We’ve all found ourselves in a reading slump before, staring dejectedly at the books spilling out of our bookshelves, or denying suggestions from well-meaning friends and family. Maybe we were too busy, or felt too tired. However, COVID-19’s repercussions mean typical summer events, like vacations, concerts, and festivals, have been put on hold. It may sound like a lackluster comparison to a blazing hot beach day or an amusement park trip, but taking time to read can transport you to both fictional and nonfictional locations. We’ve compiled a list of the best summer reads for 2020 to ease any pandemic-related anxiety and allow you to focus on more than fear mongering.
Book #1: The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster (Click book cover to purchase, if desired)
Genre: Young Adult/Fiction/Fantasy
Sentence Summary: A young boy named Milo, tired of life’s monotony, receives a mysterious package that literally transports him to lands he never would have imagined.
Why It’s One of The Best Summer Reads For 2020: Unless you are an essential worker, quarantine most likely has you confined to your living arrangement. After seeing the same sights every day or following the same routine, you might find yourself relating to Milo, who early on in the book laments “There’s nothing for me to do, nowhere I’d care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing”.
However, after Milo receives a package in the mail with a tollbooth and a car, he is taken to lands such as Dictionopolis, the Silent Valley, and Digitopolis. Along the way, Milo is joined by a cast of characters like the Humbug, the Spelling Bee, Tock the watchdog, and an awful Dynne. Juster’s creativity and wordplay is sure to influence readers of any age into considering it one of the best summer reads of 2020 because it will spark the imagination, even in the deepest of the Doldrums.
Book #2: The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells (Click book cover to purchase, if desired)
Sentence Summary: Although the relationship between Siddalee Walker and her mother, Vivi Walker, is strained, Vivi’s childhood friends, known as the Ya-Yas, convince Vivi to send Siddalee their scrapbook detailing the longevity of their friendship.
Why It’s One of The Best Summer Reads For 2020: Wells is prolific in using imagery, to the point where you can practically taste the spices that flavor a childhood forged in the Louisiana bayou. One of Wells’ other strengths, though, is delving into complex relationships: rocky relationships between mothers and their children, wives who do not love their husbands, fiancées who are afraid to love their partners, and friends who have truly seen the best and worst of each other.
Wells contrasts the glamour of the gaudy Ya-Yas with stories of psychological trauma and abuse that formulate each character. The abuse is not romanticized by Wells, but the reader can realize how affection, or a lack thereof, in childhood shapes the characters as adults. Overall, this book will take you out of the summer of 2020 and into summers swimming in the lake, seeing motion pictures, and doing it all with a group of friends who are more like sisters.
Book #3: Scarcity, by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir (Click book cover to purchase, if desired)
Genre: Scientific nonfiction
Sentence Summary: Through case studies and anecdotal evidence, Mullainathan and Shafir analyze how the brain becomes affected when experiencing a scarcity of resources such as time, money, or food.
Why It’s One of The Best Summer Reads For 2020: Although it is not the most uplifting read, this book is real and raw. Mullainathan and Shafir elicit sympathy for people experiencing poverty by explaining concepts such as a taxed bandwidth (when your mind is so preoccupied by an issue that it leaves no energy for other tasks) and tunneling (fixating on one issue to the point where you block out everything around you). The book, most importantly, contradicts stereotypes about people experiencing poverty, such as that they are lazy, stupid, or complacent with their situation.
Admittedly, the scientific conclusions in the book can seem repetitive, but they are engaging enough when they are applied to everyday situations and empirical experiments. Scarcity simultaneously provides sympathy and solutions for people enduring any amount of scarcity in their lives, especially nowadays for those who have found they are juggling too much during quarantine.
Book #4: King Lear, by Shakespeare (Click book cover to purchase, if desired)
Genre: A tragic play
Sentence Summary: This play describes a kingdom’s downfall, as well as the consequences of seeking flattery, after its king descends into madness.
Why It’s One of The Best Summer Reads For 2020: King Lear is an emotional play with a convoluted plot; the play begins when King Lear experiences what he thinks is treachery at the hands of his loyal daughter, but betrayal soon ends up tainting the entire kingdom. As the play progresses, King Lear, in his old age, begins to deteriorate in body and mind, leaving the future of the kingdom uncertain. While the language is archaic, it is plain to see that certain characters are archetypes of loyalty, betrayal, and violence. The story is filled with symbolism, evocative dialogues, and will appeal to avid readers of novels and scripts alike.
Book #5: Moby Dick, by Herman Melville (Click book cover to purchase, if desired)
Genre: 19th century American fiction
Sentence Summary: A young man, Ishmael, gets involved in the whaling business, but also becomes involved in the ship captain’s quest for revenge on Moby Dick, the white whale that caused him to lose his leg.
Why It’s One of The Best Summer Reads For 2020: This book can accommodate any stretch of time you have: the chapters are only about six pages long, but they are laden with an engaging plot, as well as information about the whaling business. If you have hours to spare, you can settle down and learn about the anatomy of a whale’s skull, as well as the usages for whale oil or the symbolism of the color white, but you can also skim those chapters and read the actual plot without missing much.
Moby Dick is crammed with thematic material, but manages not to be overbearing; it is in fact a powerful novel about democracy, American society, religion, and existentialism. Ahab’s literal obsession with the white whale is spine-chilling, and it becomes difficult not to feel anxious for the impending encounter. This book is a lot to digest, but the summer of 2020 is the best time to plow through it while in social isolation.
These books are some of the best reads for the summer of 2020 because they can (hopefully) allow you to briefly escape from the troubles of COVID-19, and you will have plenty of stories to recount to your friends once social distancing is over!
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