Wintertime brings many wonderful things, among them a plethora of vacation days, stylish coats, and an excuse to drink hot chocolate wherever and whenever. For many of us, however, our romanticized snow-adventuring expectations for the winter holidays and the wet and freezing reality of spending a week in a “winter wonderland” will be difficult to reconcile. What happened to all those happy memories of sledding and snowball fights with the neighborhood kids and making snow angels? Was the reality always this uncomfortable? Frolicking in the snow just isn’t what it used to be — it’s cold out there!
At some point we'll likely be forced to admit that, between 30 minute spurts of winter activity, many of us will spend our lazy post-Christmas holidays lounging around the house while the world outside freezes over. As we look for new and exciting levels and blanket coverage, we’ll be dreaming of summertime and sunshine and all the weather we left behind. Oh, and we’ll also be in the market for an activity that can be done sitting under a blanket, which is why being prepared with book-related entertainment is a must.
Here, then, is a list of books built to transport you to warm beaches, beautiful summer homes, and the warm glow of an evening campfire. They’ll remind you of the splendors of summer that are just around the corner (right!?!) even if you’ll be spending the next few months shivering at home or, even worse, at work.
1. The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Chances are your holiday break will involve more than a little family dramz. That’s what holidays are is for, right? Naturally, it would be nicer if your family’s dramas only played out in beautiful, warm, exotic locales filled with interesting sites to escape to, As you and your cousins duke it out over nothing just because you’re stuck in a house together for days with nothing to do, follow the broken Post family as they embark on a tension-filled vacation to beautiful Majorca. Our young Vacationers protagonist and her entire family will experience varying degrees of lust, love and heartbreak as they muddle through their supposed “break,” just like you, but they’ll do it in bathing suits.
2. One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
If you’re looking for a nonfiction foray into summer, you can’t do much better than Bill Bryson’s recent look at the summer of 1927. Not only is Bryson’s take on this wild ride of a summer hilarious, but it’s filled with interesting tidbits about U.S. and world history that will be sure to impress on the holiday party circuit. 1927 was one of the more interesting years in American history, from Lindbergh’s famous flight across the Atlantic to Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs to the release of the first feature-length “talkie,” The Jazz Singer. It can be a lot of information to get through, but it’s definitely worth the trip through three world-changing sunny months that helped define the entire decade.
3. That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
What’s summer reading without a wedding book? On that score, Russo’s somewhat lighter-than-usual novel is a perfect mix of engaging and relaxing. In it we follow a divorced father to Cape Cod to attend his daughter’s wedding, but while there he reminisces about the last time he was on the Cape, only a year ago, with his family still intact. This little book is short, sweet, and compulsively readable without being cheesy or prone to overbearing cliches about love. It will give you some perspective on your own family troubles as you imagine the smell of salty beach air and windblown hair (windblown, of course, in the happy, non-winter way).
4. The Well by Catherine Chanter
This book will satisfy your moody winter longings and your desire to be transported to a land of lush greenery. Chanter’s suspenseful pseudo-real fantasy begins on a beautiful rural property purchased as a summer home by a worn city family looking for a reprieve. As the world outside falls into the longest drought on record, their property becomes the focus of attention as the only 30 acres in the area regularly receiving rainfall. As the family’s infamy and the outside world’s hysteria peak, the mysterious death of our protagonist's beloved grandson turns the situation from a tragedy into a full-on crisis. This books is deeply transporting and impossible to put down, but it’s filled with really interesting and well-described psychological drama and mystery. Most importantly, however, the entire thing takes place in 30 lush acres of summertime glory.
5. Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
You might be under the impression, thanks to the cover of this novel, that you’ll be in for a mindless summer romp through beachtownfunland, USA. In part this is true — it’s certainly a teen coming-of-age story set in a summer community — but there’s a lot more depth to it than the “guy in jeans at a beach” on the cover might suggest. In this novel, set in the '80s, Benji Cooper escapes the confines of his almost entirely white New York prep school to a small summer community built by a group of African-American professionals, among them his parents. There he not only experiences the usual dating and friendship milestones that define teenage summer life, but also must reconcile with the challenges of being African-American in his upper-middle-class world and vice versa. There’s beachy fun, but there’s also valuable social commentary.
6. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Drama in the South of France is definitely the best kind, and this ambitious novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald — considered by many to be his best — is chock full of it. Following a glamorous American couple, the Divers, on a vacation that will take a turn for the worst, it’s most notable for being a pretty bravely feminist work and for being one of the most unfortunately timed novels in history. Published in the mid-'30s, it’s Jazz Age feel wasn’t all that attractive to struggling audiences in Depression-era America and the book was given short shrift upon its release, but for our purposes, all is forgiven! Bring on the excesses of the '20s, the glories of vacationing in Southern France, and some marital drama as well. Hell, bring on the suspicious murders, too. They’ll give us something to think about as while we picture the scenery that serves as a backdrop.
7. Summerland by Michael Chabon
Even beyond it’s clearly summary title, Michael Chabon’s fantasy foray into the YA world defines the season for another reason — the fact that it’s about baseball, the ultimate summer sport. The book itself is a little chaotic, but it’s a fun romp that will allow you to feel the adventuring spirit of your childhood summers once more.
8. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Under the Tuscan Sun is basically a dream of an Italian adventure, and while it was made into an easily-digestible film by the same name, it’s worth reading the book because this is one adventure you’ll want to take your time with. Mayes doesn’t do anything particularly exciting over the course of this book — she doesn’t solve a murder or anger an ancient spirit or really do anything other than eat well, fix up an old house, and make friends — but you’ll want to be along for the ride anyway just because being in Tuscany sounds so nice and warm and delicious and... dammit, is it snowing outside?
9. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
In this novel, a Depression-era college graduate with nowhere to go and no career prospects winds up aboard a circus train. This is technically not a summer novel — it covers many a season — but it definitely feels summer-esque because it’s about the time between school ending and "life" starting. Also, running away with a Depression-era circus feels the same amount of dreamy and confusing and exciting as every summer should.
10. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
You know what says summer? Camp, and this book about the evolution of a group of camp friends will both take you back to those days sharing illicit... conversation... with boys in the woods, then give you a sense of what’s ahead. Wolitzer really breaks down the special kind of friendship that develops in the midst of camp’s parent-free summer sprees and traces the line of these friendships straight through to the complications of adult life.
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