65 Best Summer Reads of All Time
Settle in for beach reads to suit your every mood and guaranteed to take you to other worlds. These amazing books are totally packed with pleasure and are an escape in and of themselves.
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Who doesn’t love a book you can’t put down? There’s no sweeter joy for a summer afternoon. Think of the books you couldn’t tear away from as the afternoon light turned to dusk and the hours flew by. The summer reads on our list are a round-up of timeworn classics, true crime potboilers, as well as contemporary bestsellers set in glamorous locales with heady love stories and characters who steal your heart. We’ve gathered something from every fiction genre from YA to fantasy and included a few memoirs, how-tos, and self-help page-turners to keep you reading all summer long. Did you know reading is good for you? Check out the ways that reading makes you a better person.
All-American Muslim Girl
If you’re in the mood for a poignant, moving coming-of-age novel, pick up All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney. High schooler Allie is dating a popular white boy with ultra-conservative parents who don’t know she’s Muslim American. Themes explore the diversity and nuance of religious identity while presenting a brave, independent teenager who grapples with faith and finds her voice despite a world filled with Islamophobia. Find out the 10 young adult novels grown-ups secretly love.
Angie Cruz’s beautifully written novel follows the teenage Ana who immigrates to America from the Dominican Republic after marrying a much older man. Set during the 1960s in New York City, this acclaimed novel explores the complex dynamics of the American dream for those who immigrate seeking better opportunities. Young Ana longs to flee home to her family when her husband’s brother, Cesar, shows her the ways of the city and the life she might have if she stays.
The Perfect Find
Gabrielle Union is set to star in the Netflix movie adapted from this dishy page-turner about a fashionista, Jenna Jones, who falls for a handsome hottie who happens to be the son of her new boss and longtime rival. Jenna is 40 and starting over in her career while her new paramour is a whopping 22 years old. Get ready for a hilarious deep dive into the world of New York-style mags. It’s the perfect find of a summer read if you adore diva-laden drama with dollops of romance. Here are 23 contemporary writers you should have read by now.
Sex and Vanity
If you loved Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy prepare for his latest lush and luxuriant novel filled with the decadent details of ultra-rich lifestyles. You’ll find yourself on a vicarious tour of glitz, glamour, and high society intrigue. Kwan’s satirical update of E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View follows Lucie, a socialite with a white father and Chinese American mother who gets the chance to explore her Asian heritage. She falls for the dashing George Zao who bounces back into her life just when she was about to marry someone else. Are you big on fan favorites? Check out the 20 highest-rated books on Goodreads.
Such a Fun Age
Kiley Reid’s contemporary bestseller follows a Black millennial nanny, Emira, who finds herself accused of kidnapping the white toddler in her care while at a grocery store. Reid’s popular novel explores the unchecked privilege of White characters who think they know what’s best for the heroine at the center of a moment that goes viral. The plot twists through scenes that are provocative, cringe-inducing, relatable, and funny as it chronicles Emira’s experience and the turmoil in her personal and professional relationships. If you’re looking for books that feature Black characters for younger readers here are 13 books about race to read to your kids.
Sierra Crane Murdoch’s riveting true-crime tale follows Lissa Yellow Bird, a member of the “Three Affiliated Tribes” and Arikara Nation, who obsesses over the disappearance of an oil worker on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Yellow Bird’s own life becomes a subject of fascination as Murdoch’s chronicles her resilient spirit and intrepid search for justice. Yellow Bird is a feat of literary journalism that keeps the pace of a mystery novel as it exposes the dark ways the oil industry affects the lives of Native people.
The Water Dancer
The acclaimed journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates deftly blends the fantastic with the historical in his debut novel set in the antebellum South. The Water Dancer follows Hiram who is born into the system of enslavement on a plantation, but who also possesses enormous power. Coates infuses the story with magical realism to explore the power of memory and the history of the Underground Railroad. Coates depicts the unbearable history of the enslaved through rich explorations of familial bonds and imaginative language that reinvents ways to represent this American history and the people within it.
Mat Johnson’s satirical, semi-autobiographical novel follows a biracial comic book artist, Warren, who revisits his Philadelphia neighborhood and confronts his mixed identity. Warren returns to the dilapidated mansion he inherited from his White father and connects with a teenage daughter he didn’t know he had, and who doesn’t know she has Black heritage. This acclaimed novel explores the ambiguity of race and identity, especially for those who are mixed or perceived as White.
Magic for Liars
If you love twisty mysteries with a fantasy edge, check out Sarah Gailey’s quirky crime tale set in an academy for mages. Magical happenings intermix with a hardboiled investigation into a murder. The detective on the case, Ivy, doesn’t do magic, while her twin sister teaches a course in it. Gailey infuses sibling rivalry with suspense that’s both whimsical and relatable. Their writing mixes enchanting poetry with relatable intrigue that keeps you rapt until the very end.
Here for It
R. Eric Thomas’s heartfelt and funny memoir in a series of essays explores his hilariously poignant experiences as someone who is often considered an outsider in a White world. He writes from the perspective of being Black and queer with unabashed brio and stellar, laugh-out-loud wit and wisdom. This un-put-down-able read displays a one-of-kind voice that’s moving, conversational, and addictive as it moves through essays around self-acceptance and saving your own soul. If you love a true story, here are 17 more memoirs everyone should read.
Regina Porter’s acclaimed debut novel sprawls across six decades as it explores the connections between two American families. The intricate, captivating plot entwines the lives of characters across vast time and space with a startling genius. Porter writes lyrical prose in short vignettes interspersed with black-and-white photographs. The Travelers is the book for you if you want an epic, enthralling story about the powerful ways an interracial marriage affects families and friends whose lives intersect amid heartache and history. Find out how one woman talks about race in her mixed-race relationship.
The Black Tides of Heaven
JY Neon Yang is known for her spellbinding prose and mesmerizing world-building. The fantasy novella The Black Tides of Heaven is Book 1 in the acclaimed Tensorate Series. The story follows non-binary twins who come of age in a techno-magic world where gender is chosen once the time feels right. It’s an intriguing story about individuals who rebel within a larger political system set for revolution. Do you love fantasy world wonder? Don’t miss these 14 fantasy books that you won’t be able to put down.
The Star Side of Bird Hill
In this beautifully written coming-of-age novel, two young sisters move from Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their maternal Grandmother, a midwife who practices Obeah and helps them rediscover their roots. Naomi Jackson brilliantly captures the experience of Phaedra, ten, and Dionne, 16, who are transported from the city to island life in the summer of 1989. When their father shows up to take them home each grapples with what it means to go home and the bonds between family and culture.
Justin Michael Williams’s guide to meditation creates an inclusive practice that takes into account the experiences and identities of those who are often left out of conversations on mindfulness. Williams offers readers a way to get the practical benefits of meditation, especially if that practice acknowledges social struggle. Williams demystifies the mystical by telling readers “if you can worry, you can meditate.” He transforms a wellness buzzword into a tool for all, including Black people, the LGBTQIA+ community, and anyone else who goes through injustice and trauma. If you think meditation is boring and doesn’t work, delve into this kit for customizing the practice to match the heartbeat of your messy, modern, worthwhile life. If you’re looking for more actively antiracist books here’s where to find them now that they’re selling out.
Take a little escape for the weekend with Mary Kay Andrew’s sultry romantic mystery all about the tawdry and zany goings-on in Belle Isle, North Carolina. Get ready for a page-turner about the weekenders who drop in and the regulars who belong there. The story starts as the heroine’s husband fails to arrive on the ferry, sparking her to get pulled in to a murderous and twisty fast-paced tale that centers on the perils of divorce.
There once was a girl from Nantucket…you how the rest goes! Elin Hilderbrand’s breezy novels about life on the island make you feel like you’ve just bounced ashore. This one follows two friends, Madeline and Grace, who get caught up in a swirl of gossip about love affairs. This intriguing beach read delves into the secrets you keep and the ones you shouldn’t hide.
Fall in love with Lindy West’s smart, insightful, and totally hilarious take on living life in a scrutinized body. She writes with soul and wit in this memoir about comedy, love, writing, and the way the world responds to her as a woman who doesn’t conform to expectations. West’s eloquent prose will truly shift your thinking. Just like these 14 books every woman should read in her lifetime, this book is a must-read for the ladies.
Ever have a best friend so close she feels like a sister? That’s the bond at the center of Judy Blume’s entrancing novel set on Martha’s Vineyard in the kind of summer houses most of us only dream about. Caitlin chooses Vix to be her bestie, but their complex friendship has to weather changes across the years while they each remain haunted by a shattering summer event from long ago.
First Comes Love
Dive into Emily Griffin’s family drama about two sisters and their alternately prickly and loving bond—especially in the aftermath of tragedy. Josie’s single, but longing for a child, while Meredith seems to have the perfect family life. The plot twists will keep you turning pages filled with astute observations, wit, and all those relatable emotions that exist between sisters.
The Great Gatsby
This literary tour-de-force moves at a fast clip. Saunter from high society parties to the dark valley of the ashes in this novel about wealth accumulation and the people hurt in its aftermath. Gatsby pursues Daisy, a woman whose laugh sounds like money, but he may be perpetually out of her league—even without the entanglement of tragedy that links them both. They don’t call it an American masterpiece for nothing. Here are 50 books you should read by the time you’re 50.
In the mood for some can’t-put-it-down Zombie literature? Delve into Cormac McCarthy’s brooding, heartbreaking take on life during an apocalypse. Monsters abound, but its also a meditation on love and survival and the relationship between a man and his son. Just like the 11 books that are guaranteed to get your book club talking, this book is certainly going to be one you have to tell everyone about.
The Year of Magical Thinking
Virtuoso essayist Joan Didion turns her eye toward her husband’s sudden death in this memoir on grief, love, and longing. You’ll find yourself deep in the throes of a kind of reckoning and its hard-won mercies. Didion helps the reader make sense of loss through an intimate look at her own.
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé
Take a deep dive into poetry with Morgan Parker who’s been called the voice of a generation. Her poems brim with passion and intensity as her works capture the ineffable experience of black millennial womanhood in contemporary America.
The Good Fight
Turn to best-selling novelist Danielle Steel for a sure-to-be page-turning beach read. Her latest is here with a story about a woman caught in the upheaval of America’s political past. Count on the world’s most popular author to keep you riveted to Meredith’s story. She’s a heroine who comes of age in the midst of her father’s conservative values and those of her liberal grandfather while blazing her own trail as an activist during the Civil Rights Era.
Get ready for wit and wisdom from extremely talented television and movie star, Amy Poehler, as she writes about life as a funny woman in her hilarious and inspiring bestseller. It’s certain to make you laugh and think as you roll through this collection of real-life stories punched up with one-liners and chock-full of great advice.
The Catcher in the Rye
Settle into Holden Caufield’s classically cynical vibe. The old-time slang still resonates with contemporary human pathos and the universal condition of seeing the world through young and melancholy eyes. Find beauty amid all the phonies in this classic and page-turning ode to life as a teenager. Don’t miss these surprisingly awful original titles of 10 world famous books.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood originally published her chilling tale of totalitarian Gilead in 1985, but the classic feminist novel retains contemporary relevance. Delve into the gripping world of captive Offred (named because she is “of” the man who commands her, Fred.) This novel delves into a world where women are valued only as childbearing vessels or sex toys—and you won’t be able to put it down.
Nobody Cries at Bingo
Dawn Dumont’s charming and moving memoir tells stories about life on the “Rez” (the Okanese First Nation reservation.) The author is a Plains Cree comedian and actress whose descriptions and humor pull you into to the world of her family from the very first lines about her parent’s 6,945th break-up and where they go in the aftermath. Check out these iconic books that almost didn’t get published.
The House on Mango Street
Get ready for captivating prose in Sandra Cisnero’s classic about life for a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago. Esperanza’s childhood unfolds in a series of vignettes that grapple with identity and heritage. Beautiful and evocative language keeps you spellbound along the journey that’s often lyrical as it expresses its heroine’s challenges and discoveries. Here are 12 more brilliant books you can read in one weekend.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
When nostalgia beckons, return to Narnia. C.S. Lewis knew how to capture a heart and keep it engaged until the very last page. Adults still love this classic children’s novel about a magical wardrobe and the enchanting world just beyond a throng of fur coats. Fauns, a white witch, talking wildlife, and a majestic lion await to inspire your soul all over again.
Author Amy Kaufman promises you an insider’s look at “America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure,” and this soapy expose offers smart analysis and reliable dish. It focuses on the behind-the-scenes details of ABC’s beloved and bemoaned reality franchise, The Bachelor, a show that promises true love—or does it? Devour this breezy read that offers the real deal on a highly-watchable show.
Big Little Lies
Follow a group of moms who seem to have it all in Liane Moriarty’s dramatic novel. This page-turner takes you into the underbelly of the so-called “good life.” The story ultimately focuses on the power of female friendships, as strong women band together to help each other out.
Get ready for Gothic and romantic goings-on set in a giant manse that has intrigue, scandal, and a little bit of lust in every nook and cranny. No heroine can really come of age and figure things out without a madwoman in the attic, a roguish boyfriend, a mean, estranged aunt, and a nice guy missionary who offers reliable, but boring love. What should Jane do? Read on as she sketches more pictures, figures it out, survives and lays her heart bare for you, dear reader! You may want to add this work of Bronte’s to the list of 10 romantic books you’ll want to read as a couple.
Fat Girl on a Plane
When you’re in the mood for YA delight, take a ride with Cookie, the aspiring fashion designer who dreams of styling people of all sizes. But on her way from Phoenix to an interview in NYC, she’s declared “too fat to fly.” Cookie has to figure out how to navigate love and career while living in a body that seems to be under attack by fashion industry standards and just about everyone else. This touching and funny novels alternates between Cookie’s perspectives as both “fat” and “skinny” as she figures out how to accept herself in a world set on tearing women down with impossible expectations. Kelly DeVos’ stellar debut is a relatable and moving story about following your dreams and learning to love yourself along the way.
Get ready for Diablo Cody’s fearless brand of story-telling in this addicting memoir about life as an unlikely stripper. Before Cody became the Academy-Awarding screenwriter of Juno, she was an aspiring novelist and ad copy pencil pusher who took a walk on the wild side. She chronicled her adventures in this funny and surprisingly relatable story about body image and exposure that’s sure to keep you turning pages and applauding.
Calling all crafters! Clara Parkes witty essays take the reader on a journey around the world. Yarn shops become locales for inspiring, heartwarming life lessons learned through creative living. Unwind and draw inspiration from the often funny and always riveting stories about a knitter’s life and travels.
Prepare yourself for the chilling intimacy of a disintegrating marriage in this “she said, he said” spine-tingler. Gillian Flynn’s suspenseful best-seller will keep you on the edge of your chaise lounge as you twist and turn reading this mystery about a wife who goes missing. Her cheating husband seems to take the fall in a glorious and unrivaled set-up. Femme fatales unite!
This memoir about drinking is honest, gripping, and all too relatable. It starts with an anonymous one night stand and takes you through the hassles and heartbreak of living with alcoholism and finally finding the strength to face it and heal. Sarah Hepola’s voice captures you from the beginning and keeps you rooting for her bravery and admiring the ways she pulls poignancy out of struggle.
Anything in Stephen King’s enormous catalog will entrance you, but when you open up The Stand you won’t be able to put it down. What happens when a mysterious illness kills almost everyone on earth? Who is left behind, why, and how are they going to forge ahead in the face of loss and devastation?
The love story at the center of this masterpiece is more about the English language itself than it is the tween who captures the heart of an unreliable narrator. The aging mansplainer Humbert Humbert acquires custody of his stepdaughter Dolores Haze and embarks with her on a road trip across postwar America.
Reading Lolita in Tehran
This illuminating memoir sparkles with the light and power of reading. Iranian teacher Azar Nafisi chronicles her experience meeting weekly with seven young women and discussing Western books that are forbidden in their country.
The Chronology of Water
On the surface, this seems like the memoir of a competitive swimmer. But for award-winning author Lidia Yuknavitch swimming becomes a metaphor with which to examine tragedy, sexuality, ambition, love, and the writing life. You’ll find yourself spellbound by Yuknavitch’s voice and its transformative and unflinching honesty.
A Separate Peace
This heartbreaking and mesmerizing classic follows the friendship of two prep school teens. Gene, the quiet, smart one, finds himself enamored with the popular and ever-charming golden boy, Phineas. Gene’s gets enraptured with his inspiring friend, but also entangled by a jealousy that leads to a tragic accident. Once this book hooks you back into devouring literature, be sure you’ve checked off every single one of the 20 books you really should have read by now.
Take a jaunt to the idyllic island of Mallorca with a couple celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. With family and friends in tow, the relaxing locale becomes the setting for rising dramas and rupturing secrets. You’ll get swept up in this family vacation you can’t forget and don’t want to put down.
Eleanor and Park
Young love was never so beautiful—or totally stressful! Rainbow Rowell captures the ache and magic of young love with a fever-rich passion that puts you right there. Set in 1986, Eleanor is a misfit with battles at home who finds herself drawn to comic-booking loving Park. School bus rides become the setting for an epic love story that will keep you turning pages and rooting for misfits.
Run for Something
Escape with a beach read that gives you the tools to tackle real life. Effortlessly readable and totally inspiring, this guide offers easy-to-follow action steps for changing your world. Amanda Litman’s “real talk” guide offers tangible ways to become the change you want to see in the world. Holding public office (or even becoming president!) isn’t some out-of-reach goal. You can do it with this fun guidebook that’s part civics lesson, part pep talk, and wholly encouraging.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning literary tour-de-force takes you on a world tour with Arthur Less. The hapless hero, an author about to turn 50, is recently jilted by his long-time boyfriend when he embarks on a series of travel destinations in search of adventure and avoidance. Andrew Sean Greer writes with wit and beauty in a tale that will move you as you chuckle along the way.
A Life’s Work
Motherhood, its tedium, and its ecstasies are captured provocatively in this memoir on what is it to be a mother. Novelist Rachel Cusk writes with page-turning poetry on experiences during pregnancy and early motherhood. She makes the subject fascinating and intense because she’s so unabashedly honest.
Dear Committee Members
Julie Schumacher makes bureaucracy side-splittingly hilarious in this novel composed solely of letters. Professor Jason Fitger unwittingly reveals his love affairs, passions, regrets, and obsessions in a series of recommendation letters, complaints, email entreaties, and written demands to a red tape void. He’s alarmingly funny and woefully stationed. Quiet desperation becomes a means for hilarious highs and lows in this amazing novel that you won’t be able to put down.
A Discovery of Witches
Deborah Harkness offers Harry Potter for grown-ups in her spellbinding novel about a scholar and witch descendant who finds an alchemical manuscript in the stacks of a library. This discovery unleashes a world of magic and fantastical creatures, including a dashing vampire.
You’ll adore the young heroine in this graphic novel about growing up when your Dad is a mortician and you live in the funeral home where he works. Alison Bechdel’s beloved memoir offers scandal, tragedy, and non-stop wit and charm as she navigates her own sexual identity and comes to terms with the one her Dad hid from her.
The Kiss Quotient
This delightfully moving novel is about dating when you have Asperger’s syndrome. The heroine Stella loves math and algorithms, but romance and the like baffles her. So she hires a male escort to show her the ropes of all things kissing and more. But their relationship seems destined to move beyond the transactional. Get ready for heady romance that warms your heart. If you like any of the books on our list of the best romance novels of all time, you’ll definitely find yourself falling for The Kiss Quotient.
Little Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng’s bestseller reads like a love story to the low-key suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio and its natives. Elena loves the placid sense of success the neighborhood provides, but when a mysterious single mom moves nearby, Elena and her family become drawn to their differences and their mysteries. Then conflict erupts for the whole community.
A is for Alibi
You might as well start at the beginning of the alphabet with the best-selling Kinsey Millhone mysteries. Sue Grafton masters the form with her beloved series about a hard-boiled detective whose sharp skills light the dark and grittier locales of sunny California. Get ready for wit, twists, and a multitude of surprises as the pages turn. If this book does it for you, you’ll probably also like these 10 true crime books sure to keep you up at night.
The God of Small Things
Come for the literary intrigue, stay for the absolutely dazzling writing. You can’t help but be pulled into the story of fraternal twins making sense of political upheaval and societal restrictions. This richly captivating novel is set in Ayemenem, India and spans alternating timelines and flashbacks. Arundhati Roy’s brilliant debut novel will make you laugh, weep and long for more. We certainly think it should have been included along with the other 11 best debut novels of the past 50 years.
This coming-of-age classic broke ground when it was first published in 1973. Read it to experience heroine Molly Bolt’s romantic adventures as she figures out what it means to live and love as a lesbian. The book celebrates being bold, proud (with literary flair to match) and embracing who you are at your core. If you like this one, here are 12 more sizzling hot romance reads for summer.
If you don’t want to re-read Jane Austen’s eternally lovable Pride and Prejudice for the millionth time, check out Curtis Sittenfeld’s contemporary retelling. You still get the Bennet sisters and Mr. Darcy, but in this round, everyone’s in modern American Manhattan and Cincinnati, working cool, high-powered jobs and appearing on reality TV. Eligible holds up. Austen fans will love it.
Hilarious and astute, Samantha Irby’s essay collection is all about the perils of modern life. Prepare for massive LOLs with doses of poignant honesty from this effortlessly brazen and comedic writer. You’ll feel like you’re listening to a friend give you the scoop on the most intimate parts of her life (dating, eating, dieting) and it’s all stuff you need to hear.
Go Tell it on the Mountain
This short, enthralling novel will take you on a literary journey tethered to reality. It’s a gorgeously written masterpiece focused on the family saga of a teenager growing up in 1930s Harlem. Semi-autobiographical and still relevant, James Baldwin’s first novel proves he was one of the greatest American writers and far ahead of his time. There’s a reason this book is one of the classics that were published amid controversy.
The Reapers are the Angels
Time for some YA Dystopia with a strong female protagonist and zombies! Open up Alden Bell’s gorgeous and moving novel about growing up in the apocalypse. Fifteen-year-old Temple has never known a world that wasn’t brutal. Follow her on a journey to find redemption and beauty in the midst of bizarre and deadly destruction. This lyrical and elegiac story will captivate you. Zombies can offer poetry too.
When you’re in the mood for fairy tales, dive into the Lunar Chronicles. You’ll love binge-reading this bestselling short story collection. Get ready for a redux of fairy tales that infuses the classics with science fiction action for a great genre remix filled with romance, heartbreak, and suspense.
Game of Thrones
Dive into Westeros and the epic struggles between the Starks and the Lannisters. George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series is legitimately addicting. The plots are filled with political backstabs, passionate uprisings, and armies of fantasy creatures. Choose a side and get taken for a dragon ride in this hard-to-put-down series.
The safest place to experience scares is with your toes nestled into the warm sand. Stephen King’s horror masterpiece takes you on a journey into a long-cursed town and the diabolical clown who lingers in the sewers and emerges unexpectedly. Get ready for fearsome fun and classic chills from the master of suspense.
All Summer Long
This quintessential beach read offers dazzling descriptions of life near the shore for long-married Olivia and Nick. The couple leaves Manhattan for life on Sullivans Island. Their new house needs epic and expensive remodeling and Nick doesn’t know they’re in financial straits. Olivia misses the bustle of the city, but can’t help being drawn into the island magic in this lulling novel about love and marriage during an eventful summer near the beach. If you haven’t gotten in your reading fill with this list, try out the 9 life-changing books everyone should read this year.