5 Books for your Summer Reading List

It was a long dreary winter, but along with longer evenings, patio beers and baseball on the radio comes summer. And while I don’t know about you, summer is when I get the bulk of my reading done. After all, is there anything better than just relaxing outside, enjoying a book in the shade? Or while lying in a hammock? Or, if you’re really bold, on the beach? 

This summer there’s an interesting crop of books. Some come from familiar names, others from new authors. They include a whip-smart, hilarious collection of essays to an illuminating biography of a musical icon to the greatest hits of one of the best pop culture critics in the business. I suppose like any list, this is far from definitive and merely reflects what’s on my docket for the summer. Still, I hope some of these books find their way from my list to yours.

1. South and West – Joan Didion (Knopf)

For a while there, it seemed like Didion was getting famous: she was featured in a Celine campaign and her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking was turned into a stage play. With her new book, Didion main talent is getting some attention again: her skill as an essayist and writer.

South and West is taken from two old notebooks from two pieces she planned on writing in the 1970s, but never did: one on the American south, the other on the Patty Hearst trial. Unlike most of her peers, Didion’s notebooks are compelling reading on their own: they contain observations, snatches of conversation and loads of Didion’s signature bone-dry, sharp prose. Witness how she opens the book: “In New Orleans in June the air is heavy with sex and death, not violent death, but death with decay, overripeness, rotting, death by drowning, suffocation, fever of unknown etiology.”  Like a good journalist, she doesn’t hold back, just watches and reports her observations. Anyone who’s into creative nonfiction will like this look into the process of one of the genre’s masters. 

2. Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way – Ryan White (Touchstone)

As Molly Lambert recently wrote for MTV News, Jimmy Buffett is a lot more than just the guy who sang “Margaritaville.” Sure, his signature song has inspired everything from a restaurant chain to retirement homes to even a beer, but it’s also overshadowed a lengthy career which has seen Buffett get named as one of the most important singer-songwriters of his generation. By Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan, nonetheless.

White’s new biography is an in depth look at Buffett, who struggled as a performer before finding his signature style and has since risen to CEO of his own company and icon to a devoted base of Parrotheads. And there’s the time he got shot at while riding in an airplane with U2’s Bono. Buffett’s story goes lot deeper than just a hit tune or two.

3. Dreaming The Beatles – Rob Sheffield (Dey Street Books)

With this summer marking the 50th anniversary of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band, there’s a new flurry of Beatlemania: expanded box sets, reissued vinyl records and a shelf full of new books. Sheffield’s new book promises to stand out along them. After all, he wrote the compelling and moving memoir Love Is A Mixtape, not to mention an interesting book on David Bowie published last year. 

What makes Dreaming The Beatles stand out is what it isn’t: it’s not a by-the-colours history of one of the most famous bands ever. That story’s been told, time and time again. Instead, Sheffield uses his music critic experience to take a deeper look at the band, why their music still matters and their legacy. He does this through essays on particular albums, singles and bootlegs: everything from the A Toot and A Snore bootleg to “Tomorrow Never Knows” to, yes, Sgt Pepper

4. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter – Scaachi Koul (Doubleday Canada/Picador)

In her first collection of essays, Scaachi Koul (Buzzfeed, The New Yorker, Jezebel) writes about everything from how to deal with Internet trolls to sexism to growing up with immigrant parents. But what really sets her book apart is her sense of humour and her intelligence. 

As anyone who’s familiar with her culture writing at Buzzfeed (or even just with her must-follow Twitter account) knows, Koul is able to pick through pop culture to find the importance underneath, often in a way that’s hilarious (take this, for example). And even when her writing deals with darker subjects, her wit and intelligence shines through. Get this for your friend who won’t stop comparing herself to Kelly Oxford, but then keep it for yourself.

5. Chuck Klosterman X – Chuck Klosterman (Blue Rider Press)

Over the past 15 years or so, Chuck Klosterman has carved out a particular niche: he’s written essays on everything from 80s hair metal to college basketball to Tim Tebow. In the process, he’s made himself into one of the most popular pop culture writers of his generation and his influence runs through everything from The AV Club to Grantland to scores of young writers who found his books as a teen. 

And in a new collection, Klosterman (Fargo Rock City, Killing Yourself To Live) goes back into his archive, taking highlights from those books and re-presents them, often in unedited form and with new thoughts added by Klosterman as he looks back on his back pages. It’s a best-of for the long time fans and an ideal starting place for those only just finding out about him.  

Photographs by Janine Van Oostrom.

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