What Did You Really Read This Summer?

Sarah Harrison Smith on September 04, 2018


Way back in June, magazines, newspapers, and blogs -- including ours -- were full of lists recommending summer reading: books for the beach, books for the mountains, books for your road trip, books for your staycation. But what did people actually read this summer?

One answer, of course, can be found by looking at the bestseller lists, or the “most read” list that Amazon Charts pulls together. But when I asked a fairly random sampling of people what they were reading, their answers were far more varied, reflecting a lot of love for older books as well as the bestsellers the data documents.

Some readers were catching up on big books from the previous year -- books they hadn’t had time to read when they first came out. A mother of two in Long Island City said, “I finished Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Amazing book! So well-written, well-researched, and well-crafted, with fascinating characters and interesting historical facts. I learned so much about [Korean culture] that I had not known. And I fell in love with the characters.” In Cambridge, Mass., a young professor was reading An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Oprah’s Book Club pick from February 2018) and the surprise winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize, Less by Andrew Sean Greer.

Other readers were happy to spend some time with series by favorite writers. One retiree, based in New York City, said she was reading Harry Bingham’s “super addictive “ detective series, starring a “semi-crazy female protagonist named Fiona Griffiths.” An artist in New Mexico was excited to discover Richard Wagamese's novels, which she described as “Beautiful, simple, and complex page-turners -- like eating ice cream." 

Many readers mentioned that they use vacation time to read the classics. One said that her “top two” books of the summer were Emily Wilson's new translation of The Odyssey and The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope. "Trollope is severely underrated, and his women can be marvelous!” she said.

Contemporary classics were another favorite. An attorney in Maryland wrote, "I hoard paperbacks (usually purchased from thrift stores) during the year and then take two or three to the beach in the summer. On this beach trip, I read My Brilliant Friend (Ferrante) and now desperately want to read the other books in that series. I also read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.” A young writer said, “I've been meaning to read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for a long time, and finally did! It wasn't a page turner in the traditional sense, yet I couldn't put it down."

A Delaware reader tempered long, challenging non-fiction with lighter picks. “My summer reading began with a biography of Martin Luther King by Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years. Before I could finish it, my neighbor lent me David Garrow's biography of President Obama, Rising Star. This is 1078 pages with several hundred pages of chapter notes! When not engrossed in these great biographies I relaxed with Daniel Silva's mysteries.” She concluded: “I love summer reading!” — and leaving questions of personal taste aside, that's one sentiment we can all agree on. So tell us: what did you read this summer?

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