The season of AC-centric staycations, sweaty subway rides and—best for last—dreamy beach days is in full swing, and while we’ve definitely got you covered on things to wear, we figured you might also be looking for books to read. Novels, essays, poetry and a collection of illustrations all made it onto our list—check out some recs and go get lost in a new story.
If you’re in a passenger seat road tripping across the USA:
South and West by Joan Didion
This collection of pieces plucked from her early notebooks is, like everything Didion writes, vivid and thought provoking while still maintaining a journalistic kind of precision. Essays based in the southern U.S. and her native California range from a telling chat with a beauty salon owner to a meditation on her first walk across the Golden Gate Bridge (in bronze three-inch heels.)
If it’s sweltering on the subway and you wanna remember why you love New York in the first place:
Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara
Have you ever heard O’Hara read out loud? That alone will convince you to revisit his work or try it for the first time. These poems, many of them written during lunch breaks spent strolling NYC streets in the early ’60s, are perfect examples of his off-the-cuff yet profound style. And nope, you don’t have to be in New York to feel totally transported while reading them, but it’s a bonus.
If you’re about to leave for college (or just want to feel like a freshman again):
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
You won’t want to say good-bye to young protagonist Selin after you spend her first year at Harvard in the ’90s together, weathering a storm of cryptic emails-slash-love-letters, awkward tutoring sessions and the general malaise of being 18. Batuman chronicles it all with a quiet sense of humor but it’s still likely to make you laugh out loud.
If you like thoughtful cultural commentary between swims:
Feel Free by Zadie Smith
Much-loved literary writer Smith doesn’t disappoint in this wide-ranging collection of essays, which she hopes readers “feel free” to pick and choose among. Smith covers Bieber, Brexit, global warming, Facebook and more, so there’s something for everybody. We’re partial to her story of becoming a Joni Mitchell convert: “Her voice did nothing for me—until the day it undid me completely.”
If you have the summer blues and need a laugh:
Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley
Whether she’s guest starring on Gossip Girl, battling loud teenaged neighbors or trespassing with newfound hippie friends in Northern California, Crosley knows how to tell a story with humor and a healthy dose of humanity. (And if your comedic essay collection is praised by the likes of David Sedaris, you know you’re doing something right.)
If you’re anti typical beach reads (but will still be, y’know, on a beach):
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Really, bring Middlemarch to the beach. In fact, bring any really big, classic book that’s been looming over your head and commit. This one, in particular, is worth it—850 pages fly by when you’re hanging with characters as multidimensional as Eliot’s—and also you can finally say you’ve read it without being a big liar.
If you want something cute to flip through at your desk:
Simple Things by Hiller Goodspeed
Can’t actually get away this summer? Take a mini mental vacation and soak up Canadian artist Goodspeed’s sunny yet slightly sarcastic attitude by way of 28 childlike drawings. We dare you not to be delighted.
Hey, can we carry your books? Shop take-everywhere totes and more right here.