I am overwhelmed, in a happy way, every summer when newspapers, bookstores, and websites publish their summer reading lists of what they think are the next hot summer books of the year. Instead of sharing what I think are the new smash hits, I am going to share a short list of books with you that I have very vivid memories of reading during summertime and encourage you to give them a try! No spoilers here.
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I read this book one summer during high school after my mom had encouraged me to read it for…oh I don’t know…about four years, at least. I felt so deeply connected to the main character, Francie, and it was one of the first times I remember reading a novel that evoked strong emotions in me that I, to this day, don’t know how to describe.
- The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. I ran across this book one summer in college when I did one of my big library hauls, aka, check out 25 books, stack them next to my bed, read three, return the rest unread (the public librarians LOVE me, ha!). The story centers around a local cooking school for home chefs and each chapter is devoted to a different student who attends the classes. This novel made me feel so in touch with each character even though you only get them for one chapter. I thought it was so amazing, in fact, that when it came time to do my senior thesis where I discussed elements that a novel should incorporate to draw the reader in, it was this book that I thought of the entire time.
- Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. Some of my favorite books were recommended to me or given to me by my mom (see this one, #1, #5, and Bonus). I got this for my 26th birthday and devoured it while on vacation. This is another novel where the points of view shift to different characters while centered on a “restaurant.” There are also recipes included. What more could you want?
- Give a Girl a Knife by Amy Thielen. This memoir is about how Thielen grew up in the Midwest, lived the New York City dream in her 20s, and eventually returned to her Minnesota roots to a literal homestead. I couldn’t get enough of her story and her writing.
The majority of her memoir relates to being in the kitchen, professionally and personally, and how important a role it has had on every aspect of her life. It made me want to walk barefoot through a garden, cook outside, and share giant meals with all my friends and family in one place. This is an excellent read no matter what the season, but give it a go this summer! If you love it, she has a cookbook and used to have a Food Network show that I’m sure you could dig up! Her Instagram is also lovely.
- The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel. People look at me like I’m crazy when I recommend this book and then tell them it’s about cave people. I probably gave my mom the same look when she recommended it to me! This is the first novel in a series of six. The story follows Ayla, a Cro-Magnon girl, who is lost by her family and found by a clan of Neanderthals who reluctantly adopt her. The descriptions of prehistoric life, land, culture, and food give you an escape from reality. When I wasn’t reading this book, I was thinking about this book. I still think about it all the time and look forward to reading the next five at some point. (Maybe this summer? Who knows!)
Bonus: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. This wouldn’t be a summer reading list if I didn’t include this series, but I really just want to share the story of how I discovered good ol’ Harry. When I turned nine, my aunt sent me an Amazon gift certificate (an actual piece of paper and shipping took over a week, can you belieeeve?). My mom and I sat at the computer and I told her I wanted all Baby-Sitters Club books. She said, “okay, but let’s see what else there is first.” We picked one Baby-Sitters Club (Mary Anne Saves the Day, in case you were wondering), but then my mom came across Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. “Why don’t we try this one? I read about it and I think you’ll really like it.” So I anxiously awaited the arrival of my BSC book and blew through it. I picked up Harry Potter and thought, “alright, I guess I’ll try this out.” I was immediately sucked in and in love with every aspect of it. I remember staying up through the night reading about the basilisk (sorry, spoiler), absolutely petrified (get it?), but I couldn’t get enough of it. I’ve been a Potterhead ever since and YES I did read the second book first…we had no idea what this series was back in the day!
I have a million more book recommendations to make, but too many at once can be too much, and then I leave little room for more suggestions in the future!