There are still 24 more days until it is technically summer, but everyone knows the season unofficially starts Memorial Day weekend. That’s when the days are at last noticeably warmer, the cookout invitations grow more frequent, and the urge to escape into a book gets stronger and more irresistible than usual.
Here are nine recommendations for what to put in your summer to-read piles; for even more books, check out our list of what to read in 2019.
1. Orange World and Other Stories, by Karen Russell (out now)
Short story collections get a bad rap, but they’re ideal for summer reading: You can begin and finish an entire satisfying story, and then go off and play frisbee. The only danger with Karen Russell, though, is you might not be able to read just one. The author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Russell is a master of the weird and ever-so-slightly off (first time Russell readers, I direct you to “The Dredgeman’s Revelation”). This collection has eight stories with beguiling titles like “Madame Bovary’s Greyhound” and “The Tornado Auction,” and appearances by devils and a place called New Florida. But Russell’s writing is remarkable because of how normal she makes it all seem: “People always want to ask me if I’m writing magical realism because the setting is so fantastical, but I’ve really decided that so many of those distinctions are regional,” she told Jezebel. “What’s surreal to you is just somebody’s Wednesday somewhere.”
2. Biloxi, by Mary Miller (out now)
I don’t know what it is about this time of year that makes me want to read books that take place in the South, but Mary Miller’s Mississippi-set Biloxi is exactly what I hope for in a summer read. The story is about a 63-year-old man named Louis who, in an attempt to avoid his ex-wife’s car after sighting it on his way to pick up his diabetes medication, takes a wrong turn and ends up impulsively adopting a not “very bright” border collie named Layla. The collie helps cheer Louis up — more specifically, it helps him stop thinking about his ex-wife, his own loneliness, or the guns he has in his bedroom. As a reading experience, it is charming and breezy and — I will reassure you from the start — the dog doesn’t die.
3. Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips (out now)
Before Disappearing Earth, I knew very little about Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula outside of the board game Risk. This far eastern province, though, serves as the site of the simmering debut novel from Julia Phillips. Following the year-by-year aftermath of the disappearance of two young girls from the beach one summer, this is both a mystery and a gorgeous portrait of a region of Russia that American readers don’t typically get to visit in literature. Phillips studied on the peninsula during her two-year Fulbright grant in 2011 and 2012, and her writing is deeply informed by the smells, tastes, and sensations of this remote and captivating region of the world.
4. Searching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok (June 4)
The disappearance of a sibling is the real-life inspiration for author Jean Kwok’s novel, which centers on what happens after Sylvie goes missing from Amsterdam. Sylvie’s sister, Amy, resolves to find out what happened. Kwok, like her protagonist, comes from an immigrant family and had one of her brothers vanish in 2009 after he said he’d be coming for Thanksgiving and never arrived. And Kwok, like Amy, took it upon herself to find out what happened to him. While Searching for Sylvie Lee is fiction inspired by real circumstances, it is no less thrilling for it: “It’s very much a story about immigration and culture, and not truly knowing the people we love the most, and not being able to know them,” Kwok told The New York Times after being picked as one of their writers to watch this summer.
5. More News Tomorrow, by Susan Richards Shreve (June 4)
The prolific novelist and children’s book writer Susan Richards Shreve has written a chilly thriller for this summer about uncovering “the whole story” when assumed truths are not what they seem. When Georgianna Grove was four, her father went to prison for murdering her mother during a family canoe trip to Wisconsin’s Missing Lake, where Georgianna’s father ran a summer camp. Sixty-six years later, in a quest to find out if her father was truly capable of such an act, Georgianna takes it upon herself to bring her own children on a parallel journey up the Bone River to the Missing Lake camp. The truth, it would seem, is tangled in America’s dark history of racism and anti-Semitism, all set against the stormy background of northern Wisconsin.
6. Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, by Neal Stephenson (June 4)
Unless you’re expecting to have lots of room in your suitcase, you might want to buy Fall in its e-book form; this 880-page novel is a mammoth of a book and won’t exactly fit in a traditional beach bag. The upside: It will get you through at least a vacation or two with its gripping story about what happens when technology replaces the afterlife. When Dodge, the founder of an enormously successful gaming company, dies, his brain is scanned and eventually uploaded into the Bitworld (our reality, charmingly, is called the “Meatspace”). Described as if Philip K. Dick or Dungeons & Dragons met Paradise Lost, Fall is a fantasy-science-fiction adventure story that is closer to reality than you might think.
7. Are We There Yet?: The American Automobile Past, Present, and Driverless, by Dan Albert (June 11)
There is nothing more American than a good old-fashioned road trip; this weekend alone, AAA forecasted that 37.6 million of you would be making a vacation by car. But how will such a deeply American tradition change with the driverless cars of the future? This nonfiction account of the “past, present, and driverless” horizons of automobile travel by journalist Dan Albert blends research with human stories about how our country’s car culture is on the cusp of a history-altering change. From the “in honor and in loving memory of” dedication at the beginning to the final car crash at the end, Albert never loses his clever, addictively readable voice.
8. The Yellow House, by Sarah M. Broom (Aug. 13)
I am jittery with excitement for the release of The Yellow House later this summer. The story springs from Sarah M. Bloom’s brilliant 2015 New Yorker article of the same name, and recounts the history of her mother’s home in New Orleans East, from when she bought it in the 1960s to the letter announcing its demolition after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House is as much about New Orleans as it is a 100-year history of Bloom’s family: as she wrote in her article, “There is no welcome sign here, nothing to signify the New Orleans of most people’s imagination.” This meditation on home is assured to be on end-of-year lists as one of the best books of 2019.
9. Inland, by Téa Obreht (Aug. 13)
It has been a decade since the publication of Téa Obreht’s bestselling novel The Tiger’s Wife, and she returns at last this summer with a Western about the Arizona Territory in the 1890s. “Some years ago, while doing research in the Southwest, I happened upon a frontier story about the surprising intersection of two very different journeys,” Obreht toldEntertainment Weekly late last year. Those journeys presumably belong to the protagonists of her novel, Nora — who is left alone with her troubled youngest son after her husband goes in search of water — and Lurie, who interacts with ghosts. This is sure to be a regular sight in the hands of people at boarding gates across the country when August at last rolls around.