What is a summer read when you should be reading all the time? Is it the slow death of neurons cover to cover, is it mindless drama, simple language, books about summer in summer, surface reads that keep your eyes dry and don’t suck you in like an undertow? If the lethargic story is your cup of fun in the sun then this list isn’t for you. Here’s how to not go brain dead this summer against the masses:
1) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Listen, the ending sucks. And it only sucks because this is a snapshot of life, and so it’s a continuation, a fork in the road leaving you feeling hungry, when we are so accustomed to completion. If this book was a blind date, you two would meet at a no-name coffee shop, order drinks with soy milk, turn to one another laughing and coyly say, “wow,we both just ordered soy, how cliche.” Conversation would proceed in the likes of making life sound like one big, intricate puzzle and you’re so much closer than everyone else to figuring out a pattern. Afterwards you would go back to an overpriced flat and talk about inheritance money and that one time your parents got divorced, blaming your childhood for your adult cynicism. Then, already feeling naked on the inside, you would strip off your clothes – layer upon layer of thrift and second hand skin. You may notice a freckle, one you never had before and for a moment feel that it was the entire planet resting on your skin, or maybe just cancer, over-thinking everything of course. So the sun lowers and so do standards, until one is left dreaming with eyes open while the other sleeps. Then in the morning, he is gone, and your brain is left to carry the burden of all the memories he shared. It’s a book that pretends to know you, pretends to relate – blowing words with well wishes in your direction, and waiting to be inhaled. It’s the kind of book whose characters are easy to imagine, as they tell you their name and you feel like, “wow I totally agree, the world is going to shit with this whole social media thing.” But then when you turn to Facebook after it’s all over to look up this man, his brother, his friends- he isn’t there, their mystery lingers, and you actually begin to wonder if they even existed and if they ever knew you at all. It’s the kind of book that invites you in just to talk about its own problems.
2) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Don’t be an idiot – read Lolita. Let’s face it, it’s a classic worth trying and not just for the sake of bragging, like “Oh yes, I read the Gatsby before the movie.” No. Nabokov is an original gangster and deserves your love posthumous. Nabokov’s “initial shiver of inspiration” for Lolita “was prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage.” This being his inspiration almost has nothing at all to do with the outer layer of the book, the words smooth like skin and calm waters. But the meaning, more so like the skeleton, the pulse, the blood and the veins, the irritation below the surface like a sliver – that is the monkey behind bars, everything you find when you dig a little deeper. He notes in multiple interviews that this book was the hardest to write, written in English and then translated to Russia- it is unlike any prose I have ever encountered and may ever encounter again.
3) Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson
Sometimes a good compilation of articles is a nice way to spend an afternoon; the book being a bunch of different stories in one, it’s easy to constantly feel that sense of completion. His tales are true, and his language is honest. If you ever want to know the truth about the people of this planet, ask the locals, or read the works of a journalist without a word count and deadline, set on adventure and bored out of their mind.
4) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
I get it Mindy, you’re funny and now you’re rich too. For the rest of us here in Peasant Villa, your book has nothing to do with social dynamics, the pressure to fit in, the world as we know it, or anything substantial for that matter. Besides some mild anecdotes of your struggle to succeed and some half-assessed attempt at making things seem worse than they actually are – I’ll stick to family dinners next time I want to cringe. Mindy, Mindy, Mindy…if you are going to be normal at least don’t write a book about it. I’ll give you this, it’s unfair that Snooki can do it, but there is no hope for her. Stick to television and your musings at The Office, because this book felt a little like one of those “summer reads” we’re trying to avoid. It’s light, it’s “fun” and it’s the kind of book you won’t miss if you forget it at the beach.
5) 11/22/63 and Under the Dome by Stephen King
I pledge allegiance to the King. Two monstrous books from the man of monsters himself. Advanced reads not in the sense of overly-compelling language, but the sheer endurance it takes to tackle these and remain trapped in his world for so long, feels a little bit like crawling out from days of darkness. The only real effort these books take is to carry them around. Upon finishing, I felt odd in the sense that I had come to know each environment and its inhabitants so well that turning the last page was like suddenly being locked out of the house. 11/22/63 takes on time travel, and dances with the idea of the butterfly effect, and in this case questioning the assassination of JFK. In this “what if” world, he has enough ability to keep it real. Also, not knowing King as a weaver in the web of love, the story takes an unexpected turn when the main character becomes tangled up with hope in his heart, and not only horrors. With books this large, the amount of information taken in veers it away from beach-read material, as you may find yourself saying no to outings to stay in and indulge in this new realm, and takes you back in time, every time you open it up. As for “Under the Dome,” besides a middle bit that is a little dry, the concept is incredible, the characters are realistic and detailed, the fear is believable and the ending is a twist that won’t soon leave you when the sun has. Regardless of it’s girth – I say go for it. Big books make for better brains.
6) The Book of Negros by Lawrence Hill
You think you’ve got it bad? Listen white person, 99 problems but slavery ain’t one. It’s time to get your learn on this summer with a little Semi-Fictional History 101, and the Book of Negros. This story will blow your privileged little mind, and make your heart grow for the human spirit. The main character, Aminata Diallo is sure to become a recognized name, and the incredible story of her bravery will carry on in the hearts and minds of many. I was warned that this book would make me cry, but instead it made me angry, as I imagined the confinement of the slave ships, the helplessness of uncertainty, life at the hands of others, and people being traded like cattle. There is a sense of voicelessness that makes you want to scream, until one woman’s strength allows for solitude amongst the chaos. Life hits her down, and she gets back up again, and again, and again. From West Africa, to South Carolina, Manhattan, Nova Scotia, and finally London, England, Diallo walks and carries with her the stories of her village, the same way you will carry her story with you for many moons.
7) Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford
“Who is Kelly Oxford?” is not a question that is unfamiliar to this Twitter superstar. Read this book and you’ll realize that above all else she is honest, humble, hilarious and spent most of her teenage years high. Twitter was made for Kelly, who used it as a platform for her wit and keen sense of pop culture that gave her the what’s what on what the people want. Now she has expanded beyond those 140 characters with a full blown account of her life,without bragging about it or trying too hard (take notes Mindy). From her childhood escapades, shameless confessions of a high-a-holic, and then bursting onto the scene of motherhood, she is not afraid to let the world know who she is, and that she had sex on the first date and still turned out okay. Her life is depicted with an easy sense of humor and nonchalance that it is nearly impossible to hate her. So by the time she meets David Copperfield – all done without having to make her clothes disappear, you are kinda just rooting for this real life character to keep being awesome. You may also secretly wish you were one of her three children, in the same way you might picture your life with Angelina and Brad, scoffing at those terrible times before adoption. The other day my best friend told me that she had started working out again after a few too many months of strictly fake ‘n’ bake and cheesecake. This as we know ladies, means “I’m going to get hot again in case you want to join,” but only now do I realize that such confirmation is a friendship code, as explained by Kelly (it’s like she knows me, ya know? She knows all of us).
This summer, look like less of a blob and more like a brainy babe by reading , because laughing out loud to yourself and soaking in the sun with a book in hand, is better than just laying there like a lobster waiting to get shit on. So get out there and catch some brain waves, bro!
Nicolle Hodges is a freelancer for VancityBuzz
Check her out on twitter (@nikhodges) and Instagram: nicolledoublel