How to Thoughtfully Craft a Summer Reading List (+ 4 Book Recs)

Dive into these books for your summer reading list.

For many, summer brings barbecues, vacations, and yard games. For students, it means the end of a school year, a break from homework, and more free time. For book lovers, summer signals the creation of a long-awaited summer book list.

As a literature lover, I am always reading at least three or four books at a time. But during the school year, I’m so wrapped up in reading translations of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Teresa de Avila that I’m not able to spend as much time reading and discussing current-day voices. The summer months offer me time to step outside of my syllabi and finally get to those titles accumulated on the running Notes list on my phone. 

When I’m building a book list, I usually find myself asking three questions: Where will my next book take me? Books can take us to other parts of the world, to the future or to the past, and we never have to leave the couch or backyard.

What will my next book teach me? I am working on doing a better job of picking books written by authors with different experiences than my own. Books are often a place of comfort for me, and that’s okay, but I’ve realized it’s also good to expand the range of topics, authors, and types of works I read. This is how and where the good thinking really begins.

And, how will my next book change me? Learning something from a book is one thing, but being changed by one is another. I have read a lot of books, and sure, many of them have impacted my life. But there are only a few books that truly changed the way I view the world. These are the kinds of books that we carry with us in our hearts every day and everywhere. 

If you’re looking to expand your reading list, here are a few tips. 

When you’re not sure where to start, try asking friends and professors for recommendations — that’s what I do. Sometimes they recommend the book they are reading at that moment, and other times it’s a book they read three years ago. I also recommend listening to podcasts formatted around interviews. Often, these featured people – with professions from research to business to art to professional sports – have written insightful books about their successes, failures, and life moments. Sometimes it takes spending some time online before getting offline and into a good book. Try looking through book club Instagrams and websites. An added bonus: they often host live Instagram book club discussions!

At the end of the day, I only have three requirements for books on my list: they must interest me, teach me something, and have good titles – I really love a gripping title. 

With all that in mind, here are four books that I’d suggest adding to your reading list this summer.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved seems to be on every “must-read” list on the internet. This novel, written by Toni Morrison, won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1988, and it tells the story of an escaped female slave in post-Civil War Ohio. Beloved has been on my book radar for several years now, but I haven’t felt ready to read it until recently. In order to fully digest and dive into this novel, I plan on reading it at the same time as a close friend this summer so that we can discuss it as we go. 

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

Brené Brown is a researcher and storyteller. She believes in the power of vulnerability and the necessity for courage. This spring, I read Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, and I am eager to read more of her books. I have chosen The Gifts of Imperfection for my summer book list to learn more about cultivating compassion for myself in order to grow my compassion for others. I hope to use the reading guides on Brown’s website to deepen my contemplation on the book. I have also enjoyed listening to Brown’s recently-created podcast “Unlocking Us” featuring various authors during COVID-19. Brené Brown’s powerful voice – in word and speech – is here to stay. 

Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr is one of my favorite modern authors. Known for his novel All the Light We Cannot See, Doerr’s Memory Wall is a collection of short stories and novellas. I do not typically read short stories outside of class, but I wanted to read another work of Doerr’s after enjoying both his fiction and memoir. Doerr’s voice is poised and bold, while maintaining a comfortable softness. Also, the title alone intrigues me and is enough to get me wondering and imagining what awaits in his stories.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou is one of my favorite poets, but I have yet to read her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The caged bird is an image present throughout her poetry and was inspired by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy.” While I have spent time contemplating many of Angelou’s writing and speeches, I do not know much about her life besides what I have gleaned from her words. I hope to learn more about her life, the challenges she endured, and the lessons she continues to share even after her passing in 2014 by reading her autobiography.

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