This week Cara Balen talks about ten amazing books that you should check out this summer. From emotional memoirs to gripping adventures, this list will have the perfect book for you!

As summer rolls on, I find there is nothing better than to escape into a good book. It is important to take time to reflect on the world around us, and I believe there is no better way to do so than to delve into different cultures, discover new perspectives, and explore diverse walks of life. Many of us may feel a little bit lost at the moment, or perhaps bored of seeing the same surroundings – so why not take your own journey, with nothing but printed pages for a guide? Here are ten books you can read this summer in order to submerse yourself in the mystical, the sentimental, and the spiritual.

Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison

This influential book, which was accredited by the Swedish Academy as one of the books that led to Morrison’s Nobel Prize in Literature, encapsulates the best of her exquisite writing. Dabbling in magical realism, whilst still conveying candid aspects of African-American experience, Song of Solomon takes the reader on an epic journey across America as the protagonist attempts to unearth his fragmented family history. With Black Lives Matter marches hitting the headlines, it is important to learn about the history of race relations and hear the stories of those still feeling the aftermath of slavery. Morrison’s beautifully rendered prose, whilst fictional, gives the reader a glimpse into an American psyche battling with the dark past of the ‘land of the free’. With hidden cults, a secret message, and the occult, what more could you want?

The Consolations of Philosophy – Alain de Botton

Botton’s elegantly written nonfiction novel will take you on a journey through ancient philosophical thought, starting with Socrates, to the more modern musing of Nietzsche. In doing so, Botton comforts the reader with scholarly wisdom, showing that even ancient Greek aphorisms or obscure German proverbs can help with contemporary issues such as heartbreak or monetary troubles. If you are looking for a self-help book that teaches whilst it consoles, then look no further. Botton’s commentary on philosophical dialogue will help you to spiritually reconnect whilst also serving as a crash course on the great thinkers of the Western world. 

Emma – Jane Austen

Whether you have seen the recently released film adaption or not, this book is a classic for those who wish to escape into Austen’s perfectly curated world of ball dresses, bonnets, and brilliant humour. I have to admit I am wary when it comes to Austen as obvious love stories and wandering male gazes have never quite done it for me. However, Emma overthrows such expectations as we are introduced to a witty, sarcastic protagonist who we can’t help but love. The titular character plays a sassy yet misguided matchmaker, hilariously creating love that goes awry. Austen stated that she created ‘a heroine whom no one but myself will much like’, but I promise you that reading this novel will prove Austen herself wrong!

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan 

Take a dive into the fantastical life of Clay Jannon, whose world combines the old realm of obscure bookshops and supernatural prophecies with the futuristic land of Google and cyberspace. This whimsical novel reads like you’re in a dream, as Sloan delightfully recounts ethereal settings, all the while introducing you to quirky bibliophiles, computer wizzes, and even an underground cult. It is as if Sloan’s imagination is rendered in Nintendo pixels – an apt description for an author so interested in the possibilities of technology. Just like the classic Gameboy, this novel is full of fun adventures, with life just bursting out of every page. This truly is the novel in which to seek refuge from any dreary days this summer!

Riders of the Purple Sage – Zane Grey

This 1912 novel is the ultimate throwback for anyone that wants to forget the stress that is 2020. Known for being one of the most popular western novels in America, Grey’s grand tale takes place amongst a Mormon settlement, where ‘gentiles’ and religious fanatics must fight out their differences amongst the striking Utah plains and spectacular canyons. Grey intertwines the story of Jane Withersteen, who must resist her oppressive patriarchal community, with the capture of a cross-dressing female bandit as the two face their own separate trials of being seen as the ‘lesser’ sex out on the frontier – a pleasant surprise for a novel written over 100 years ago. Of course, this western also has its fair share of shootouts, horse races, and rugged men riding out into the sunset. 

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

A reviewer on Goodreads calls Notes from a Small Island the ‘book version of comfort food’ which is the most accurate description I can think of. Bryson takes the reader on an expedition around Britain, as he embarks on a farewell tour before he returns back to his home country, America, after living in the UK for almost two decades. His love of the quirky country we call home shines through the pages, as he somehow manages to make even rainy days and dated B&Bs sound endearing. For those of us who cannot travel this summer, why not sightsee the land that lies just beyond your doorsteps? 

Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys 

If you want to get your teeth into a really thought-provoking book this summer, Rhys has the perfect novel. Although the plot is often melancholy, it will definitely give any reader pause, as Rhys explores the way in which colonialism and damaging patriarchal oppression affects the world-view of a young girl living in 1830s Jamaica. Rhys twists Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre by creating a backstory for the infamous mad woman in the attic, and in doing so turns everything we know about the aloof Rochester on its head. This is not a light read, but it is definitely worth it as Rhys doesn’t shy away from showing the dark and tangled paths of those whose lives have been ravaged by subjugation.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz 

June is Pride Month, and as such it is the perfect time to discover some of the beautiful stories penned by LGBT+ authors. This captivating coming of age story focuses on the blossoming relationship between two unlikely friends. Saenz perfectly captures the electric storm that is being a teen who has the whole world at their fingertips without quite knowing how to fully grasp this strange thing we call life. A perfectly crafted nostalgic (and adorably wholesome) love story twinkles out from every word in this slice of life novel. If you want to get into your feelings this summer, Aristotle and Dante are here to make you laugh, cry, and everything in between!

A Street Cat Named Bob – James Bowen 

This uplifting memoir tells the story of a man who found hope in the form of a furry feline friend. Bowen recounts his struggles with homelessness and addiction, and the way his life changed when he met Bob, a ginger tomcat that seemed to adopt Bowen rather than the other way around. This sincere autobiography gives the reader a glimpse into life on the streets of London and the difficult road to recovery from drug dependence. Everyone loves a good success story, and the cute tale of Bowen and Bob is guaranteed to make your heart melt.

Belly flowers. – J. R. 

Stumbling across this book is like unearthing an uncut gem in the middle of an arid desert. J. R.’s astoundingly stunning writing combines poetry and prose to create a kaleidoscope of imagery and a wave of emotions. The collection of fragmented text that makes up belly flowers. forms a mosaic that represents the experiences of a queer woman of colour. Although it is quite short, it is certain that you will come to this bewitching book again and again, as each reread divulges new secrets. Like belly flowers themselves, J. R.’s recently published work is delicate, bold, and beautiful all at once. 

If, after reading any of these books, you would like to discuss them or even fangirl over them, please tweet me @Balencara – I would love to hear what you think.

You can read more of Cara Balen’s work on Twitter by following @BalenCara.

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