Summer reading is a time to forget about stuffy academic drivel and explore more lighthearted topics. Like our love for blockbuster summer movies (OMG The Dark Knight), summer reading should be epic and spectacular. You’ve got plenty of time to read (admit it), so you might as well try out one of those massive books you’ve been putting off.
Dune by Frank Herbert immediately comes to mind. If you haven’t read it, shame on you.
If you’ve already read that, then try CJ Cherryh’s The Faded Sun trilogy. The first book was published in 1978, and the cover looks like hokey science fiction. But the series is Nebula nominated, and Cherryh is noted for her ability to convey alien-ness far beyond physical differences. The books delve into anthropological sci-fi similar to Ursula Le Guin, but there’s plenty of space opera adventure to keep interest going.
My other recommendation is a similarly huge book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, one of my favorites. Even though it’s classified as fantasy, but literati and critics alike have praised the novel (included in the Man Booker Prize longlist). [Whoa, you just burned the fantasy genre. --Ed.] Readers will appreciate Clarke’s Jane Austenesque dry wit and Charles Dickens-like authoritative tone. It’s a creative revisionist historical novel set in Victorian England. I hope to find the time to read it again soon. Clarke spent ten years writing the book, so I encourage you to use your summer reading it.
I always recommend A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. I haven’t read it since high school, so my opinion may have changed if I read it again, but I remember my mind being blown with the creativity of the writing and the candid treatment of the anti-social behavior of the main character and his droogs. Oh yeah, and there’s a lot of neat made-up slang.
In addition to that work I recommend anything by Kurt Vonnegut. My favorites (so far) are Breakfast of Champions, Hocus Pocus, and Deadeye Dick. But seriously, just read anything written by the man.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is certainly the most violent and disturbing book I’ve ever read (more so than A Clockwork Orange even). If it weren’t for McCarthy’s stunningly evocative prose and unique narrative style, I would’ve stopped reading. I’m glad I stuck it out though, as the final product attempts to find the philosophical origins of the violence endemic to humanity while turning our romanticized idea of the Wild West on its head. Be warned: McCarthy’s use of obscure and arcane vocabulary can be frustrating. I had to look up several words per page on average.
While topically, The Short Stories of Vladimir Nabokov run the gamut from fey fairy tales to macabre yarns of violence, they are all imbued with Nabokov’s uncanny ability to put words to the ephemeral, numinous experiences that make life strange and beautiful. The stories are also riddled with great puns, alliterations, and other such fun wordplay. “Sounds” might be the best short story I have ever read.
Though gigantic, The Satanic Verse by Salman Rushdie is at once an allegory depicting the difficulties of immigrant assimilation, a blistering attack on Islam, and a revival of magic realism. Rushdie has distilled the best parts of the prose of Nabokov, ridiculous satire of Vonnegut and Twain, and whimsy of Garcia Marquez into a densely layered, immensely readable book.