Whether you’re enjoying your single days or you’re finding time to read between housework and raising little ones, a well-read girl summer is something we’re all striving for.
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Summer reading isn’t just for kids anymore, and while a quick bodice-ripper definitely has its place in the pantheon of summer literature, there are fantastic books out there that are sure to inspire you to live your best female life, at whatever stage you may be. Here’s the quintessential summer reading list for feminine energy. No spoilers, promise.
1. The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver’s heroine, Taylor, is an adventurous woman who wants to escape her Kentucky town for bigger, better things. As she aimlessly drives west towards an uncertain future, Taylor suddenly becomes the unexpected guardian of a young child named Turtle. The novel expertly weaves together themes like adopted family and where and how we find a sense of belonging as Taylor discovers a future beyond her own dreams and expectations. It’s not only a well-crafted novel but also engrossing and bittersweet. Get a copy here.
2. The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires, by Grady Hendrix
Critics have called Hendrix’s novel “Fried Green Tomatoes meets Steel Magnolias meets Dracula,” but it’s really so much more than that. Not only is this book gripping and well-paced, but it also has the dark elements of a well-crafted thriller which will really get your pulse racing. Our protagonist is Patricia Campbell, a woman who once found purpose in her marriage to a doctor and raising her young children, but who has since found herself distanced from and dissatisfied with her husband and her kids as they grow older and more independent. Patricia’s feelings are sentiments many mothers and homemakers experience at one time or another, and her solace is found in her women’s book club, rounded out by her closest friends. Patricia soon finds escape – and danger – in an intriguing stranger who moves to town, but her interest in him will challenge everything she knows about herself as a woman, a wife, and a mother. Get a copy here.
3. Slouching Towards Bethlehem, by Joan Didion
When it comes to stirring, thought-provoking, and just all-around excellently written nonfiction, look no further than Joan Didion. In Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Didion documents her life in California during the 1960s and her confrontations with an evolving country as tensions come to a head with the counterculture movement of the time. Nonfiction can sometimes be difficult to wade through, but Didion’s observations are honest and compelling. This series of essays is sure to stir up sunny California vibes, so don your biggest sunglasses and a caftan and enjoy. Get a copy here.
4. The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy
Elaine Dundy is a master of comedic writing – what other novel could be described as one of Groucho Marx’s favorites? (Marx apparently said this book made him “laugh, scream, and guffaw” which is high praise coming from him.) Dundy’s heroine is the hedonistic, adventure-seeking Sally Jay Gorce, an American in Paris and an amateur actress. Her lengthy list of romantic entanglements repeatedly gets her into hilarious scrapes with actors and European aristocrats alike, and though the novel isn’t really plot-centric, it’s the equivalent of a delicious glass of champagne: sweet, bubbly, and intoxicating. Get a copy here.
5. Writers & Lovers, by Lily King
For a crushingly bittersweet read, pick up this gem. Casey is plodding through her early thirties as an unpublished, unmotivated writer and an unappreciated waitress. She’s also healing from the recent death of her mother – a grief which King describes with expert and heartbreaking ease – and the abrupt conclusion of her relationship with someone she was deeply in love with. Writers & Lovers is a beautiful and often gut-wrenching exploration of not only the human experience, but the female experience, and King’s prose will lure you in deeper and deeper until the last word. Get a copy here.
6. Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, by Lana Del Rey
This is ethereal songstress Lana Del Rey’s first collection of poems, and if you’re looking for the literary equivalent of the smell of pavement after a rainstorm or napping in a field of wildflowers, this is it. Del Rey dedicates her collection to “whomever’s worn, warm afternoon hands come upon these pages,” and thus begins a swoon-inducing read tangibly reminiscent of her discography. You don’t have to like poetry or even Lana herself to enjoy this collection, just purposeful diction and visceral imagery. The collection also includes an interesting mix of Del Rey’s original manuscript pages and photography, making it the perfect addition to your poetry collection or coffee table. Get a copy here.
7. Austenland, by Shannon Hale
If you’ve enjoyed one or even all of Jane Austen’s masterpieces, you’re absolutely guaranteed to enjoy this hilarious take on one of literature’s most famous tropes: enemies to lovers. Jane Hayes, a thirty-something singleton with a laundry list of failed relationships, spends her life savings on an immersive Jane Austen vacation, complete with carriages, petticoats, and brooding, handsome men. Hale’s novel is ideal for the beach or a weekend getaway, and this quick read is the perfect combination of what happens when the romanticism of Austen’s time meets the humor of the modern world. Get a copy here.
8. The Idiot, by Elif Batuman
Even overachievers need to enjoy summertime, and while this novel is dense and sometimes complex to work through, it’s the perfect intellectual read. The novel’s slow-burn plot centers around Selin and her freshman year at an Ivy League university. Selin’s school year is spent questioning her identity and what her future looks like as she forms friendships and crushes on her pen pal, later set against the backdrop of a picturesque Hungarian countryside. While Batuman’s prose definitely isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, it’s thought-provoking, original, and very dry. You’ve never read anything like it, guaranteed. Get a copy here.
9. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
Dodie Smith is an English writer most famous for being the creative genius behind The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Before she created Anita, Roger, Cruella, Perdie, and Pongo, Smith moved to America with her husband during World War II, as they were both conscientious objectors. Smith was homesick for her homeland, and out of that nostalgia came I Capture the Castle, the coming-of-age tale of Cassandra Mortmain. Cassandra is an awkward, observant teenager from an eccentric family struggling with her feelings over her family’s imminent descent into poverty, a childhood friend’s romantic overtures towards her, and her infatuation with her sister’s fiancé, all of which she documents in a journal. Cassandra’s teenage heartaches might remind you of your own, but set against the idyllic backdrop of an English pre-war countryside, they’re infinitely sweeter. (After you’ve enjoyed the novel, enjoy the 2003 film adaptation which, unlike many movies based on books, is equally fantastic.) Get a copy here.
No matter the vibe you’re going for this summer – charming, flirty, sexy, intellectual, dark, or contemplative – there’s sure to be one or more of those aesthetics on this list. Happy reading!
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