Reader’s Digest Picks the Best Summer Reading for 2013
From serious literature to serious fun, our books editor Dawn Raffel selects the summer's hottest page-turners.
By Dawn Raffel
Joyland by Stephen King
The legendary author is at it again, with a horror-crime story set in a small-town amusement park in 1973. But Joyland is also a moving coming-of-age tale, with narrator Devin Jones looking back on the long-ago summer after his first love dumped him.
Here's a taste: "I'm in my sixties now, my hair is gray and I'm a prostate cancer survivor, but I still want to know why I wasn't good enough for Wendy Keegan." Murder and romance? Yes, it's already been optioned to be a movie.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani
This debut page-turner, set in an equestrienne boarding school for debutantes during the Depression, is poised to become a bestseller (and advance copies keep disappearing from our office). Love, scandal, secrets, horses, American history—what more could you want?
Here's a taste: "Now I watched the unreadable faces of all these girls and they watched me and I felt frightened in a way I had never felt frightened before. There was no place to go but here, no one to take comfort in except myself. I started to cross my arms in front of my chest but then an instinct told me to stop: I didn't want any of these girls to know I was scared."
The Son by Philipp Meyer
Like literary Westerns? Sweeping, intense sagas prefaced with a family tree? This brilliant multigenerational novel set in Texas is for you. Utterly absorbing.
Here's a taste: "It was prophesied I would live to see one hundred and having achieved that age I see no reason to doubt it."
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Khaled Hosseini follows his blockbuster books The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns with an expansive new novel of love, heartbreak, and perseverance that takes the reader through Kabul, Paris, San Francisco, and the Greek Islands.
Here's a taste: "So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one. But just the one..."
Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng
If you are a devotee of Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O'Connor—or if you are looking for an unforgettable prose style, and an intense, challenging narrative—pick up Bill Cheng's debut, Southern Cross the Dog, the epic journey of 21-year-old Robert Chatham through the Jim Crow Deep South.
Here's a taste: "When I was a baby child, they put the jinx on me....It was in my drink and food and milk. And when I ran, it heavied in my bones and when I sang, it stopped up my throat and when I loved, it let from me, hot and poisonous."
Freud's Mistress by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman
Freud's Mistress is based on the true-life relationship between Sigmund Freud and his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays. The authors carefully reconstructed the pair's intellectual and romantic affair from extensive research.
Here's a taste: "Minna would have been married by now, like her sister, Martha [Freud's wife], if life had turned out differently, if her father hadn't lost all his money and dropped dead on the street, if her fiance hadn't died. If, if, if..."
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
Kevin Powers is a veteran of the Iraq war, and his bestselling book touched a deep nerve when it was released last fall. Now the lyrical, heartbreaking story of friendship and loss is out in paperback.
Here's a taste: "The war tried to kill us in the spring. A grass greened the plains of Ninevah and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into the windswept growth like pioneers."
On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman
For an entirely different and no less moving perspective on war, read On Sal Mal Lane. This riveting, powerful account of civilian life on the cusp of the civil war in Sri Lanka, in which the innocence of the children is contrasted with the prejudices of the adults, takes place between 1979 and 1983.
Here's a taste: "God was not responsible for what came to pass. People said it was karma, punishment in this life for past sins, fate. People said that no beauty was permitted in the world without some accompanying darkness to balance it out, and, surely, these children were beautiful. But what people said was unimportant; what befell them befell us all."
Maya's Notebook by Isabelle Allende
The wildly popular author, whose books have sold 57 million copies in 27 languages, is back with another big book that centers on a neglected 19-year-old girl in Berkeley, whose one hope of escaping a life consumed by drugs, alcohol, and petty crime lies with her Chilean immigrant grandmother. This is a family story, yes, but it is also a tale of adventure.
Here's a taste: "A week ago my grandmother gave me a dry-eyed hug at the airport and told me again that if I valued my life at all, I should not get in touch with anyone I knew until we could be sure my enemies were no longer looking for me."
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Yeah, yeah, you meant to read it while it was all over the bestseller lists, garnering rave reviews (NPR called it "a literary miracle,") but you never got around to it. Beautiful Ruins is now out in paperback, though, and there's no excuse not to tuck it in your suitcase for vacation. This sweeping, surprising novel is impossible to sum up, but it spans decades and continents, from the Italian coastline circa 1962 to contemporary Hollywood backlots.
Here's a taste: "The dying actress arrived in his village the only way one could come directly—in a boat motored into the cover, lurched past the rock jetty, and bumped against the end of the pier."
The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls
Wall's memoir The Glass Castle, about surviving her hardscrabble childhood, is approaching its seventh year on the New York Times bestseller list. Mining similar themes, her new novel, The Silver Star, tells the story of two adolescent girls abandoned by their freewheeling mom in California in 1970. The sisters take off for Virginia to live with an uncle, learning to fight adversity in an unjust world.
Here's a taste: "My sister saved my life when I was just a baby. Here's what happened."
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
Just in time for Gatsby frenzy, The Other Typist is a thrilling story set in glamorous, Prohibition-era Manhattan. Rose Baker, a stenographer for the New York Police Department, is intrigued when a younger, mysterious woman joins her typing pool. Confused by the liberal attitudes of the flapper generation, Rose becomes entranced by the girl's seemingly free ways, but her fascination soon becomes a dark obsession.
Here's a taste: "They said the typewriter would unsex us."