When the warm weather of summer arrives, it often brings vacation time, and vacation time often brings extra time to catch up on your reading! But it can be unnecessarily difficult to decide what you are in the mood to read, especially when you don’t want to waste your lovely extra reading time trying to decide, or forcing yourself to read something that you are not enjoying. In hopes of remedying the difficult decision of choosing the right books to read this summer, this is our guide to picking the right titles for the right mood.
If you are in the mood for something funny and relatable…
I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott
Published earlier this spring, Mary Laura Philpott’s heartwarming book of essays covers everything from anxiety, becoming an adult, existential angst, the ups and downs of married life, and the realization that sometimes following all of the rules laid out in your head gets you to the exact opposite of where you want to be.
Nobody Cares by Anne T. Donahue
A candid, funny, real, and relevant collection of essays about the messiness of being alive in your twenties and thirties: school, jobs, mental health, productivity, and failure, to name only a few topics. These essays are a salute to the “beautiful disasters” we can all be at times. Anne T. Donahue is the voice inside your head, if that voice was incredibly witty, funny, and profound (a.k.a. the inner voice we should all aspire to have). The title of the book is a great reminder of something that we all often forget: nobody really cares what we are doing, whether we look good or bad, whether we go to this party or that, which can be a really freeing realization—especially when you’ve spent most of your life trying to convince people that you are a capable and functioning human being. Above all, Nobody Cares feels like a warm hug from someone who’s been there and is here to tell you it’s going to be fine. Read our full review of Nobody Cares here and listen to Anne T. Donahue on The Kelly Alexander Show podcast here!
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
The perfect read for introverts who are just so damn tired of defending themselves from being called anti-social, Samantha Irby’s We Are Never Meeting in Real Life is an expression of thoughts and feelings most of us introverts have said in our heads from time to time, but rarely out loud. Irby covers everything from her rough upbringing, to dating and relationships, to her general dislike of the general population (relatable) and, to quote the back cover, “sometimes you just have to laugh, even when your life is a dumpster fire” (agreed).
I Know What I’m Doing, and Other Lies I Tell Myself by Jen Kirkman
A hilarious, gratifying, and relevant reading experience for anyone who ever feels like they’re the biggest mess on the planet and have to pretend they have anything figured out (so, basically, everyone). Kirkman tackles, through her own stories, the ridiculousness that society forces upon us sometimes, and how sometimes we have to learn how to flip the bird to those things and try to figure out our own lives as best we can.
If you are in the mood for historical fiction…
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
Finding Dorothy is a historical novel that fictionalizes the true history behind the inspiration for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz books, as told by the author’s wife, Maud Baum. The story follows Maud throughout two different time periods; her youth and young adulthood when she meets and marries L. Frank Baum in the mid to late 1800s, and the production of The Wizard of Oz film adaption by MGM over the course of 1938 to 1939. After hearing about the film adaption of her late husband’s beloved story, Maud decides to work her way into MGM in hopes that she will be able to see the script and recommend any necessary changes, especially surrounding the character of Dorothy. Her eye is also soon caught by a young Judy Garland, whose safety she fears for on the MGM lot given her outstanding talent but very young age. Maud’s instinct to protect young Judy is driven by another young girl she knew who also didn’t get a happy ending; a young girl we learn about throughout the novel. Finding Dorothy is very entertaining for anyone who has grown up either watching The Wizard of Oz (one of the most seen films in history), or also reading the books on which the film was based.
The Broken Girls by Simone St. James
The Broken Girls is a historical mystery, and it’s very well done. The book takes place within the past and the present: Vermont, 1950 and Vermont, 2014. In the small town of Barrons, Vermont in 1950, there is an infamous boarding school for the girls that no one wants; the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming—until one of them mysteriously disappears. In Barrons in 2014, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case. When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past—and a voice that won’t be silenced.
If you are in the mood for reading about pop culture…
Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why by Sady Doyle
Trainwreck takes a look at how our society and culture spends an outrageous amount of time calling women “crazy” or “unhinged” just for expressing human emotions, even at the expense of their own popularity or, worse, their careers. The author creates a compelling feminist argument throughout the entire book that stands up no matter where she draws your attention: famous men can be violent alcoholics, abuse their loved ones, or suffer from multitudes of mental illness and the impact of their work can still draws more focus than their personal life, but women who experience even the slightest of personal struggles are publicly remembered better for being a trainwreck than for being a gifted singer, actress, artist, etc. Thus, the double standard. Sady Doyle also does an excellent job of literally proving that the trainwreck phenomenon has been around for as long as women have existed, and traces and relates historical female figures like Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Bronte, and Billie Holiday to “problematic” female stars better known in our contemporary conscious, such as Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Paris Hilton, and Miley Cyrus. Doyle also shows that, for as long as women have existed, they have been pushing the boundaries of what it means to behave, and it’s amusing that quite literally nothing has changed in our current popular culture.
I’ll Be There For You: The One About Friends by Kelsey Miller
For anyone who has seen Friends backwards and forwards six thousand times, can recite every episode, and has come to wonder why the beloved series is still so popular 25 years later, Kelsey Miller’s I’ll Be There For You takes a look at how Friends has managed to transcend age, nationality, cultural barriers, and even its own dated flaws. It’s an insightful and entertaining look back at one of the most successful television shows in history that is sure to delight any and all pop culture enthusiasts.
90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality by Allison Yarrow
Allison Yarrow’s 90’s Bitch ponders the question of how we got to where we are today in our media and culture, and in order to answer that question, she says we have to rewind the VHS tape. 90’s Bitch takes a look back at the 1990s in all its glory: the rise of third-wave feminism and what that seemed to mean for girls and women, the mixed messages sent about female empowerment by media and culture in the ‘90s, as well as insightful recounts of infamous American political scandals that marked the decade (Monica Lewinsky, she says, was demonized mostly because she was an adult woman who had sex and liked it). Yarrow also looks back at the stories of the decade’s unruly female trainwrecks, such as Tonya Harding, Roseanne Barr, and Princess Diana, and traces the media’s treatment of them to where we ended up today in media and culture. That and so much more are explored in 90’s Bitch, an eye-opening read to anyone who grew up in the ‘90s and lived to tell the tale.
Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of The View by Ramin Setoodeh
Ramin Setoodeh, journalist and a senior editor at Vulture, decided to take an insightful and juicy look back at the history and impact of the daytime talk show that singlehandedly redefined how media and culture came to view both the talk show and daytime TV: The View. Spending 3 years conducting interviews with former and current co-hosts, producers, directors, and everyone in between, Setoodeh shines a spotlight on an important history of an important television show with details scarcely found elsewhere, making it a must-read for all pop culture enthusiasts and anyone who has ever found themselves enchanted by a heated discussion on The View over the years. But don’t be fooled—Ladies Who Punch might be marketed as and sound like a juicy tell-all, and on some level it is, but it’s also a very well written and very well researched account of a pop cultural touchstone.
If you are in the mood for an insightful, heartwarming memoir…
In Pieces by Sally Field
In Pieces is the powerful new memoir by the one and only Sally Field, who chronicles her life from her tumultuous upbringing, to the early days of her acting career, to the breakthroughs that would define her as the icon and powerhouse we know and love today. I loved Sally Field before I read her book, but now my love has turned to admiration, as she is a true inspiration in every sense of the word. In Pieces is also an emotional journey of healing wounds from long ago, especially in regard to Field’s relationship with her mother and her sister. The book doesn’t ever lose sight of the fact that it’s not only about Field’s career or her life as an actress; it’s about her life and all that has encompassed it. The end result is incredibly moving and powerful, and I recommend to any fan large or small of the beloved actress and icon.
Wildflower by Drew Barrymore
Wildflower is one of my favorite celebrity memoirs. I’ve read it twice because I love it so much. It contains several stories written by actress Drew Barrymore, with topics ranging from her rough upbringing, to being on her own after being emancipated at 14, to skydiving with Cameron Diaz. It was one of those memoirs where you just want to keep reading and reading because the stories are so interesting, so enveloping, and yet written so casually that you’d think Barrymore is an old friend she’s catching you up over a cup of coffee on a breezy summer afternoon. I also really admire the mature stance that Barrymore takes in Wildflower regarding her unconventional upbringing and infamous personal struggles as a teenager and young adult, merely explaining that she didn’t have a normal family nor normal role models and had to figure out who she was on her own with no clear image of how to do that.
Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up by Naya Rivera
An honest and fun-loving memoir by Naya Rivera, best known for her role as Santana Lopez on Glee. She takes us through her youth as a struggling child actress, insecure teenager, misadventures as a young woman, and some intriguing behind-the-scenes stories from her Glee days. It’s also a coming-of-age story about a young woman being honest with herself and her readers on some of the mistakes she’s made, because growing up is messy. It’s a great read for anyone who loved Glee, but also for anyone who has struggled to find their footing as an adult.
Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson
A memoir in essays written by the former child actress whom ‘90s kids will best remember from Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street, and Matilda, Mara Wilson takes readers on a journey into her life while she was in the spotlight, and what she’s been up to since her decision to retire from acting as a preteen. But Where Am I Now? is more than that; it’s a story of a young girl who always felt out of place as a child on a movie set full of adults, the realities faced by most child stars when they aren’t cute anymore, and a lifetime spent not feeling worthy of being compared to everyone’s favorite fictional genius girl. It’s a raw and eye-opening look at not only life beyond Hollywood, but a human being trying to finally feel like enough.
A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn
Whenever I go through iffy periods with anxiety I look to memoirs because I find it’s like someone telling you a series of stories, which I find helpfully distracting. In A Lotus Grows in the Mud, Goldie Hawn tells all different kinds of stories from all the different times in her career, from landing Private Benjamin to getting lost on a road trip to Las Vegas in the mid ‘60s with only her dog until a solider on leave helped her and she never saw him again. Hawn also brings up how, in the ‘70s, some called her a star who gave liberated women a bad name, because she was blonde and bubbly and, of course, got typecast as such. She sets the record straight and says even if all she ever wanted to be was a wife and mother growing up, all she ever wanted was to be happy, regardless of what became of her life, and I really enjoy that message. Hawn also interlaces her chapters with these cute little musings of stories or other writings she calls “Postcards,” which is refreshing.
If you are in the mood to read the book and then see the movie…
Room by Emma Donoghue
I avoided Room for so long because I just didn’t think I could handle reading something fictional that has been in the news several times over the last decade, but it ended up turning into one of my all-time favorites. Room is told through the perspective of 5-year-old Jack, whose entire world is a space called Room, where he lives with Ma. Ma, unwilling to disappoint Jack with a life she cannot give him, allows Jack to believe that the rest of the world exists only on television. The only other person Jack has ever seen is “Old Nick,” who visits Room at night while Jack sleeps hidden in a wardrobe. Old Nick brings them food and necessities. Jack is unaware that Old Nick kidnapped Ma when she was 19 years old and has kept her imprisoned for the past seven years. Old Nick regularly rapes Ma; Jack is the product of one such sexual assault. At the beginning of the book, Jack has turned five, and Ma soon learns that Old Nick has become unemployed and is danger of losing his home to foreclosure. Fearing for their lives, Ma decides that Jack is old enough to learn the truth, and explains that everything on television is in fact real and exists outside Room, as well as the fact that Old Nick kidnapped her and he now needs to help them escape. The film adaption, starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, is not one of those movies where you won’t understand its full effect if you haven’t read the book (but you should obviously still read the book). The story was built for the screen in a really illuminating way, and is actually a rare case of the movie filling in some blanks and question marks from the book: after all, the book is narrated entirely from the perspective of a 5-year-old boy who has never left a space called Room. While it does offer a new and unique perspective that serves the story better than if Ma had narrated, I was still intrigued to know how an adult would perceive Room as opposed to a child who has only ever known this space as his entire world. It only reminds how absolutely heartbreaking the story is, but somehow heartbreaking in a good way. Love is truly all we need.
Riding in Cars With Boys: Confessions of a Bad Girl Who Makes Good by Beverly Donofrio
Riding in Cars with Boys is the 1992 memoir by Beverly Donofrio, chronicling her life after she became pregnant as a teenager in the early ‘60s—she married the father out of social obligation, experienced a messy marriage, and refused to let anything get in the way of her dreams of becoming a writer. The book was adapted into a film in 2001, starring Drew Barrymore and Steve Zahn. Both the movie and the book are good, but the book offers much more insight and a much more realistic account of the events. It just goes to show that not all problems are solved by getting married and playing house, that sometimes children do better with only one parent, and that you are never too old to become who you want to be.
Boy Erased by Garrard Conley
Boy Erased is Garrard Conley’s deeply compassionate yet deeply disturbing memoir of dealing with his homosexuality in an ultra-religious and Christian fundamentalist town and family in Arkansas, right in the middle of the Bible Belt. He writes about how, after he was outed to his parents in college, he was given the choice of either attending mandatory ex-gay conversion therapy, or lose emotional and financial support from his family. He also writes about and examines his father, a Baptist pastor, and disappointing his family and church as a whole. Though he tells his story in a consistent personal narrative style, Conley also indirectly addresses the intolerant and repressive environments that countless LGBTQ youth have had to endure, specifically those raised in the deeply religious and socially conservative American South. A film adaption, starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Troye Sivan, came out in 2018 and captures the disturbing but important essence of the story—shining a light on these extremely harmful programs that too many young people have been put through, all in the name of homophobia masked by religion and called love.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox has vanished. When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Bernadette is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces—which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where’d You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are and the power of a daughter’s love for her mother. A film adaption starring Cate Blanchett is due out in theatres this summer, so now would be the time to check out the book!