Summer Reading ListEvery year, to celebrate Independence Day in the U.S. and Canada Day in, well, Canada, I put together a summer reading list.

This year has been dismal, at best.

I’m only eight books in for the year, which is about…oh…about 19 books short of my norm.

Since March, it has been impossible for me to focus on a book. For the first time in my entire life.

Apparently, there is a reason for it—and it’s a real thing, but it doesn’t make me feel very good to know I’m not alone.

About six weeks ago, I decided to do something about it and told myself to read just one chapter every night.

So I’ve been doing that. Some nights are easier than others. Some nights (like right now) are a complete and total drag.

But my Kindle app shows I have read at least one chapter every night for the past 58 nights.

Because this year has been terrible, I thought I’d do this a little bit differently.

I’ll list the eight books I’ve read this year—and give you a thumbs up or a thumbs down. And then I’ll choose the top three books from all of our previous summer reading lists.

Here we go!

The 2020 Summer Reading List

  1. Big Lies In a Small Town. I just finished this book and it is, hands down, my favorite of the year. This is a story told from the perspective of two women who are separated by 80 years and connected by one person—Jesse Jameson Williams. If every book were written this well, I wouldn’t be in such a funk. If you read only one book this year, make it this one.
  2. The Guest List. If you are a fan of Agatha Christie, you will love this book. A good “who dun it?”, it’s set on an island in Ireland during a bridal party. In normal times, I likely would have devoured this one in two days.
  3. Writers & Lovers. This is a story of a young woman who can’t find her way, falls in love with two men, and has to decide between stability and lust. Meh.
  4. A Good Marriage. A woman is killed and her husband is arrested, but he insists he’s innocent. To prove it, he hires his buddy from law school to defend him. But he might have something on her that makes the story not one you might suspect. I’d give it a six out of ten.
  5. Camino Winds. I am not going to apologize for this one. John Grisham is my guilty pleasure. And, if you like him and you read Camino Islands, this is a great, mindless follow-up.
  6. Recursion. I read this before The Corona hit and I was obsessed. It’s not my normal book, but I loved, loved, loved the future look at what humankind could become. If you read only two books this year, read this after Big Lies In a Small Town.
  7. The Guardians. Uh. See John Grisham note above. I have been in SUCH a funk that I thought he could deliver me out of it. He didn’t, but he put forth a great effort.
  8. Magic Hour. This one is super old (published in 2006) and I love everything Kristin Hannah writes–including this one. In fact, it might be in my top three favorites of hers. I read this one before The Corona. I had focus and motivation back then.

The 2019 Summer Reading List

  1. Rules of Magic. Alice Hoffman delivers “fairy-tale promise with real-life struggle” (The New York Times Book Review) in a story how the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is “irresistible…the kind of book you race through, then pause at the last forty pages, savoring your final moments with the characters”
  2. The Age of Light. The Age of Light tells the true story of Vogue model turned renowned photographer Lee Miller, and her search to forge a new identity as an artist after a life spent as a muse. “I’d rather take a photograph than be one,” she declares after she arrives in Paris in 1929, where she soon catches the eye of the famous Surrealist Man Ray. Though he wants to use her only as a model, Lee convinces him to take her on as his assistant and teach her everything he knows. As they work together in the darkroom, their personal and professional lives become intimately entwined, changing the course of Lee’s life forever.
  3. Where the Crawdads Sing. I started this one and didn’t like it. My mom convinced me to give it another try and I am SO GLAD I did! It’s one of my favorite books of all time. It still haunts me.

The 2018 Summer Reading List

This year was a year of “best ofs” so I have more than three listed…because it just isn’t fair to choose only three.

  1. A Little Life. We’ve joked that we want this book to have a “choose your own adventure” type of ending. Want it to go this way? Turn to page 867. Want it to go this way instead? Turn to page 954. It’s not a small book, but it is worth every ounce of time you will spend reading it. My mom described it as a family you didn’t know you had. The characters will stay with you for a very long time. They’re still with me.
  2. The Sun Does Shine. Based on what is happening in our country right now, this and Just Mercy are must reads. Netflix also has released Justy Mercy for free. watch it. Absorb it. Think about it. And then consider how you can make change.
  3. Educated. This a memoir about a woman who grew up in a Mormon household in Idaho. She didn’t go to school. In fact, their “home schooling” was working the land. To escape the abuse of her father, she teaches herself what she needs to know to pass the ACT…and she goes to college. But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns when she gets there. She’s very, very poor, has no social skills, and doesn’t know how the world works. It’s very good.
  4. Calling Me Home. This is another book that will stick with you. I’m still angry at one of the characters for the decisions she made early in her life. It’s a story of racism and greed and wealth in a time where all human beings didn’t have the same rights. This is another one that will stick with you for a very long time.
  5. The Secret History. This is written by the author of The Goldfinch, which I loved, loved, loved. And I liked this more. It’s the story of friends in college who do unspeakable things, and cover for one another. And then turn on one another. Like The Goldfinch, the writing is superb and you will not be able to put it down.

The 2017 Summer Reading List

  1. Hidden Figures. Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. If you haven’t seen the movie (or even if you have), this is a great substitute. Talk about girl power and feminism at its roots. You’ll love it.
  2. The Thirteenth Tale. The enigmatic Vida Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself—all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she, at last, wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. This one sat on my nightstand for a very long time and I’m very happy I picked it up.
  3. My Name is Lucy Barton. Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood seems to reconnect them. But you also get her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, and her love for her two daughters. It’s a really fast, enjoyable read.

The 2016 Summer Reading List

  1. The Girl on the Train. When my mother-in-law suggested I read this, she said, “I couldn’t put it down. I missed my bedtime!” I had the same reaction. I read it in a day (and missed my bedtime). It’s a story of a woman who rides the same train every day and makes up stories about the people she sees in their homes from the train stops. And then she meets one of the couples in real life and it all unravels. It is a bit like a Hitchcock thriller.
  2. Still Alice. I do not recommend this book for anyone who is affected by Alzheimer’s. It’s an incredible story about a woman who has early onset Alzheimer’s (at 50) and what she has to go through as she begins to forget things and then completely lose her present self. We see and hear stories of what it’s like for the family, but rarely what it’s like for the person with the disease. I also saw the movie this past weekend and it was good…though not as good as the book.
  3. The Nightingale. This was slow to get into, but I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s the story of the women who lost their husbands and sons to the concentration camps in Nazi France. I was finishing it on a flight home last week and I cried and cried and cried. I had to put it down because I was crying so hard on a plane and finished it in the middle of the night at home. The jump between present day and the 1940s is a little jarring at first, mostly because you read half the book before she comes back to today, but it soon becomes apparent as to why that is.

The 2015 Summer Reading List

  1. The Goldfinch. Hands down, the best book of the year…and I started the new year off with it. It’s definitely going to be hard to beat. The writing is superb and it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction because of it. In fact, when my mom finished it, she said, “It was like a symphony of words that jumped off the page.” If you want to craft your writing skill, read this book. Study this book. Never put this book away.
  2. Big Little Lies. From the author of The Husband’s Secret (which I loved), comes this tale of ex-husbands, new wives, and the little lies we tell ourselves to survive. As USA Today put it, it’s a bit like drinking a pink cosmo laced with arsenic.
  3. Wild. I loved this with every part of my being. When I finished it, I was seriously ready to take a three-month sabbatical and go hike the Pacific Crest trail by myself. Some people thought the main character was selfish and absorbed. I thought she was an amazing human being who made some really horrible mistakes and used her three-month hike to realize what she needed in life. I loved it.

The 2014 Summer Reading List

  1. 11/22/63. Some of you may have already heard me extol the virtues of this book. It was the first Stephen King I’ve read (I went on to read The Stand this past spring) and it was a good one to start with. Built around Kennedy’s assassination, the book follows a story of a man who goes back in time to stop it. He has to make several attempts and you realize there is a part of you who really wants him to stop it. But what happens if he’s successful? It’s a long one, but it’s worth the time.
  2. We Need to Talk About Kevin. This is written as letters from a wife to her husband about their son, who kills some of his classmates while in high school. The book begins by her being in the grocery store and running into the mother of one of the girls who was killed. With so much violence in our schools, we forget the murderers have families and it’s a fascinating (though fiction) look at how it affects them. P.S. I heard the movie was terrible. Don’t see it. Read the book instead.
  3. Defending Jacob. Along the same lines as above, a young man is accused of killing a classmate. His father, the city’s district attorney, is fired from his job as the investigation heats up. He joins his son’s defense team and you read as the case is tried and his family begins to fall apart. You go back and forth between believing he did it and believing there is no way he could have. This also is a new Apple TV series with Captain America as the dad and Lady Mary (Downton Abbey) as the mom. SO GOOD.

The 2013 Summer Reading List

  1. The Dinner. This book is set through the course of one dinner, when two brothers and their wives meet to discuss the banality of work and the triviality of the holidays. We quickly learn, though, there is a bigger issue at play with their 15-year-old sons who seem to have participated in a horrific act that has triggered a police investigation and is going to test the sibling rivalry.
  2. The Husband’s Secret. When I read this, I joked that I had to get through it so I could figure out what secret Mr. D is keeping. I hope it’s not the one this husband keeps! In a drunken stupor the night their first child was born, a husband writes his wife a letter to be opened upon his death. Several years later, in the middle of raising three kids, she finds it long before his death and struggles with whether to open it or pretend she never saw it. She eventually opens and reads it and what she finds inside is astonishing.
  3. The Weight of Blood. This novel is the first for author Laura McHugh, whose husband went to college with Mr. D. Because of that, I felt obligated to read it and didn’t expect to like. I loved it! Written from a town in the Ozark Mountains, high school graduate, Lucy, learns a deep, dark secret about the mother she never knew; the mother who disappeared when she was a child. When a girl her own age goes missing and her body is displayed for all to see, Lucy grapples with losing her friend and losing her mother. What happened to both is shocking and disturbing.

Your Favorites

That was a fun trek down memory lane to see if I still remembered some of my favorites from six and seven years ago.

I do!

And, I will tell you, A Little Life is probably my favorite of all-time (so far). It has haunted me since I threw my phone across an airplane aisle because I was so mad at what had just happened.

(The flight attendant carefully handed it back to me and asked me if I was OK. NO! I WAS NOT OK!)

And now I’d love to know what your favorites are—either from this year or from years previous.

The comments are yours.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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