Columns > Published on July 26th, 2017

Finding Your Perfect Summer Read(s)

Image: "Summer read" by LWYang

Summer and reading go together like comedy duo Will Smith and Jonah Hill (not so much at first but really well once you think about it). The days are long, the sunlight soft in the evenings. Workloads lighten. Vacations await. (Or staycations. Or near-desperate attempts to seize the happiness of our fleeting youth.) The kids have been home from school long enough to make you want to abandon them at the library for days at a time. Ah, summer. The perfect time to pick up your reading.

But what makes for a perfect summer read? There are several different types, so today I’m breaking it down. After all, if you know just what you want, it’s easier to find. And the less time you spend finding it, the more time you get to spend reading it.

Destination Setting

When I think of summer, I think of road trips, vacations, and really cool destinations. Sometimes I even get to go there. But even when I can’t actually, I can still go there via a good book. Escapism is one of the oldest and purest reasons to read; why not take advantage? It could be a book set in a cool real-life locale you’ve always dreamed of visiting like the south of France, Greenland, Hong Kong, or the mountains of Peru. Or maybe it’s somewhere you could never go, like ancient Egypt, the wild west, or freaking Narnia. The real key is to find a read drenched in its setting, so you get not just story and characters, but feel like you’re really there with them. Leah Dearborn has “8 Raw Westerns to Read This Summer.” And if you’re into westerns but you like ‘em weird, don’t forget to check out Tex Thompson’s rural fantasy trilogy with cowboys and fishmen.

Summer Timeline

Another option is to read about summer. No time like the present, eh? Maybe it’s because it requires slightly less imagination to get into the mindset, or maybe we like to pretend our summer is going better than it is. Regardless, it’s hard to go wrong with books about summer. Check out Cameron Pierce’s “Satanic Summer: Horror Fiction for Hot Days” for some hand-picked suggestions. Or, just to be contrary, take it the opposite direction and give yourself a mental cool-off by reading books set in cold, breezy, wintery locales. The Shining, anyone?

Room to Marathon

To relax and really enjoy my binge, I need to have a lineup ready to go. There will be no time to stop between books and figure out what’s next.

This one’s my favorite. One of the bonuses of summer is (usually) a slight surplus of free time – whether that be more daylight hours, more Fridays off, or a week for vacation. I love utilizing that time by really bingeing. MOAR BOOKS! To relax and really enjoy my binge, I need to have a lineup ready to go. There will be no time to stop between and figure out what’s next. Ima be shoving those things into my mouth one after the other like Cookie Monster double-fisting some chocolate chip. Three options so your conveyer belt never slows down between books:

By Checklist

If you’re someone who loves checking things off your list (or clearing out the stack on your bedside table), this is a great option. You get the luxurious sensation of bingeing and the neurotic satisfaction of completionism. So whether you’re looking at your Goodreads to-read shelf, your literal to-read shelf, or your ebook to-read whatever those use, you can fly through one after the other. Caveat: I know some people are finishers like myself who haaaate to set down books that aren’t doing it for them, but in this circumstance, you must. It’s part of what makes summer reading fun instead of a chore. No duds. If it’s not flipping your switch, move it to the finished pile and open the next one.

By Series

The most fun way to ensure a steady line of books to snort read is to start an existing well-established series. We’re talking a lineup of at least half a dozen books, preferably more. This way you know you won’t run out before your break/the summer is over. The obvious huge bonus here is that the books are connected, so if you find a really stellar series you get to stay immersed in it for a long time. And if you’re not sure what series will ring your bell, you could always allow yourself a re-read of an old favorite. I’m currently working my way through Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, particularly the first nine books, and it’s an absolute blast. They’re immersive, fast-paced, I already know I love them, and there are just so dang many to go through. Why not revisit your faves? Harry Potter, Joe Ledger, Outlander – whatever your flavor of choice, you know you’ll have fun.

By Author

If series aren’t really your thing, you can get a similar effect by reading all of the books from a single author who publishes stand-alones. I recently did that with Sarah Waters’ gothic lesbian Victoriana, and it was really enjoyable. Before that I gobbled up all of Gillian Flynn’s mysteries, although there are less available from her so far. And Riki Cleveland shares a similar experience in “My Summer of Sarah Dessen.” This usually works best if you find an author who you’ve read a book or two by that you absolutely love, and who also has a nice good chunk of others remaining for you. You could pick up someone brand new, but there’s a bit of luck involved in that.

Slow & Juicy

For the ambitiously-brained, the summer slow-down can also be the perfect time to tackle the big, difficult, intellectual challenges you don’t have time to get to the rest of the year. Had your eye on Gravity’s Rainbow, Tolstoy, or The Historian? Maybe now you finally have the time. The time not just to read, but to study, notate, re-read, discuss. The popularity of summer reading means other like-minded folks are doing the same, so you might even be able to find a reading group, book club, or lecture/discussion series in your town to guide you through. Or, hell, start one of your own!

Fast & Cheap

Okay, yes, you could spend your summer going back to school in your mind, but let’s be real: most of us just want to have fun. (Not just girls, either, or so I’m told.) So if you’re saving your real brainpower for the semester like a sensible human, the opposite option is, clearly, to enjoy the hell out of some leisure reads. Otherwise known as guilty pleasures. Bonus: you don’t even actually have to feel guilty for it. It’s your vacation! Do what you want and don’t take any shit for it. I’m not going to call out any examples, because no matter how loudly I argue against shame for enjoying things, most people take being called a leisure read/guilty pleasure as an insult. But y’all know the ones. They’re fast, easy, fun. Maybe not a steady diet, but everyone needs some dessert. Go at it!

Did I cover it, or do your summer reads come from different angles than mine? How does your reading change in the hot months, and what’s in your stack this year?

About the author

Annie Neugebauer likes to make things as challenging as possible for herself by writing horror, poetry, literary, and speculative fiction—often blended together in ways ye olde publishing gods have strictly forbidden. She’s a two-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated author with work appearing and forthcoming in more than a hundred publications, including magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Apex, and Black Static, as well as anthologies such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volumes 3 & 4 and #1 Amazon bestsellers Killing It Softly and Fire. She’s an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and in addition to LitReactor, a columnist for Writer Unboxed. She’s represented by Alec Shane of Writers House. She needs to make new friends because her current ones are tired of hearing about House of Leaves. You can visit her at for news, poems, organizational tools for writers, and more.

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