My 20 (Well, 15) Books of Summer

Every year I enjoy participating in 746 Books‘ 20 Books of Summer Challenge. I read all year round, of course, but something about summer reading is special, even though I’m no longer a kid treasuring long summer days to myself. Long-time readers know how much I love summer and feel sad when it’s over. Even as an adult, summer is still about long hot days, and I’ll happily sit outside in whatever weather summer chooses to throw at me (though I’m a bit more careful about sun exposure than I used to be).

Every year I think about whether I want to “assign” myself reading for the summer, but I usually come to the same conclusion – that planning what I read means I read better. And even as a child, with all the freedom to read what I wanted, I didn’t want to read easier books. I wanted to read the books no one thought I should be reading.

Yes, there’s pleasure in picking up a bestseller or a book that popped up on my library wait list. And this year has been more stressful than most, so some flexibility was definitely called for. I went off-list quite a bit this year, but I ended up reading 15 of my 20 Books of Summer and I’m perfectly happy with that. And I know some of these will end up being my favorite reads of the year.

Here’s what I read this summer from my original list:

  1. The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina by Zoraida Cordova
  2. The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
  3. The Scent of Burnt Flowers by Blitz Bazawule
  4. Haven by Emma Donoghue
  5. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  6. The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan
  7. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
  8. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  9. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
  10. O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King
  11. Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse
  12. Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty
  13. How to Give Up Plastic by Will McCallum
  14. Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel
  15. Far Sector by N.K. Jemisin

My favorites of the summer? I loved Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. Cannery Row is beautifully written and helped me to appreciate Monterey, California even more (though Cannery Row today is horribly touristy). The Dreamer is a gorgeously written and illustrated children’s book about the childhood of one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda.

In the “glad I finally read it” category is Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I didn’t love everything about it, as I struggled with the religious themes and found much of it slow-moving, but I did appreciate the memorable characters and their challenges, and enjoyed this one in both print and audio versions (narrated by Jeremy Irons).

It was a great summer for escapist fiction about other worlds and fantastic beings. Fevered Star is book 2 in Roanhorse’s trilogy based on South American mythology, and The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina was a fantastic story about a family who travels to Ecuador to uncover the curse that’s stalking their grandmother. Far Sector is a graphic novel written by N.K. Jemisin about a world where people aren’t allowed to feel emotions, which just won the Hugo award. And The Space Between Worlds was a twisty, thought-provoking read about a woman who can travel to hundreds of parallel universes, but only if she’s already died in the universe she’s visiting.

In addition to traveling to other worlds, I experienced historical times and places around the world, from Chile (The Dreamer) to Turkey (Song of Achilles) to Vietnam (The Best We Could Do). Emma Donoghue’s Haven took me to seventh-century Ireland, while Laurie R. King’s O Jerusalem took me to 1918’s Palestine. Blitz Bazawule’s The Scent of Burnt Flowers took me to 1960’s Ghana.

On the nonfiction front, The Best We Could Do is a graphic memoir about the author’s family coming to America from Vietnam. Diary of a Young Naturalist is the journal of a 15-year-old with autism in Ireland, and how he’s inspired by the natural world around him. This was a meandering read without a lot of narrative flow, but had a lot that captured my interest. How to Give Up Plastic was not a favorite book but dovetailed nicely with my other reading about environmental activism, and had good suggestions about alternatives to using the disposable plastic that clogs up the oceans and kills marine life. Don’t Overthink It was a thoughtful book for those who struggle with decision-making but I’ve found other books on anxiety and stress management to be more helpful.

Thanks to Cathy at 746 Books for another great summer of reading! If you joined the challenge, how did you do? And what were some of your favorite reads this summer?

  5 comments for “My 20 (Well, 15) Books of Summer

  1. September 7, 2022 at 8:49 am

    You did really well, congrats!

  2. September 7, 2022 at 10:54 am

    I have not joined this challenge since the one time I did a few years ago and it was an epic fail (in terms of reading the books I said I would). I enjoy following along with others’ challenges though, and usually pick up some good recommendations that way.

    Favorite books of the summer, as I look back through my free-range reading: Swing Low by Miriam Toews, a moving fictional recreation of the life and last days of the author’s father; The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, a rightly celebrated historical fiction epic; A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, about the author’s walk through Europe as a teenager on the eve of WWII; My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, about a painter struggling to reconcile his artistic gift with his Orthodox Jewish roots and tradition; Red Comet, the comprehensive new biography of Sylvia Plath; Black Water Sister by Zen Cho, this year’s Witch Week readalong and discussion book; and last but not least, Home Fire by Kaila Shamsie, which you recommended to me and I finally got around to reading. yes, it was a good summer!

  3. September 7, 2022 at 12:59 pm

    I hadn’t expected to enjoy Cannery Row (somehow I thought Steinbeck was all about poverty, desperation etc) but loved it. Agree with you about the actual Cannery Row – what a horrid place. We lasted all of 15 minutes…

    • September 8, 2022 at 8:06 am

      Yes, Cannery Row was horrible. Though interestingly, we learned quite a lot about the original canneries in the Aquarium itself, which had some nice photo exhibits. I hadn’t realized how many women worked in the canneries, for one thing. But I liked that Steinbeck’s book wasn’t about the canneries itself, I think that’s what put me off reading it initially.

  4. September 10, 2022 at 12:12 pm

    Well done! I did my original 20 list this year, for once, and really enjoyed Jeffrey Boakye – Black, Listed and Sue Anstiss – Game On: The Unstoppable Rise of Women’s Sport, although there wasn’t a dud among them. I do like taking part even though I kind of went down to the wire this year and only got them all read and reviewed because of a random afternoon off!

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