volumes on Johnson ordinarily would be on this list, but the presence of White’s 1964 chronicle in the top spot creates the opening for Caro’s masterly biography of Robert Moses, the man who made modern New York.
“Truman,’’ David McCullough (Simon & Schuster)
There exists only one other example of the ability of a single book to transform the public and historical view of an American president — for that is what McCullough’s biography of the 33rd president did. (That other example is McCullough’s portrait of the second president, John Adams.) In these pages strides an underrated but confident president of clear vision and political mastery.
“What It Takes: The Way to the White House,’’ by Richard Ben Cramer (Vintage)
This 1992 book focuses on the presidential election of 1988 and provides a series of unforgettable portraits of the political giants of the end of the century, including former Governor Michael S. Dukakis. The sections on Bob Dole later were published as a separate book and helped explain the Republicans’ 1996 presidential nominee.
“Coolidge,’’ Amity Shlaes (Harper Perennial)
This biography of the second-to-last Massachusetts president dares to argue that the 30th president was more than silent on the big issues of the day — and that he in fact was as close to the personification of the America of his time as any chief executive.
“Wilson,’’ A. Scott Berg (Berkley)
The former Princeton president is among the most studied occupants of the White House, but this volume undertakes the task with unusual verve and insight. The biographer of Charles Lindbergh — another character with resonance for 2016 — portrays Wilson as idealistic, romantic, and distracted. Readers will come away asking how it was possible for a man to be president and play as much golf as Wilson did.
“Charcoal Joe,’’ Walter Mosley (Doubleday)
Flush with cash but bereft of his main squeeze, Ezekiel “Easy,’’ Rawlins is on the prowl again as he tries to keep a young black physics prodigy from going down for murder and ends up hip-deep in ill-gotten gains.
“Collecting the Dead,’’ Spencer Kope (Minotaur)
A heart-thumping yarn from a real-life crime analyst, this features an FBI tracker with preternatural ability to “see the hidden.” He hunts down a serial killer who leaves a frowny face near each of his victims.
“The Murder of Mary Russell: A Novel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes,’’ Laurie R. King (Bantam)
The very title stirs dread in the hearts of fans of Holmes’s young wife in this pastiche series. Mrs. Hudson stars (her nefarious past catches up with her), and she manages to surprise Holmes.
“Murder on the Quai,’’ Cara Black (Soho)
The Berlin wall is crumbling, and in a series prequel Parisian medical student Aimée Leduc finds her métier, detecting. She investigates the murders of old men and tries to find her mother, a reputed terrorist.
“Desperate Detroit and Other Stories of Dire Places,” Loren D. Estleman (Tyrus)
Set in the Motor City, these 18 short stories by a master of noir aren’t new (they include his first from 1977), but they’re still mighty pungent and give a fascinating overview of a writer’s evolution.
“Orphan X,’’ Gregg Hurwitz (Minotaur)
In this perfect fix for paranoid adrenaline junkies, an orphan (a perverted version of young King Arthur) is recruited and trained as a professional assassin for the government. Soon he’s surrounded by assassins.
“The Second Life of Nick Mason,’’ Steve Hamilton (Putnam)
After serving five years of a 25-year term in maximum security, Mason strikes a Faustian bargain with a criminal mastermind. He’s out of prison, living in luxury, falling in love, but dancing to the devil’s tune.
“Where All the Light Tends to Go,’’ David Joy (Putnam)
The son of a man who places a pocket Bible on the chest of every person he murders realizes he’s in danger of becoming his father. This deeply noir finalist for the Edgar Award for best first novel is set in Appalachia.
“The Widowmaker,” Paul Doiron (Minotaur)
Danger-craving game warden Mike Bowditch searches for a half-brother he never knew he had in the frigid mountains of Maine. He’s still trying to outrun his dead father, a poacher turned cop killer. Breathless pacing, dark humor, wildlife, and vivid characters.
“Wilde Lake,’’ Laura Lippman (Morrow)
Family secrets rain down like a plague of locusts on “Lu” Brant, Maryland’s first woman state’s attorney. The young widow and mother of twins prosecutes a case that strikes close to home, threatening to taint her revered father’s reputation.
“Death Is a Welcome Guest,’’ Louise Welsh, Quercus
In the second of her excellent Plague Times trilogy set in a pandemic-ravaged England, a road trip lands stand-up comedian Magnus McFall in the heart of a creepy, rag-tag community.
“What She Left,’’ T.R. Richmond (Simon and Schuster)
Taut psychological suspense novel in which a professor delves into the death of a former student, the tale niftily conveyed via diary entries, letters, texts, blogs, and voice mails.
“Die of Shame,’’ Mark Billingham (Atlantic Monthly)
A fiendish and mind-bending murder thwarts the intentions of an addiction recovery group in this standalone mystery — though Billingham’s regular detective Tom Thorne makes a cheeky and welcome cameo.
“Outsider in Amsterdam” Janwillem Van De Wetering (Soho Crime)
The first in the long-running series featuring police detectives Grijpstra and de Gier deftly sets the tone for its sequels, from the dynamic-duo partnership of these Amsterdam cops to the author’s head-on engagement with contemporary social issues.
“Arab Jazz,’’ Karim Miské. Translated from the French by Sam Gordon (MacLehose)
Canny, complex and heartbreaking murder mystery set primarily in Paris’s 19th arrondissement, a dynamic, diverse and, at times, tension-filled global melting-pot of a neighborhood.
“The Passenger,’’ Lisa Lutz (Simon and Schuster)
The kind of suspenseful, character-driven mystery the term “page-turner” was coined for: Protagonist Tanya Dubois is a master of identity reinvention, a skill as riveting as the reason behind her transformations.
“My Uncle Oswald: Expect the Unexpected,” Roald Dahl (Penguin)
Dahl’s 1979 entertaining, not-for-kids novel features a sexed-up scheme by scamming, bounding bachelor Oswald Hendryks Cornelius and his lovely sidekick Yasmin Howcomely, the most aptly named character since Pussy Galore.
“Dark Horse,’’ Rory Flynn (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Boston cop Eddy Harkness returns in a second turbo-charged adventure that kicks off with an apocalyptic flood and incorporates Colonial bylaws, big-city corruption, and a highly entertaining cast of characters.
“The Modigliani Scandal,” Ken Follett (Penguin)
Follett crafts a nimble art-world caper, treasure hunt, and heist tale with multiple characters — including an art-history student, a detective, and an art dealer — all in search of a long-lost painting by Amedeo Modigliani.
“London Rain,’’ Nicola Upson (Harper)
In the heady days surrounding King George’s 1937 coronation, Josephine Tey — Upson’s compelling fictional rendition of the real-life mystery-writer and playwright — finds herself embroiled in scandalous BBC shenanigans and cold-blooded crime.
“Keep You Close,’’ Lucie Whitehouse (Bloomsbury)
In this quietly menacing psychological thriller that mines the trickier bits of family and friendship, Rowan Winter is convinced that her estranged friend, charismatic artist Marianne Glass, hasn’t fallen to her death accidentally.
“A False Spring,’’ Pat Jordan (Bison)
Jordan’s chronicle of his own youth in the low minors is still among the best coming-
of-age stories set in baseball . . . or anywhere else.
“Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer,’’ George Vecsey (St. Martin’s)
There’s no more pleasant or knowledgeable companion for a stroll through soccer’s most recent World Cups.
“Bang the Drum Slowly,’’ Mark Harris (Bison)
This book and the rest of Harris’s Henry Wiggen novels (“The Southpaw,’’ “A Ticket for a Seamstitch,’’ “It Looked Like Forever’’), written between 1953 and 1979, have held up very well.
“Great Men Die Twice: The Selected Works of Mark Kram,’’ Mark Kram (St. Martin’s)
This is a collection of some of the most ambitious and original sports writing of this time or any other, edited by Kram’s son.
“Soccer in Sun and Shadow,’’ Eduardo Galeano (Nation)
Galeano’s brilliant and politically powerful celebration of the world game is both personal and universal — and could he ever write.
“Rod Laver: An Autobiography,’’ Rod Laver with Larry Writer (Triumph)
In honor of the recently departed and much-missed Bud Collins, consider this autobiography about one of Bud’s favorite players, Laver, who won everything as an amateur and then won everything again as a pro.
“Football: Great Writing About the National Sport,’’ edited by John Schulian (Library of America)
Schulian has collected some terrific writing about a game that may be endangered, so it’s perhaps a good time to read about it.
“Players: The Story of Sports and Money, and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution,’’ Matthew Futterman (Simon and Schuster)
Futterman explains the history that leads up to Lebron James’s reported billion-dollar Nike contract and other wonders associated with contemporary sports.
“Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback,’’ George Plimpton (Little Brown)
Little Brown has decided to reissue this Plimpton classic, along with “Mad Ducks and Bears: Football Revisited,’’ “Open Net: A Professional Amateur in the World of Big-Time Hockey,’’ and all the rest of the Paris Review founder’s books about his strange and startling participatory misadventures on the various arenas, fields, and courses of elite sports — a fine development.
“The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team,’’ Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller (Holt)
Two self-confessed stats geeks get to run a minor-league baseball team, and they’re funnier than you might think they’d be when they write about the adventure.
Correction: An earlier version of a list of suggestions for mystery books incorrectly stated the language from which Karim Miské’s “Arab Jazz’’ was translated.