Red, White, & Bright:
American Novels to Keep You Sharp This Summer
Summer break is a serene (and welcomed) break from required reading and book reports, but it’s also the perfect time to engage in some pleasure reading. No, that’s not an oxymoron – reading can be enjoyable when you get to choose your own material and read on your own schedule! In the spirit of the 4th of July, I’m giving you five summer book recommendations – centered around American life – to keep your patriotism high and your mind just a bit less idle this summer.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Jonathan Safran Foer
This novel follows the narrator, Oskar, a young boy who lost his father in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Though the actual journey through grief is complex, the age of the narrator makes it easy to comprehend. It’s a beautiful book, but you may want to have some tissues on hand. Don’t write this book off just because you’ve seen the movie – there are some gems in the book that Hollywood didn’t include. When giving summer book recommendations, this one’s gotta be first.
“I like to see people reunited, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can’t tell fast enough, the ears that aren’t big enough, the eyes that can’t take in all of the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.”
.Freedom Jonathan Franzen
Freedom follows the Berglund family from the 1990’s until Obama’s presidency. It’s hard to give a succinct overview, because after 600 pages, the reader has gone on a rollercoaster ride with each and every character. It tackles themes like suburbia and disenchantment with the traditional “American Dream.”
Note from the author: I first read this novel in an American Literature class while studying abroad at the University of Sydney in Australia. Since other countries are learning about America through this book… I had to include it on my list of American summer book recommendations!
“It’s all circling around the same problem of personal liberties,” Walter said. “People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to [mess] up your life whatever way you want to.”
East of Eden John Steinbeck
Don’t write off Steinbeck just because his work has likely been homework in the past. The majority of East of Eden is set in California from the early 1900’s to the end of WWI, and it follows two families. It may not be an upbeat novel for a fun day at the beach, but it’s an addictive page-turner. There’s a reason Steinbeck
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
Revolutionary Road Richard Yates
This novel is also a heavy one, but it’s one you won’t want to put down. Frank and April Wheeler are living the “American Dream,” but their restlessness and loneliness are inescapable. Give it a read, and then reward yourself with a movie night! Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio bring the story to life in the 2008 film adaptation.
“I still had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere, as far ahead of me as the seniors at Rye when I was in sixth grade; people who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work out the way they wanted without even trying, who never had to make the best of a bad job because it never occurred to them to do anything less than perfectly the first time. Sort of heroic super-people, all of them beautiful and witty and calm and kind, and I always imagined that when I did find them I’d suddenly know that I belonged among them, that I was one of them, that I’d been meant to be one of them all along, and everything in the meantime had been a mistake; and they’d know it too. I’d be like the ugly duckling among the swans.”
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe Fannie Flagg
This book flips back and forth between the present (the 1980’s) and the past (the 1930’s) through the storytelling of Ninny Threadgoode to her new friend, Evelyn Couch. The women form an endearing, mutually-beneficial, and slightly odd friendship over the course of the novel. It explores the issues of racism, misogyny, aging, and – as you can tell by the title – food!
“It’s funny, when you’re a child you think time will never go by, but when you hit about twenty, time passes like you’re on the fast train to Memphis. I guess life just slips up on everybody. It sure did on me.”
Don’t let your brain turn to mush this summer! Head to your local library, grab a cheap, used copy on Amazon, or download the audiobook version of one of these summer book recommendations. Got any recommendations for us? Send them our way!