The National Post’s guide to summer reading for when you’re on a plane, at the beach or on the couch
Play, stay or vay — whatever ‘cation you have on deck this summer, indulge it with a book in-hand. We’ve stacked a list of solid reads for any occasion, whether you nurse a novel-a-day habit in winter or avoid the written word all year long. Tall tales, non-fiction and a dash of reference to prime you for pub trivia come fall, the National Post Summer Reading Guide is designed to match all manner of warm-weather activities you’ve got in store this season.
Get Away: The Best Airplane Books
Do away with fine-point fiction in flight, where accidental naps and loud neighbours risk turning your attention away from key details. First-person non-fiction demands less from your memory and analytical ability, but remains packed with digestible vignettes you can polish off between connections. Sometimes, in flight — just as in life — there’s a sweet reprieve to be found in being talked at for a while, allowing you to sit back and absorb at leisure, picking whatever salacious tidbits suit the mood.
One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter
By Scaachi Koul
Punchy and personal, the biggest risk in bringing Koul mile-high might be bugging the person next to you with laughing fits. Her style is light, but each of the Buzzfeed writer’s stories has a satisfying take-home message, too, making whatever pocket of time you can spare during travel worthwhile.
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
By Anthony Bourdain
Cried or cared or cast aside — however you reacted to culinary heavyweight Anthony Bourdain’s death last month, the beloved chef’s first book is a master class in personal memoir, bridging big-picture commentary with wry, biting anecdotes, as it all comes together in a seminal chef-d’oeuvre.
Chill Out: Best Beach Reads
Summer’s best-known book market is the beach read, so it’s no surprise a scan of bookstore shelves lately shows no shortage of brightly-coloured covers and half-harlequin scenes. But whether you’re reclining on sand or cedar dock, this genre’s scheme is the same: nab you quick, hold you tight and don’t let go till Labour Day. Two hook, line, sinker suggestions:
By Lisa Moore
Here’s how it’s going to go: wander inconspicuously to the Young Adult section of your favourite bookstore, and skip the synopsis of Flannery entirely, lest talk of teenage love potions turn you off out of hand. Moore’s first book for young folks proves no less captivating than the Newfoundland author’s grown-up Giller nominees.
Night Film: A Novel
By Marisha Pessl
A bit big for beach bags, but worth it nonetheless: Pessl’s second novel is a gripping psycho-thriller trip built for binging. Warning: you might want to consider making room in your cabin bed, too — you’ll need the company when things start going bump in the night.
Be Better, Or At Least Try: Best Self-Help Books
It’s tough to resist rolling your eyes at the self-help section in bookstores: big words, broad promises and Richard Branson grinning down at you from the top shelf’s bestseller list. The simple fact of self-help books is that, at very best, they’ll only help you get halfway to where you want to be. It’s a genre that leans heavily on the tall order of human change, and the advice you read is only as good as how you’re able to apply it.
So, here are a couple books that could make you better, maybe, or at the very least, encourage you to try.
What I Know For Sure
By Oprah Winfrey
In case your eyeballs hadn’t already plip-plopped out of your head and rolled halfway through the kitchen by now, yes, we’re recommending a book by Oprah. A first-name-only, modern-day effigy of sorts, sure, but you can’t doubt that the woman has lived. Besides, there’s something homey in the way she writes comforting, point-blank platitudes about life. It’s inspiring enough to prompt you to try making a hack of this living thing, too. Pick it up, put it down and impress friends by spouting the big O’s best at your next weekend BBQ.
Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me
By Stacey May Fowles
As much an ode to baseball as it is a declaration of the salve sport can offer, Fowles’ first essay collection is named for the weekly newsletter that proved her one of this generation’s best sports writers. Baseball Life Advice is a collection of stories about how, indeed, Fowles loves the game that saved her, a real-life account of overcoming what’s inside. Celebrating someone else’s personal triumphs can be a surprising way of learning more about yourself, too, a practical handbook for how one person did it, does it and plans to keep trying.
Box-tickers: Best Classics to Read or Re-Read
Feeling under-qualified without a lit degree under-belt, I’ve spent the last few years mining must-read lists trying to play catch-up. But passing the time test is hardly a testament to good writing itself — think of all the other things our world’s clung to despite better judgment (tanning beds and cigarettes, sorry folks).
So, here’s one classic and a modern could-be, both worth stealing away your summer afternoons.
By Richard Wright
There’s hardly a formula for the x-factors that can endure or endear a book with time, but I will say that Native Son ticks a lot off whatever unknowable boxes on the list that makes paper and ink into something far more: tense, raw writing; rich, resonant, immersive story-telling; and a humanity so deep and primitive that time’s passage doesn’t make a dent in its prescience at all.
Fall On Your Knees
By Anne-Marie MacDonald
I fear I’m unfairly maligning Anne-Marie MacDonald’s age in calling her first novel (published in 1996) a classic — “instant classic” being the kind of easy compliment reserved for boring back covers — but it’s true, and a helluva book regardless: a family saga unfolding to a story of secrets, survival and suck-you-in plot twists throughout.
Play Sports, Or Don’t: Best Sports Writing
If you can’t play sports, know them — or do both, and be a hit with teammates on the field and off. These books offer a little help in the form of bench stories, best tricks and the type of big worldly wisdom that makes good sports-writing great.
Beyond a Boundary
By C.L.R. James
Don’t walk, run to this iconic all-rounder by Afro-Trinidadian author-journalist-philosopher-world-changing-revolutionary C.L.R. James. It’s been called the best sports book of all time, but that isn’t quite true: Beyond a Boundary may well make a run at best autobiography, historical non-fiction and political textbook, too.
Basketball (and Other Things)
By Shea Serrano
Basketball isn’t my top spectator-sport of choice, but Shea Serrano’s third book proves too much fun to put down no matter your preference. Equal parts pithy primer on the sport’s oddest attributes and clever manual for making enemies at your local watering hole, Basketball (and Other Things) is a wild ride, doubly so if you happen to have lived through the glory days of ‘90s b-ball.
Make Food, Make Friends: Win Summer Via Stomach
Look, cooking isn’t (and shouldn’t) be for everyone, but if you’re gonna give it a go, summer’s probably as good a time to try as any time of year: fire up the grill to make good on warm weather, and take advantage of the garden bounty in season through September.
The Barbecue! Bible
By Steven Raichlen
If tossing an exclamation point mid-title didn’t tell you Raichlen likes to barbecue, 500+ pages of the enthusiastic culinary guru’s best grill tips might offer a hint. It’s not the breed of sexy, memoir-style cookbook today’s chefs are writing, but a hard look at classic outdoor cooking and open flame science designed to ease you gently from basics to best-in-pit. Bonus points if you can score a copy with the original 1998 cover in all of its blazing, early-computer-graphic glory.
By Deborah Madison
When Madison wrote her first produce-forward cookbook in 1987, words like “local” and “plant-powered” were found more frequently in communes than the celebrity kitchens they’ve gained favour in lately. The culinary teacher’s 11th cookbook is no fair-weather release. Vegetable Literacy is a rich and timeless bounty of accessible vegetable-centric recipes, plus a fresh produce family reunion of sorts: Madison’s neat nod to the botany behind our daily meals is broken down in chapters by taxonomic rank.
Get Going: Books for the Outdoors
If you can’t finagle a friend for your next weekend walk, grab an audiobook for good company instead. Rather stay inside entirely? No problem. We’ve got a fiction pick, too, that provides all of the indoor adventures you could ever need.
Canadianity: Tales from the True North Strong and Freezing
By Jeremy Taggart and Jonathan Torrens
Canadian podcast darlings Jeremy Taggart and Jonathan Torrens brought their beloved show to print last year with an eponymous book debut, Canadianity: Tales from the True North Strong and Freezing. But if it’s the pair’s deft, jaunty humour that hooks you, opt for their audiobook instead, and listen as Taggart and Torrens take you on a little cross-country trek recounting their favourite stops, stories and sightings from the road.
Grass Beyond the Mountains
By Richmond P. Hobson Jr.
Grass Beyond the Mountains, the first in Hobson’s hallowed western trilogy, is a gritty, gripping story of ranch life on the North American frontier. It’s got all the charming tenacity of classic adventure writing, just begging to be brought outside for full effect.