Friday Question of the Day – Summer Reading List 2014 (reader request)


In the DC baby name post a reader requests an update summer reading list post because they:

“Have a 21-hour flight coming up and I’ll need some good ones.”

Do you have any specific ones you’d recommend for a long flight? What’s on your regular summer reading list this year?

For fellow soccer fans or just those interested in the World Cup, I recently started Eight World Cups by New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey and it’s off to a strong start.

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  • For long flights, I like well- written mysteries: anything by Batya Gur, Laurie King, or Donna Leon would be good picks. For regular summer reading I’m making an effort to do some non-fiction, and I’ve a stack of books by Jared Diamond – including the much-recommended ‘ Guns, Germs and Steel’, and ‘Americanah’ at the top of my fiction stack.

  • I’d highly recommend The Orphan Master’s Son if you missed it. Especially if your 21 hour flight is to North Korea!

    • Second that–such a good book.

    • I third this book! I picked it up randomly a while ago from the MLK library’s “new fiction” section (I highly recommend this maneuver if you’re open to different things!) and couldn’t put it down.

  • ‘Bottom of the 33rd’ by Dan Barry. Even if you aren’t a baseball fan.

  • For a long trip I would recommend one of the following:
    Capital in the Twenty-First Century
    A Song of Ice and Fire
    Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series

    • Game of Thrones was bearable but the subsequent books in this series are dreadful. But why write a 400 page novel when you can essentially say the same thing in 1200 pages?

  • For long flights I want a page turner. By hour 10 I’m in no condition to be reading anything above a 6th grade level! I like mystery/thrillers by Michael Connelly, Sue Grafton, or John Sandford. For non-fiction I recently enjoyed Doris Kerns Goodwin’s “Bully Pulpit” about the relation between Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft. One of my favorite books (summer or not) is Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” – heartbreaking and eerie.

  • “Rising Tide” by John Barry

  • Loved “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki. Moving, entertaining, gripping, informative, and full of information about philosophy, Japanese culture, and history.

    • I was really enjoying this book; loved the premise and the story-telling, and then I came to the end and really didn’t like it. Guess I’m not into metaphysics 🙁

  • justinbc

    It came out last year, but Terry Pratchett’s latest ,”Raising Steam”, was still very good. It’s satirical, if you’re into that.

  • On my last long flight I read “Merle Haggard: The Running Kind” by David Cantwell and “Spinning Blues Into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records” by Nadine Cohodas. I wouldn’t recommend them if you’re not into Country or Blues.

    Right now I’m reading “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I got the new Jo Nesbo book, “The Son” from the library and plan to start reading it soon.

  • On my recent 20+ hour flight, I read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I couldn’t put it down. I also recommend Serena by Ron Rash (which will soon be a movie).

    • msmaryedith

      I’ve just started Serena and would second that rec based on my reading so far!

    • +1 The Goldfinch is such a great read! Also, Donna Tartt’s earlier novel, The Secret History, is excellent.

    • Have heard great things about Goldfinch, but Serena was a slog… and was generally unsatisfying. Never quite got the point. So, having read one and not the other, I recommend the one I haven’t read!

    • mtpgal

      Yes! I’m halfway through The Goldfinch and it is excellent. It’s a stay-up-all-night-reading book.

    • I read the Goldfinch when it first came out last fall. Although I still like The Secret History the best out of Donna Tartt’s novels, it was a great book. My mom liked it a lot too.

  • Neil Gaiman’s book are great plane reads. I would recommend American Gods or Neverwhere

  • I loved the Luminaries. Long and engaging.

    • I got about halfway through this book and couldn’t finish.

      • Same here – I choked down the first few chapters but had to donate it. You would need two 21 hour flights to get through it!

      • See, the halfway point is where I couldn’t stop – ended up reading the last half in one very long sitting. 🙂

  • I took You Before Me by JoJo Meyers on my travels last month, it was a great read. I didn’t want it to end!

  • Pillars of the Earth! Or the entire Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. Lots of pages, but not a challenging read

    • Pillars of the Earth is fabulous for a long plane ride – it got me to Paris and back. I’m not sure I would have been as engaged with the story if I hadn’t read it in long sittings.

  • A few years old now, but if you haven’t read Stephen King’s 11/22/63, don’t miss it. Not horror, just a really amazing story.

  • I just finished Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and it would make a great airplane/beach read!

    A few other recommendations: Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, or anything by Bill Bryson (my favorites are A Walk in the Woods or A Short History of Nearly Everything).

  • Short stories!
    High brow: George Saunders ‘Pastoralia’
    Low brow: BJ Novak ‘One More Thing’

    Both very witty. Novak’s in particular was smarter than I expected it to be, but always really funny.

  • I couldn’t put down Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand about a WWII plane crew that went down in the pacific, survived over 40 days in a raft and then a POW camp. Well written and illuminating about that period, but it isn’t a light summer read. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn would be lighter (depending on your view of twisted characters) and is also gripping.

    • +1 for Unbroken. The subject matter isn’t light but it’s a completely engaging read.

    • I read Unbroken based on someone’s recommendation here a few years ago. I got tired of the way the subject was constantly painted as the hero of every situation though. I think some of these old war veterans like to rewrite history to flatter themselves, which is easy to do when no one else is still around to dispute their version of the story.

  • I’m sucked into ‘I Am Pilgrim’ to the point of getting annoyed with my kids when they take too long going to bed because they’re keeping me from reading it. They also got a 45-minute bath last night because I kept thinking I’d get them out as soon as I finished the next chapter… About 2/3 of the way through now–it’s a cat and mouse game between a U.S. intelligence officer and a would-be terrorist.

    I also really enjoyed ‘The Twelve’ and ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin. I loved and adored the Goldfinch, too, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of book I’d want to read on a plane; I tend to need stuff that’s more gripping and less something to savor for long flights.

  • Becks

    Every few years I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series again. It always puts me in an adventurous mood. A friend of mine suggested, Surely You Must Be Joking Mr. Feynman. It is an autobiography of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. It is a surprisingly good read. Any Carl Hiaasen book. He’s my favorite author.

    • I used to like Hiaasen, but I stopped reading him when I realized he was pretty much re-writing the same book over and over again. And I don’t like that the villian is always some Republican, big business guy who hates the environment and will do anything to make a buck.

      • Becks

        I agree that the characters are the same but it’s the ongoing story of a retired cop in Florida and the wild Hijinks he finds himself in. He often finds himself in quite surreal situations. Not all of the bad guys are Republican. Some are mobsters.

  • jim_ed

    For long flights, I like a couple of different books to mix it up, but still easy to read and digest while cramped in coach. These are things I’ve read recently that fit the bill:

    Novel: The Joke by Milan Kundera
    Nonfiction: Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart
    short stories: Civilwarland in Bad Decline by George Saunders.

  • “Hild” by Nicola Griffith – one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year

    “Assassination Vacation” by Sarah Vowel – funny and a good travelogue in its own way

    “The Lost Girls” by Richard Kolker – hard to put down, true crime

    “Villette” by Charlotte Bronte – super sad but dishy and engaging

  • Smoke Monkey International by James Westhoff. Holy crap this is a weird and a wonderful book. Mistakes have been made!.

  • Emmaleigh504

    I’m currently reading The Wettest County the World by Matt Boudurant. Hill billies making moonshine during prohibition, what’s not to love?

  • I’m halfway through Tom Rachman’s ” “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers,” his follow-up to the brilliant “The Imperfectionists.” Get it. And then get “The Imperfectionists” if you haven’t read that one yet. He’s easily one of the best novelists around.

    And, of course, whenever someone asks for recommendations, I always list my old standby, Kingsley Amis’ “Lucky Jim,” hands-down the funniest novel ever written.

  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. Only book I read over and over again. Beautifully written.

  • Emmaleigh504

    Some books a colleague suggested:
    Outrageous Fortune,
    The Secret Rooms: a true story of a haunted castle,
    Shocked: My mother, Schiaparellie, and Me.

  • I like light reads on plane rides of that length. Two that I’ve really enjoyed are “Hyperbole and a half” (based on a blog) and “The Dirty Life” (about moving to a farm).

  • Emmaleigh504

    An easy but fun read is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. There is a sequel: Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children). I haven’t read the sequel yet, but expect it’s good.

  • The Art of Fielding, Cloud Atlas and 1Q84 would all be excellent choices for long flights.

  • Emmaleigh504

    for nonfiction: The Great Influenza (about the 1918 flue epidemic), Bright Young People (about the socialites between the wars), and The Worst Hard Time (dust bowl).
    Also anything by the Mitford sisters is fun, or anything about them. P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster books are fun to read.

    • Emmaleigh504

      One more. Stephen Blackmoore’s books. I haven’t read them yet (bad bad weebus), but I love his tweets @stephenblackmoore.

  • Cloud Atlas.

  • The Jeeves and Wooster series by P.G. Wodehouse. Easy to read and always hilarious, but brilliantly written.

    Right now I’m reading the Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort – Great Gatsby meets Trainspotting.

    Next on my list is the “Man Without a Face – The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.”

  • mtpgal

    I just read The Twelve Tribes of Hattie and it was fantastic. Very, very not happy, though.

  • Keith Richards’ autobiography is actually really good. The man can surprisingly write well, and the stories are fascinating, even if you are not a huge Rolling Stones fan.

  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is wonderful. I’d preview a few chapters before committing to a flight with it, because the style might not appeal to everyone (it’s dense with footnotes and Dominican colloquialisms). Been meaning to read Junot Diaz’s other books; has anyone else, and are they just as good?

    • Yes, if you liked Oscar Wao you’d like this other books, but they are short story collections. I highly recommend Drown, it’s my favorite.

  • The Woman Upstairs (for women at least; I’m not sure guys could relate to it).
    Any read the My Struggle series? That sounds perfect for a long flight.

  • Love this! Does anyone else have a tab open with Amazon so they can keep adding recommendations to their wish list?

    • Not me. I get most of my books from the library.

      • So do I, but the wish list helps me keep track of the ones I want to read.

        • mtpgal

          Just throwing this out there: on the DC Public Library website you can make a list of books that you want to read or have read (or whatever book list you want). You can then request the books right off your list. I was really excited when I found the feature. Log in, then look for the “my lists” tab in small font at the top.

          • I know, but I like Amazon better because I can add books the library doesn’t have yet, and also read the reviews at the same time.

        • Anon @ 1:18 – I use my Amazon wish list for the same reason! And if I read something I really like, I keep a separate list of “Remember for Recommendations” 🙂

  • Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore. Warning, you may upset your row mates with frequent bursts of laughter.

  • The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld – great prose, easy read, you can read and ponder and doze . Have a safe trip!

  • The Name of the Wind and its sequel (by Patrick Rothfuss) are amazing and well worth the read.

  • I finally picked up Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and positively inhaled it. Right after I finished, I walked to the library and checked out Bring Up the Bodies. Save yourself a trip and get both at once.

  • Wool by Hugh Howey. Amazing characterization and world building. I read it on a six-hour flight and was completely engrossed. Then you’ll want to get the two sequels …

  • I just finished The Book Thief. It’s a YA, but also completely appropriate for an adult and a powerful yet quick read.

  • One suggestion: I love to read, but to break up the experience a bit have you thought about bringing any of your selections as audio books? You can download them from the library…I know a lot of serious readers bridle at the suggestion, but it’s a nice way to mix up your experience over a very long travel time.

    Just suggest you “sample” any recording you might take along, as sometimes an unappealing reader makes me switch back to the page version (but a good reader can also keep my interest in a book I might not choose to devote reading time to!)

    Also a diplomatic option (assuming you have a non-leaky headset) if the cabin goes dark and your neighbors are trying to sleep.

    • I was actually going to ask for audiobook suggestions (not quite the same as the original request, as some books are narrated better than others and some translate better into audiobook form). I really enjoyed the audiobook versions of The Gargoyle and The Shoemaker’s Wife. On the other hand the narrator of Middlesex was really annoying and I had to switch to the regular book.

      • I’ve covered a LOT of audio ground recently, if you have any particularly favorite genres I’d be happy to make some suggestions, with a few caveats: I’m partial to one reader who isn’t ridiculously “actor-ly” but can differentiate voices through inflection etc; and I never read sci-fi or fantasy, so if those are your faves I’m not a good resource.

        IMO, some of the “classic” novels are the worst read – often these were produced early in the Lifespan of Audiobooks, with rather clunky production values (although many have been produced multiple times). When in doubt, I actually Google some of the audiophile magazines; the reviews/awards are generally good indicators.

  • Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley – if you have any interest in the quality of American schools, she does a really good job of mixing information and analysis with the experiences of the American exchange students she follows who go to study in Finland, South Korea, and Poland. I found it to be an easy and interesting read.

    If you want a long, fiction read for the plane, I recommend two of my favorites: Pillars of the Earth, and Les Miserables.

  • I have been pushing a few recent favorites to all my friends:

    ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A really smart take on race in the US wrapped up in the main character’s incredibly interesting life story.

    ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr. This is more than just another WWII novel – the novel is so beautifully written, it pained me for it to end.

    ‘Night Film’ by Marisha Pessl. A good mystery is always good for a long flight (or summer reading), and this one was pretty unusual.

    • Loved “Americanah” – also highly recommend her earlier novel, “Half of a Yellow Sun.” Other endorsements for those recommended above: “Assassination Vacation” by Sarah Vowel and “The Lost Girls” by Richard Kolker. I haven’t read it yet, but friends have raved about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – and given its length seems like a great idea. A long but engaging nonfiction: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.

      • I just finished Five Days at Memorial and agree that it was really engaging. I thought the first half of the book was written really well – I could barely put it down. As Sheri Fink launched into the second part where she explored the ethics of what went on, I found myself often pausing to decide whether or not I agreed with what she was saying. I thought a lot of her opinions really shone through. I don’t think it detracts from the book, but I think it’s not as objective it initially seems.

  • ‘Take this Man’ memoir by Brando Skyhorse, author of ‘Madonnas of Echo Park’. Both great reads!

  • Benediction by Kent Haruf

  • anonymouse_dianne

    If you want to learn more about your city, I highly recommend George Pellacanos. He grew up in DC and always makes the city a “character” in his books. If you liked The Wire or Treme you already like Pellacanos.

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