Hit the Books: The Essential 2020 Summer Reading List

summer reading list

From fascinating fiction to breezy beach reads and mesmerizing memoirs, Zoomer's essential summer books will keep you entertained season long. Photo: Johner Images/Getty Images

None other than Dr. Seuss wisely observed that “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

That last part — “the more places you’ll go” — rings especially true in the midst of a pandemic, when the “places you’ll go” remain quite limited. Nonetheless, whether you’re reading on the balcony, in the backyard or in a secluded spot in nature, we’ve wrangled summer’s hottest new releases — from fiction to beach reads and memoirs — to keep you nose-deep in great reads all season long.

FICTION FAVES

 

Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup

Swarup’s debut novel is already a sensation in her native India, where it won the Tata Literature Live! Award for Debut Fiction while finding itself in the running for other major literary honours, like the International Dublin Literary Award 2020. The book, told in a series of stories, spans decades and generations and features tales of everything from familial bonds to mystical beings from ghosts to, yes, a yeti, in a tome that Publishers Weekly celebrates for “zigzagging across time and place” and “beautiful depictions of humanity through a successfully experimental form.”
Available now.

All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad

Another debut novel, this story follows a daughter’s journey to deliver five messages to five different men on behalf of her mother following the death of the matriarch. In the process, she discovers her mother’s secret life and the complications of grief and family strife that come with it, which helps explain how All My Mother’s Lovers landed on virtually every “must-read” list of the season.
Available now.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The author of the 2016 bestseller The Mothers returns with one of 2020’s most anticipated reads — a decade-spanning tale about twin African-American sisters who run away as teens, with one ending up a single mother in Louisiana while the other passes as a white woman in California.
Available June 2.

Parakeet by Marie-Helene Bertino

The pandemic has us thinking of loved ones — those we’re separated from temporarily and those lost forever — while Bertino introduces us to a bride-to-be whose dead grandmother returns to her as the eponymous bird, pushing her to rekindle broken familial connections and reflect on her own existence.
Available June 2.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Naoise Dolan enters the literary fray with a novel that chronicles the love triangle between an Irish ex-pat teaching English in Hong Kong, her rich but not-so-committed boyfriend and a local Hong Kong romantic interest who imbues her life with romance and culture. Exciting Times, which earned “Most Anticipated” laurels from everyone from Vogue to Elle to O, The Oprah Magazine, already has critics comparing Dolan to another celebrated Irish scribe — Normal People author Sally Rooney.
Available June 2.

Always the Last to Know by Kristan Higgins

Familial secrets and tensions bubbling beneath the surface of the Frost’s 50-year marriage come to the fore when the patriarch has a stroke, causing parent and children alike to confront uncomfortable truths in the latest novel from international bestselling author Kristan Higgins.
Available June 9.

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates

No 2020 summer reading list is complete without this entry from one of our most celebrated modern writers who, at 81, presents an 800-page tome about the familial fallout after the death of a wealthy patriarch at the hands of the local police.
Available June 9.

We Came Here to Shine by Susie Orman Schnall

Travel back to the summer of 1939 and the New York World’s Fair in this engrossing novel about two women from different worlds fighting to reverse their career fortunes at an event that promises the “Dawn of a New Day.”
Available June 16.

You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

A young Palestinian-American woman living in Brooklyn confronts her sexuality and how it clashes with cultural, spiritual and familial values in this hotly anticipated debut novel that O, The Oprah Magazine called “a  provocative and seductive debut.”
Available June 19.

Antkind by Charlie Kaufman

The first novel from the Oscar-winning screenwriter (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) follows a failed film critic who views a previously unknown masterpiece that took its director 90 years to complete. When the film is destroyed, the critic attempts to reconstruct it for the world to see.
Available July 7.

Memoirs and Misinformation, by Jim Carrey and Dana Vachon

Famed Canuck actor and comedian Jim Carrey reveals elements of himself in this semi-autobiographical novel about “Jim Carey” and the dichotomy between the bright lights of Hollywood stardom and the loneliness and other fears that overwhelm behind the scenes. And, of course, Canada gets a shout out as well.
Available July 7.

Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women’s Olympic Team by Elise Hooper

Historical fiction fans have long enjoyed Hooper’s novels, from The Other Alcott (which explored the life of May Alcott, sister to Little Women author Louisa May Alcott) to Learning to See (about famed female photography pioneer Dorothea Lange). In Fast Girls, Hooper follows three real-life female American track and field athletes — Betty Robinson, Louise Stokes and Helen Stephens — on their quest to make history at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.
Available July 7.

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

The Cloud Atlas author’s first novel in five years transports readers back to the sex, drugs and revolution of the psychedelic ‘60s in a tale of the rise and fall of a fictional rock band.
Available July 14.

The Lost Girls of Devon by Barbara O’Neal

Best-selling author Barbara O’Neal returns with a story of four generations of women from the same family who are forced to confront their own deep-seated emotions and past strife when they reunite in their English village — which is in the midst of its own life-and-death crisis.
Available July 14.

Inheritors by Asako Serizawa

Serizawa counts two O. Henry Prizes for her short stories among the honours she has received for her work, so it’s no surprise that this most recent collection is causing excitement among fans. In Inheritors, the author explores a century and a half of the struggles, secrets, memories and shames of one Japanese family, with a series of tales that runs the gamut from the 19th century to the Second World War to the future and cyber warfare.
Available July 14.

A Star Is Bored by Byron Lane

Lane, a former personal assistant to Carrie Fisher, brings readers beyond the red carpet in this comedic story of a man struggling to sort out his own life who lands a job working as an assistant for a Hollywood legend — a tale the publisher says is “influenced” by Lane’s time with the Star Wars actress.
Available July 28.

Must I Go by Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li, 47, is no stranger to literary awards and, with Must I Go, she may have to make more room in her trophy case. The story follows an octogenarian named Lilia who, recalling the suicide of her first-born child, revisits the diary left behind by a former lover, who is the dead child’s father. While reading through the diary, she adds in her own recollections that conflict with those of her former lover, revisiting her past and uncovering truths about her own life.
Available July 28.

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears: Stories by Laura van den Berg

In a recent reflection on writing this collection of stories for Entertainment Weekly, van den Berg wrote, “Before long I could discern a recurring thread: all these stories were ghost stories, in one way or another.” The tales in I Hold a Wolf by the Ears follow women in various stages of haunting or being haunted, from one who impersonates dead wives for widowers to another reflecting on past suicidal desires to a third whose husband sedates her when he grows weary of listening to her. And all are crafted with the same literary brilliance that has earned van den Berg’s previous novels and short stories numerous honours and an enthusiastic fan base.
Available July 28.

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

The buzz around The Death of Vivek Oji has built for months ahead of its summer release. The story begins with the titular death and then explores Vivek’s life as a boy in Nigeria who must hide the fact that he identifies as a girl, his coming of age and the physical and psychological impacts of shouldering the burden of hiding the truth about himself. Vivek forges some friendships but, as he begins to express his true identity, he encounters the brutality of those who hate him for it.
Available Aug. 4.

Luster by Raven Leilani

Leilani’s debut novel follows a 20-something aspiring artist named Edie, a black woman who falls for a white man in an open marriage. Over time, Edie finds herself unemployed and becoming more integrated into Eric’s personal life in a book whose enthusiastic editor describes as “eviscerating on contemporary sexual manners and racial politics, and then out of nowhere, it wrong-foots you with its unexpected tenderness.”
Available Aug. 4.

Sisters by Daisy Johnson

This psychological drama from the youngest ever Booker Prize short-listed writer (Everything Under) follows two sisters who move to an abandoned home with their mother and find their sibling bond fraying, while forces inside and outside the house threaten to alter their relationship forever.
Available Aug. 25.

 

THRILLERS/DYSTOPIA

 

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

Imagine your latest novel is so good that you’ve got publications as varied as The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, New York Magazine, Vogue and Entertainment Weekly all singing your praises. That’s the case with Death in Her Hands, a thriller about a 72-year-old widow who finds a note about a murdered woman while on a walk in the woods, though the body it was supposedly attached to is missing. The widow’s ensuing curiosity eventually spirals into a whirlwind of theories, horror, invented lives and personal revelations, illustrating the literary prowess that has earned Moshfegh the PEN/Hemingway Award, an O. Henry Award, a place on the Booker Prize shortlist and other literary honours.
Available June 23.

 Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

Mackintosh landed on the 2018 Booker Prize long list for her last novel, The Water Cure — and also received a shout-out from Margaret Atwood on Twitter for it — so it’s no surprise that critics and fans can’t wait for Blue Ticket, a dystopian tale about a society in which a lottery determines which women become wives and mothers and which are allowed to embark on professional careers.
Available June 30.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

A horror novel that’s already garnered critical anticipation, The Only Good Indians follows four men from the Blackfeet Reservation who are stalked by a vengeful supernatural force that takes the shape of an elk that they had illegally hunted years earlier. It’s a tale that prompted Entertainment Weekly to dub Jones “the Jordan Peele of horror literature” and praise the book as balancing “horrific drama with sharp social commentary.”
Available July 14.

Afterland by Lauren Beukes

In a world where a male-targeting pandemic has killed virtually every man on Earth, a mother violently frees her healthy young son from government captivity, disguises him as a girl and embarks on a perilous cross-country escape while being pursued by her own sister, who wants to recapture the boy. This work by Beukes, a former recipient of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for her science fiction writing, has already drawn comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale and landed on numerous summer reading lists.
Available July 28.

BEACH READS

 

Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory

For those who want a little summer romance, best-selling author Guillory, who Refinery29 dubbed “a rom-com queen,” is happy to oblige. Party of Two follows a Los Angeles lawyer named Olivia and the young senator with whom she embarks on a budding relationship — that is, until their love affair catches the eye of the press. At that point, it’s more than just the romance that faces an uncertain future.
Available June 23.

Destination Wedding by Diksha Basu

Destination Wedding takes readers inside a five-star Indian wedding in Delhi, where familial, relationship and personal drama flow like the booze, forcing Tina, the protagonist — a young Indian ex-pat who lives in New York and returned for the nuptials — to sort out what it all means for her loved ones as well as for herself.
Available June 30.

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

The Crazy Rich Asians author returns with another tale of money, love and cultural identity with the story of an upper class Chinese-American woman whose engagement is thrown into uncertainty when a fling from her past arrives on the scene and stirs up long-suppressed feelings. Brimming with romance, humour and, of course, lavish lifestyles, Publishers Weekly called Sex and Vanity “an intoxicating, breezy update of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View.”
Available June 30.

MEMOIRS

 

The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley

The famed fashion journalist, 70, enjoyed so much advance buzz for his memoir when it was reported that he wrote that his former friend and boss, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, caused him “huge emotional and psychological scars” — among other takedowns of the fashion empress — that the publisher released it four months early.
Available now.

Honey and Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper by Andrew Coté

Forgive us for suggesting that Andrew Coté’s beekeeping memoir is gathering a lot of “buzz,” but the famed New York apiarist has a number of incredible stories to tell as he takes readers along with him for a year in the bee biz. That includes traversing the countless New York rooftops where he maintains hives, international travel with his Bees Without Borders organization, producing his own honey under the label Andrew’s Honey and, of course, dispelling many of the myths about the black and yellow creatures that pollinate our gardens and produce the honey we love. And there’s even a Canadian connection — Coté’s family traces its beekeeping lineage all the way back to the author’s great-grandmother, who had bees on her dairy farm in “northern Canada.”
Available June 9.

All the Way to the Tigers: A Memoir by Mary Morris

Following a devastating ankle injury sustained while skating in 2008, Mary Morris, 73 — award-winning author and acclaimed memoirist and travel writer (Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Travelling Alone) — challenged herself: if she could walk again, she would travel to India and search out a Bengal tiger. All the Way to the Tigers documents that trip, which includes both the travel through villages and forests of India, the search for a tiger and the journey inward, in which the author explores her own early life and the roots of her unquenchable wanderlust.
Available June 9.

Bright Precious Thing: A Memoir by Gail Caldwell

The Pulitzer Prize-winning former literary critic and author of the celebrated memoir Let’s Take the Long Way Home puts her life under the microscope once again with her fourth memoir: Bright Precious Thing. This time, she examines her life from childhood in 1960s Texas to the present day through the lens of the feminist movement, retracing her travels as well as the journeys of self-discovery that informed the person she is and the things she values most today.
Available July 7.

The Answer Is … Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek

Inspired by the fan support he received following his 2019 cancer diagnosis, the Canuck Jeopardy! host, who turns 80 on July 22, muses on everything from spirituality to game show anecdotes in his first memoir.
Available July 21.

Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger: A Memoir by Lisa Donovan

Famed pastry chef and James Beard Award-winning writer Lisa Donovan serves up her first memoir, which explores her life contending with and overcoming the rampant patriarchy in the restaurant industry, the struggles of growing up in a mixed-race family, surviving abuse and teaching herself the ins and outs of baking. It also serves as a celebration of the women in her family who instilled her with the strength to pursue her career in food.
Available Aug. 4.

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