10 Books That Feel Like Summer

We seemed to have completely skipped spring and landed straight into summer here in the PNW, and the sunshine and longer evenings are healing my overwintered soul. As we emerge into the warm sunlight, I'm ready to move from sprightly, springy books into fuller, richer, more adventure packed summer reading.

None of these are "beach reads": there are ten thousand million lists for those, lets be honest. There are some great lists out there of all the fun, easy reads and the newest, hottest books being pushed by publishers, but this is not one of them.

I tend to burn out really fast on contemporary fiction, and I find myself using summer as my time to finally get to those novels I keep meaning to read. I tend to pull books that are fun, or meaningful, or nostalgic, or contemplative, set in sunny summer months and where the presence of heat and sunshine are integral to the enjoyment of the book. These are some of my favorites.

1. The Great Gatsby

"The next day was broiling, almost the last, certainly the warmest, of the summer." - F. Scott Fitzgerald
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Most of you probably had to read this in high school, but I strongly suggest re-reading it as an adult. The novel begins in the early summer, with glitzy outdoor fêtes, ice-cold drinks sweating in the warm, lazy afternoons, and the use of oppressive heat in symbolizing all the tense, passionate feelings swirling around. It's filled with champagne and mint juleps, convertibles, a sweltering New York City, summer romance, and swimming pools. It ends just as the summer begins to fade to autumn, and is just so beautifully, heart achingly gorgeous.

2. Treasure Island

“Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!” - Robert Louis Stevenson

The original story of swashbuckling pirates and buried treasure on tropical islands. High seas, pirate ships, topical weather, sand, sunshine, parrots, mutiny, and of course, plenty of rum. It's a classic, pure adventure story, with clear-cut good guys and bad guys. Sometimes a book like this is just what you need: uncomplicated fun. If you just need an exciting, clean-cut, summery adventure where brave and honorable men triumph over murderous, evil ones, this is exactly the book for you. 

3. East of Eden

“Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then -the glory- so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man's importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men. ” - John Steinbeck

Summer vacation, for me (nerd alert) was generally a time I picked up heavier reads, primarily because I had the mental space and time to really soak them up and fully appreciate what I was experiencing with these books. East of Eden is actually my top priority novel this summer. I love Steinbeck, I love his casual wisdom, his deceptively simple prose, his genius. Set in the hot, dusty Salinas Valley in California and wrestling with themes of love, self-destruction, identity, and the way our families shape us, this is touted as his most powerful work. I sincerely can't wait to experience it.

4. Atonement

“Dearest Cecilia, You’d be forgiven for thinking me mad, the way I acted this afternoon. The truth is I feel rather light headed and foolish in your presence, Cee, and I don’t think I can blame the heat.” - Ian McEwan

This book is part love story, part tragedy, part commentary on social class, part war story, and part coming-of-age. It's a lot, but it's executed well. This novel has stuck with me for years, the events that are the catalyst for the entire story take place on a hot summer day, and McEwan's descriptions of the house, the weather, the lake, and the gardens are cemented in my memory. The story is a little twisted, and a lot compelling, with an interesting structure and a good tension between reality and imagination. A good one if you need something powerful, haunting, and a little out of the ordinary. 

5. The Princess Bride

“Do I love you? My God, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches.” - William Goldman

Really a cult classic at this point, if you haven't read it yet, but love the movie, now is the time to pick it up. It's a satirical fairytale, laugh out loud funny, clever, quick, and generally just too much fun. It's a play on classic fairy tale tropes, and thus is full of beautiful princesses, true love, adventure, pirates, murder plots, magic, villains, and a daring rescue. Part love story, part action/adventure novel, and part revenge story, it is just so deeply likable. A great one when you need something more lighthearted this summer. 

6. The Count of Monte Cristo

“Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout as you did in Rome. Do your worst, for I will do mine! Then the fates will know you as we know you” - Alexandre Dumas

Summer is the perfect time to get into a big old classic you keep saying you're going to read. With longer days and sunlight galore, The Count of Monte Cristo is a great one to pick up. Beginning with a young sailor, Edmond Dantes, being accused and imprisoned for treason, it tells the tale of a wise mentor, a daring escape, a love triangle, the most epic revenge plot ever, plenty of sword fights, and hidden treasure on a remote island. Because of course. 

7. Gone With the Wind

“They were always like two people talking to each other in different languages. But she loved him so much, when he withdrew as he had now done, it was like the warm sun going down and leaving her in chilly twilight dews.” - Margaret Mitchell

Another hefty classic tome, dive into this one to revisit the world of Southern belles, Civil War, and a sweeping, epic story of love, resilience, identity, and a rich, complex look at what the human spirit can overcome. You're definitely right if you're thinking this book is going to be a tad problematic, as it is a product of it's time, and set in the South during the Civil War, but I think it's still a very important one to read in this moment in history.

8. Tuck Everlasting

"The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.” - Natalie Babbitt

A middle-grade novel about a young girl who accidentally steps into a unique family that forever changes her during one eternal summer. It's a quick, warm, and exciting story that leaves you wanting to escape into a sun dappled forest, play in the creek, and live slowly. Worth a weekend read if you haven't read it, and you'll undoubtedly get swept up in the whimsical writing of Natalie Babbitt.

9. Brideshead Revisited

"“If it could only be like this always – always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe and Aloysius in a good temper...” - Evelyn Waugh

Hey Downton Abbey lovers, you are gonna want to pick this one up. Waugh is a gorgeous writer and recounts the relationship between two young men (one of whom is very rich, and very complicated) in the waning days of England's great houses. The book takes you from Oxford, to the English countryside, through Venice, on cruise ships to New York, to Morocco, and back into the "present day" where Charles, our narrator, is a Captain in the British army. Warm, nostalgic, and full of art, love, complicated friendships, grandeur and loss; it's just gossipy and opulent enough, but grounded with heavier themes. Really, it's the perfect summer read.

10. A Midsummer Night's Dream

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.” - William Shakespeare

The ultimate classic. Shakespeare strikes fear into the hearts of many readers, but this particular work is so playful and funny, it actually is quite a smooth reading experience. I've read it four times now, and it never fails to completely delight me. Mortals and fairies, a summer night, an enchanted forest, star-crossed lovers, beauty, love potions, magic flowers, and happy endings all around make this whimsical play one of my favorites. It's the perfect fantastical story to read under the stars on a warm summer evening.

What are you planning to read this summer? Have any great recommendations? We'd love to hear!