There are some books that are just meant to be read in the summer.
Whether it's the ones that are light, frothy and easily consumed whilst lying on a beach blanket, or the ones that contain language that mimics the swampy, suffocating air of the season -- in my opinion, a summer read doesn't need to be fun trash. On the contrary, some of my favorite summertime books are horribly depressing -- but that doesn't mean they're any less fitting or enjoyable.
Sometimes summer is a bummer, and you need a book that understands that. Herewith, a couple suggestions that fall all over the spectrum. So head on over to your local bookstore or, if you're feeling hermit-y, Amazon.com, snip off the top of a sour freezie, and get reading.
1. Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
I first read this book last summer, and perhaps that's why I associate it with the season, but the imagery of the Southwestern desert and the thick, dark Los Angeles nights seem fitting for endless afternoons when you can't peel yourself off the couch. The novel's protagonist is Maria Wyeth, a failed actress whose life can be seen looking back from her current location inside of a mental health institution. The details of what brought her there are murky at first, but slowly we discover that Maria's failed marriage and compulsive behavior have pushed her into a state of hopelessness. She spends a lot of time driving through the Hollywood hills, contemplating her past traumatic experiences. For some reason the imagery of one scene of Maria standing barefoot on the hot pavement, drinking Coke from a glass bottle has always stuck with me. And I mean, if you don't know already, Joan Didion is a flipping genius.
Perfect for: S.S.A.D.: Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder. Don't forget to bathe and leave the house every now and then, babes.
2. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Many people most likely know Valley of the Dolls as the high-drama 1967 film that brought Sharon Tate into the spotlight (and is source for much style inspiration). The book it was based on is just as glamorous, selling more than 30 million copies since its publication in 1966, but is based mostly in the 1940s and 50s instead, a time of big-budget Hollywood musicals and seriously scandalous studio actors. It follows the lives of three very different women, Anne ("the boring one," OK, I'm kidding, but she is pretty bland), Neely ("the wild one," who was rumored to have been based on Judy Garland), and Jennifer ("the hot one," who is really obsessed with her boobs). OK, so those descriptions are oversimplifying the characters a little bit/a lot, but I don't want to give it all away! I'll just say that this is a book jam-packed full of sex, lies, scandals, brawls, suicide attempts, mental hospitals, lesbians, musical numbers, romance and of course DOLLS. "Dolls" are the delightfully euphemistic name given to the pills -- downers, in particular -- that help all three of the women deal with the horrific messes that each of their lives ultimately become. Sure, the book is trashy at times but it's enthralling from start to finish and equal parts hilarious and sad.
Perfect for: The beach, especially if you've decided to B.Y.O.B.
3.Summer At Tiffanyby Marjorie Hart
And now for a book that won't harsh your mellow -- Summer at Tiffany is, simply put, "delightful." It's the real-life story of a summer spent in New York City in 1945 as the masses waited with bated breath for WWII to end. Marjorie Hart, a college student, moves from Iowa with her best friend Marty to the big city to find out what life has to offer. She subsequently gets a summer job inside the four walls of the ever-regal Tiffany and Co. and spends her days and nights dining at the Automat, checking out the Manhattan nightlife with handsome sailors, and, of course, working away at the prestigious (and thankfully air conditioned) jewelry landmark. If you're into coming-of-age stories that will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, this is for you.
Perfect for: Reading in the bathtub, along with a couple Lush bubble bars.
4. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
I know I am a total cliché for having this as one of my favorite books (my copy is even signed), but I can't help it! I can read it over and over and over again and not get sick of how poignantly it captures the absolute godawfulness of being a hormonal teenager. If you don't know, the novel is told from the collective perspective of a group of boys who longed for the five elusive Lisbon sisters. Eugenides deftly describes suburban minutiae, the pain of growing up, the small, confusing mysteries that stick with us for years. When I visit my hometown and walk through my old neighborhood, I can always imagine fourteen year-old Lux Lisbon hanging out on one of the lawns in her bikini, skulking through the middle of the road with a cherry popsicle in hand. Throw on some Todd Rundgren and get reading.
Perfect for: Getting over a summer crush (or not).
* * *
So, I've shared my picks with you. Now I want to hear yours. Which books just scream "summertime" to you? Am I crazy for reading depressing novels this time of year?