Summer reading to improve your life

An occasional dollop of life improvement can be tasty in the summer — but eventually we just have to live life! These are books that could be labeled as “self-help” in the most positive sense of the phrase. Below are my suggestions for great summer reading for a better life, the fourth of my four favorite types of summer reading. I have found both of these books hugely useful to visit to over the years.

A Conversation with Fear by Mermer Blakeslee helps me get up my courage to downhill ski in the winter and tackle scary activities throughout the year. The book also give me the courage to sometimes say that I’m not going to do some activities. My friend Vanessa suggested this book, and I highly recommend it to people like me who aren’t adrenaline junkies but also want to push ourselves to do some scary-feeling things.
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The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace by Jack Kornfield is a lovely little book, full of wise, thoughtful, and gentle words from all over the world. My mother gave me this book, and I return to it often. A short reading often helps me take a deep breath and face life with a full and open heart.
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You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!

Summer reading for work

These books are good for us and help balance the richness of other summer reading. My learning for work books may not match yours, but they’re both books that you may find intriguing! Below are my suggestions for great summer reading for work, the third of my four favorite types of summer reading.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande is an excellent book for thinking about the role and importance of checklists. I love making lists, and I love crossing things off a list. But I hadn’t thought much about the different kinds of lists (or the history of lists) until I read this book. Gawande uses fascinating real-life stories to help illuminate and clarify the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of lists, as well as how their usage has evolved. I highly recommend this book to anyone who uses lists, particularly for recurring activities. And it’s fun to read too!
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Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott makes me laugh and helps me be a better writer! I have read this book straight through a couple of times, and I also like to read individual chapters. Lamott provides specific, concrete advice with wonderful stories about writing. It’s great for writers (professional and otherwise), but also just an interesting and funny book if you are interested in the craft of writing.
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You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!

Dense, interesting summer reading suggestions

Ahh, summer: full of big, open stretches of time to read. I love having hours to dig into a big, sprawling novel with intricate, gorgeous language. Below are my suggestions for  interesting fiction books, the second of my four favorite types of summer reading.

These are dense, engaging books that we feel like we need time and mental space to properly read and absorb.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is full of political machinations, magic posturing, and competing visions of the world. I loved it. The writing is reminiscent of a dense nineteenth century novel, full of ludicrous names, very specific details, and  footnotes. Heavy enough to hurt if you drop it on yourself, I recommend reading this book with a cup of tea overlooking a mountain forest.
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Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore follows a Shakespearean-esque gender-bending adventure of passion (for art and love), injustice, and miscommunication set in pre-revolutionary war Boston. The writing is dense and lovely, and requires attention when reading. There is explicit sex, so consider yourself warned. You can read my Goodreads review here.
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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón freaked me out. In a wonderful, horrible, creepy, full of dread kind of way. Similar to the Master and Margarita, nothing to overtly horribly happens in most of the book, but I was far happier to read this book in bright sunlight. Aside from that, the book is a wonderful glimpse into Barcelona, Spain in the first half of the twentieth century. Read it.
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You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!

Summer reading for escape and entertainment

We’re entering the season of summer trips, hopefully with lots of lazy, unscheduled time. It’s when we seek out summer reading lists to find new reading suggestions and old favorites. Below are two fabulous book series for escape reading, my first of four favorite types summer reading.

We forget where we are when we read these books, staying up too late and gobbling up the story.

The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde: this delicious comedy series is full of absurd situations with enjoyable characters. Thursday Next lives in a world where books are very real and their storylines must be protected. The first book, The Eyre Affair, was published in 2003 with the latest book, The Woman Who Died a Lot, in 2012. They are all great fun!
Buy Eyre Affair Thursday Next Book 1 from Powell’s Book Store
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The 44 Scotland Street Series by Alexander McCall Smith: an entertaining group of residents live at 44 Scotland Street trying to make their way through the trials and tribulations of regular life. I love gentleness and affection that McCall Smith has for all his characters and the delightful web of friendships. The first book in this series is titled (shockingly) 44 Scotland Street, and was published in 2005, and the tenth book, The Revolving Door of Life, was published in 2016. They are all quick, delightful reads and I have particular affection for Bertie.
Buy 44 Scotland Street from Powell’s Book Store
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You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!

Summer reading: what makes a good beach read?

Reading at the beach. Credit: Minh Nguyen

Reading at the beach. Credit: Minh Nguyen

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about reading during the summer (and on vacation). For many of us, the summer is an opportunity to unwind and catch up on our reading. If I’m actually at the beach, I love reading a book and being able to look up over the edge of the book (or e-reader) and see the ocean waves. But what makes a good summer read? I have several kinds of summer reads that I adore, and certainly let me know if you have additional thoughts.

For me, the most traditional summer read is an escape. Not so much that the book has to be very simple or completely different from my regular life, but that I am transported somewhere while reading the book. I love a book that causes me to forget where I am or what I am worrying about these days. These are often fantasy or adventure novels. I have two book series I particularly enjoy for escapist summer reading.

I also love an interesting book that I don’t think I’ll have time or mental energy to read at other times of the year. I know this is bit of an illusion that I only have time during the summer, although for books that take a substantial amount of time to read, it is nice to not lose the thread of the book. For me, these summer reads are very intricate novels or lengthy history books. I love these three dense, interesting fiction books.

Summer reading can be related to work — but only if it’s something I’m excited to read. If it’s been assigned or feels like an obligation, I end up carting the book around with me and not reading it. Maybe I will absorb the information through my fingers? But I do like a chance to step back from my day-to-day labors and think more broadly about the work I am doing. I usually only have no more than one of these books in me each summer.

In a similar vein, my summer reading can also include a self-help book. This book could be a more philosophical reflection on our world or full of practical strategies or techniques for surviving life. A summer vacation can be a great time to step back and take stock of how I’m living life, as well as an opportunity to change habits and behaviors.

And of course, all of these things could apply to reading year round, if I can make the time!

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