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Essential Literary Reads for Summer

Woman reading in the grass

If Barnes & Noble’s picks make your eyes roll to Rivendell and back (yes, Tolkien has featured on their list previously), then maybe it’s time to think about literary reads that aren’t so well-beaten on the commercial path. Check out the following titles for a thought-provoking summer read:

Something Happened, by Joseph Heller
What happened after this author’s Catch-22? Something Happened, that’s what. Written over a decade after the publication of his runaway bestseller, Heller’s second novel tells the unhappy story of Bob Slocum, a middle-class narcissist whose narrative tone makes you want to hit him over the head—often. At the heart of this story is a man who fails to mature into adulthood. Slocum ignores his wife, plays favorites with his children, chases work promotions, and pursues extramarital affairs—ultimately driving himself so knee-deep in psychological pain that he ceases to feel at all.

Stoner, by John Williams
If ever there were a classic campus novel, this would be it. Stoner is the stuff of life—office politics, marital love, illness, death—but with the stoicism of Seneca. The novel follows an average farmer’s boy from rural Missouri who eventually rises through the ranks of university to become a Professor Emeritus. This is the novel that everyone should’ve been reading in college instead of The Great Gatsby (shoutout to Jim Booth!). By the end of the novel, you’ll be reeling in the sheer poetry of realism—while having your heart broken more than once.

Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Crafted by the multi-award-winning writer, Half of a Yellow Sun takes you through the Nigerian Civil War from the perspectives of a village boy, a revolutionary professor, and a British writer. Gender-based privilege, war-profiteering, and questions of national identity feature heavily in this book, along with individual love interests and self-advancement. If you’ve never heard of the Republic of Biafra, this is the book to discover it.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, by David Foster Wallace
No literary list would be complete without David Foster Wallace! And this isn’t just for the pretentious, either. Brief Interviews is one of those rare short-story finds that stretches your literary horizons within the first 10 pages. Is it a series of vignettes, interviews, or flash fiction? None of these, yet it is all of them. Explore complex heterosexual encounters, manic self-reflection, painful insecurities, and the fallacies of perceived economic value. Bring your thinking cap, too—you’ll be needing it.

Can you suggest any other literary pick for summer? Tell us in the comments below!

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