As we enter a summer like none any of us has ever seen, it seems a little bit strange to be talking about vacations. But with the pandemic seemingly on the decline, and many parts of the world starting to open to tourists, it is inevitable to begin looking towards the possibility of taking some much-needed time off, and possibly traveling somewhere for vacation.
If you’re anything like me, vacation means a lot of relaxing, and a lot of reading. In the past when we have published a summer reading list, we intentionally included some financially-related titles in the list to try to tie in to the theme of what we do here at TDWM, but I think this year, we all need a bit of an escape, so I decided to limit this list to all leisure reading.
With that in mind, here are the top five books I read this year for pleasure, which make up Gavin’s summer reading list.
Where the Crawdads Sing
Probably my favorite of all the books I read this year, Where the Crawdads Sing is a story of a wild, uneducated girl growing up in solitude on the North Carolina coast. The so-called ‘Marsh Girl’ is a sensitive, intelligent, though certainly naïve young woman, and a born naturalist, who lives most of her life in solitude, until she begins to yearn for something more.
Beautifully written, and surprisingly complex, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once a lovely coming-of-age story, an exquisite ode to the natural world, and a murder mystery, worthy of the two-and-a-half years it spent on the New York Times bestseller list.
I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this book and how sad I was when I could no longer look forward to reading it.
The Count of Monte Cristo
My father has been on a “classics” kick of late. He is convinced that young people these days are not reading them, and as such, an entire generation is growing up missing a vital piece of storytelling, and, ultimately, the morality that reading and understanding the great works of literature have imparted to generations that came before. As a result, though he has always given my kids books for birthdays and other holidays, he has given up trying to find books they are interested in, and started giving them classic novels that he thinks they need to read. While perhaps not the quickest way to become their favorite grandfather, I do see the merit in it, and hopefully some day, so will they! Anyhow, that’s how The Count of Monte Cristo came to be in my son’s possession.
It’s a very long read, and the language can be tedious at times for modern tastes, particularly for a teenager, so my son was never likely to get through it. But since I had also never read it, I decided to pick it up one night, and I was enthralled from the very start.
Completed in 1844, and one of Alexandre Dumas’ most popular novels (he also wrote The Three Musketeers), The Count of Monte Cristo, for those who are unacquainted with it, begins in France during the time of Napoleon’s exile to the island of Elba and centers on a man who is wrongfully imprisoned, escapes from jail, acquires a fortune, and sets about exacting revenge on those responsible for his imprisonment.
It is filled with treacherous plots, revenge, heartache, mystery, pirating and forgiveness, and I highly recommend giving it a go, if you haven’t already. Just don’t expect to get through it in a couple of nights, unless you intend to not sleep very much.
The Vanishing Half
The Vanishing Half is the story of two sisters, twins actually, growing up in a small black community in the South, who run away at age sixteen. They lose touch, as one sister passes for being white, and marries a white man who knows nothing of her past, while the other eventually moves back to her home town to raise her black daughter. Despite living these completely disparate lives, and separated by so many miles and lies, ultimately, their fates remain intertwined.
The Vanishing Half provides a unique window into race in America, and is a very well written and intriguing story, which spans multiple generations and weaves many interconnecting storylines of this family from the deep South to California and beyond.
I realize not everyone is a sci-fi enthusiast, and I wouldn’t count myself as a true afficionado either, but I do enjoy a good sci-fi read every once in a while, particularly if I’m on vacation and need something that might not be too engrossing.
Artemis, Andy Weir’s follow up to The Martian, which I thoroughly enjoyed, is the story of Jazz Bashara, a twenty-something delivery person, or ‘porter,’ whose father brought her up on Artemis, a small multi-domed colony on the moon.
Jazz has dreams of a better life, but for now she has to supplement her meager income with a thriving side-business, smuggling black market goods to the people on the colony. One of her customers proposes a lucrative scheme to sabotage some lunar equipment, and when the plan goes awry, she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy involving a Brazilian crime syndicate and some revolutionary technology.
While it may not be as compelling a story as The Martian, Artemis is well written, well researched, and quite enjoyable. If you find yourself sitting by a pool and wanting something entertaining, if not completely consuming, this might the book for you.
I realize that putting a cookbook on this list may seem like an odd addition, but the reason I decided to do it is because I absolutely love this book. I’ll admit that being both a cooking enthusiast, and being of Italian decent, I may find it more appealing than most. But in the end, the premise of this cookbook, and the recipes it contains are simply wonderful.
In kitchens all across Italy, grandmothers or nonne are cooking up traditional fresh pasta dishes just as their mothers and grandmothers have done before them for generations. For a nonna, love is putting food on the table for her family. While on a research trip in Italy, Vicky Bennison noticed that these cooking skills were no longer being passed on to the younger generations. This compelled her to start her highly successful YouTube channel Pasta Grannies, and after five years of interviewing and filming these grandmothers, this cookbook is the result.
I just love the way the book tells the stories of the women and the places they come from, which so beautifully highlights the hyper-regional nature of traditional Italian cooking at its best. And for the home cook, the fact that you can look up the YouTube video of the dishes actually being made by these remarkable ladies, sets it apart from any cookbook I’ve ever come across.
So there you have it, Gavin’s summer reading list. After the year we’ve all had, here’s hoping we all find some quality time and a quiet place to sit, relax with friends and family, and do a little reading this summer.