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The Only Reading List You Need for Summer 2023

This summer, whether you’re looking forward to an exciting vacation or a relaxing staycation, the right book (or let’s be real: books (because it’s impossible to read just one)) will transport you to different worlds and ignite your imagination, things a year-weary writer sorely needs. This reading list is the only one you will need for Summer 2023 to learn, relax, and be transported.

Contributing author: Karen Quevillon, writing coach, editor, and mentor, One Lit Place and author of The Parasol Flower

If you’re on the hunt for smart, meaningful, and exciting books to add to your summer reading list, look no further: this diverse reading list has something for all tastes and interests, ensuring you have a fantastic summer reading experience and feel more connected to yourself- as a writer and as a person- in no time.

When I wrote my novel, The Parasol Flower, I explored many of the themes here, so this list comes out of a personal interest in the outdoors, romance, adventure, and pursuit of knowledge.

I hope you enjoy reading these books as much as I have!

~ Karen

headshot of writing coach and editor for One Lit Place

The Great Outdoors

In the summer, it’s a luxury to start with reading about the great outdoors. There are many exciting options for books about the outdoors that range from the dramatic:

to meditations on the outdoors in one’s personal home garden:

among other nature memoirs

rowboat on still lake surrounded by trees

Books by Barbara Kingsolver are excellent to read while you’re camping because her writing has the feeling of an easy escape, even as it heightens an awareness of the natural world.

Try Unsheltered, an excellent work, or her most famous book, The Poisonwood Bible. For fans of non-fiction adventure books, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a fantastic record of her family’s experiment in homesteading. 

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Another work of literary nonfiction that beautifully captures the essence of nature is this Pulitzer-Prize winning book. Through rich, introspective prose, Dillard takes readers on a journey of observation and reflection, exploring the beauty and mystery of nature.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens 

This stunning novel immerses you in the enchanting marshlands of North Carolina as you follow Kya Clark, a young girl who grows up in the wild and is forced to face the challenges of survival, love, and isolation.

The Overstory by Richard Powers 

As another must-read, this epic novel weaves together the stories of various characters whose lives are intertwined with trees, offering a profound exploration of humanity’s connection to nature and the power of ecological awareness.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

This memoir is an exciting true story of self-discovery and adventure in the great outdoors. With deep insight and breathtaking scenery, this memoir will inspire you to embrace the wild in yourself and embark on your own personal journey, whatever that may be.

cloudy lake with canoe and trees
Lake near Walden Pond, Concord, Massachusetts

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Similarly reflective, if perhaps more stationary than Strayed’s 1,100-mile journey, is this classic master work from 1854.

From his small cabin at Walden Pond, Massachusetts, Thoreau writes about living with intention and purpose as part of the natural world, and explores the importance of simplicity, the pursuit of meaningful work, and the value of solitude. Reading this book is like waking at dawn; it is quiet and removes itself from the bustle of daily life to give the reader a feeling of unity and peace with nature.

(You can read the full e-book HERE courtesy of Project Gutenberg).

Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden by Camille T. Dungy

This new beautiful nonfiction work features Dungy’s life as a poet, activist, mother, sister, historian, and gardener.

In a feature article on Dungy in the May/June 2023 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Renée H. Shea writes:

The final line of Lucille Clifton’s poem “Mulberry Fields”—“bloom how you must i say”— serves as a fitting epigraph to the work of a woman who is a ‘trustworthy steward’ of the literary and cultural landscape.

bike resting on iron staircase in Paris courtyard

Romance in an Urban Setting

Aah, l’amour; these books will keep you in the mood for romance and discovering new places in the world, and in yourself.

Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton 

If you’re yearning for a taste of sophistication and romance in an idyllic setting, this novel is a perfect choice. Set in glittering 1920s Europe, this novel follows the journey of a newlywed couple as they navigate the complexities of love and happiness. Wharton’s elegant prose and insightful observations of human nature make this an immersive read.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

If you’re in the mood for something lighter, frothier, and sweeter, this  heartwarming tale set in a French village will leave you craving chocolate (and wearing a big smile).

*Bonus: the movie and the ballet are a treat as well!

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

With an introduction from Mindy Kaling in this first book of her imprint, Mindy’s Book Studio, Dev, who is also the author of The Vibrant Years, takes us on a journey to follow a young woman named Mili on the bustling streets of Mumbai, India as she strives to break free from a marriage arranged in her childhood.

(Not to worry; the passion and romance come in soon enough!)

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

In this classic, four women find solace and unexpected love in the Italian Riviera. If you’re looking to be transported, Von Arnim’s vivid descriptions of this beautiful locale and exploration of personal transformation make this novel the ideal escape.

person holding stack of books

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Take in another beautiful view of Italy in this memoir, in which Mayes recounts her journey of renovating an abandoned villa in Tuscany and falling in love with the Italian countryside. With its lush imagery and evocative storytelling, this story is a true celebration of love, culture, and the joy of embracing new beginnings.

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See 

This novel explores the enduring friendship and complicated relationships of female divers on the Korean island of Jeju beginning in the 1930s through modern day. Its evocative storytelling and vivid portrayal of the island’s beauty immerses readers in a world of love, resilience, and the power of female bonds.

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

This decade-long love story follows the lives of Lucy and Gabe as they navigate their careers, relationships, and the lingering question of “what if.” Set against the backdrop of New York City, The Light We Lost explores the complexities of love and the choices we make.

crashing ocean wave

Thrills and Adventure

A list of the only summer reading you need would be incomplete without a mention of the Thai beach of The Beach by Alex Garland. (Talk about an on-the-nose beach read!)

Take note though: Garland’s cult classic from the 1960s is not to be confused with Nevil Shute’s 1957 On the Beach, also a fantastic book, but premised on an apocalyptic nuclear holocaust scenario set in Australia.  

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Inching slightly closer in time to today, this novel takes readers on a transformative journey across the deserts of Egypt and Spain. Its mystical elements and profound insights about following your dreams make the novel an inspiring and timeless adventure.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In this critically acclaimed novel, we follow Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman who leaves her homeland to pursue her education in America. As Ifemelu navigates the complexities of race, identity, and love, we’re carried along on a thought-provoking exploration of the immigrant experience, self-discovery, and pursuit of dreams. 

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This Booker Prize-winning novel set in the lush backwaters of Kerala, India, is a captivating tale of love, loss, and forbidden relationships. Like with all of Roy’s work, we are immersed in her fictional world, and this one of secrets, societal constraints, and the consequences of breaking free is an unbelievable adventure that will transport you while leaving a lasting mark on your memory.

For when you finish these books, here are some more great adventure books to check out!

Perfecting Your Parenting (or at least giving it a try!)

Summer also means spending more time with our children, and it’s an excellent opportunity to explore books that help us become (or at least try to become) better parents.

Just Don’t Be an A**hole by Kara Kinney Cartwright 

This parenting book provides a humorous and insightful read designed for those of us raising teenage boys. This book offers practical advice and strategies for helping our sons navigate the challenges of adolescence to become good men.

The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

This work provides a scientific perspective on child development and offers strategies to help parents understand and nurture their children’s emotional and intellectual growth. With its practical tips and accessible language, this book empowers parents to create a harmonious and supportive environment for their kids.

Woke Parenting: Raising Intersectional Feminist, Empathic, Engaged, and Generally Non-Sh*tty Kids While Still Having a Life by Dr. Faith G. Harper and Bonnie Scott, MS, MA, LPC

The authors, who are both therapists and parents, take from their own experiences to guide other parents in raising politically active families with a healthy diverse mindset. The book gives parents the tools to teach their kids to be change-makers and to find joy and stability in the world they face as feminist, anti-racist, gender-inclusive, and self-compassionate people. 

Launch Your Kid, How to Promote Your Child’s Academic and Personal Success (without being a helicopter parent) by Jane Kristoffy, MEd. 

In this practical book for parents of teens, Kristoffy advises parents on how to get your kids through high school without you (or them!) getting overwhelmed and gives great suggestions for help them sail into their young adult academic lives- and beyond.

Jane spoke to us about her experience writing the book, which if you’re working on a business or self-development book yourself, you may find interesting (and useful!). Check out, “The Best Investment: A Business Owner on Writing Her First Business Book.”

cross section of human brain in black and white

In Pursuit of Knowledge

Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock, by Jenny Odell

You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith

(In addition to her nonfiction, Smith’s poem, “Good Bones” is a particularly haunting work. Read it when you can give yourself an extra minute to process it afterwards *Trust: it’s a minute well spent). 

The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, by Naomi Klein

These eye-opening books delve into the realms of research and journalism, providing critical insights into our modern world. Klein’s writing is clear and smart and will enhance your understanding of media influence and the impact of corporate culture. Whether you missed her books when they were first released or want to revisit these influential works, now is the perfect time to expand your knowledge and boost your media savvy.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari 

This book takes readers on a thought-provoking journey through the history of Homo sapiens, exploring how our species has evolved and shaped the world. From the Cognitive Revolution to the Agricultural Revolution and beyond, Harari challenges conventional wisdom and prompts readers to reflect on the nature of humanity and our place in the universe.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

This work of narrative nonfiction tells the remarkable story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cells, taken without her consent, became one of the most important tools in medical research. Skloot delves into the ethical and moral implications surrounding Lacks’ cells, known as HeLa cells, and raises questions about race, medical ethics, and scientific progress, making this work a gripping and necessary exploration of the intersection of race, medicine, and ethics.

Looking for more great nonfiction? (You’re welcome!)

vintage fan with book

Writing Craft & Creativity

If you plan to use your summer reading  to deepen your relationship to yourself as a writer, these recent releases will help you live your most creative life, write with passion and drive, and craft the kind of work that will change others.

Add these two recently released books to your own list of venerable and insightful books on writing and creativity (check out our comprehensive list of books on writing craft HERE) to enhance your inner creative magic and ignite new fire in your writing over the warm months.

As you embark on your summer reading journey and curate your collection of books new and classic, remember that the books you choose have the power to transport you to different places, evoke a range of emotions, and teach you about yourself and the world. 

Whether you’re seeking an escape, an intellectual and emotional adventure, or to explore new perspectives, these hot picks together are the only summer reading list you’ll need for 2023 to keep you engaged and entertained throughout the sunny season. 

And what a summer of reading it will be!

Karen Quevillon is an academic-turned-writer/editor whose debut novel, The Parasol Flower, is a romp through the Victorian-era jungles of Malaysia. An art history mystery that is also a careful portrait of class, race, and gender relations, the book won the Hamilton Literary Award for Fiction in 2021.

Karen is one of our excellent fiction, nonfiction, and academic writing coaches and editors; you can see her full bio HERE.

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