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Incredible reads to finish out your summer

Posted on July 31, 2019 at 6:00 am

By Rachel Underwood

I am not a picky reader. I love recommendations from other readers, especially those that lead to finding an amazing and unexpected read. It’s one of my most favorite things!

If you are on the lookout for a great read, here are just some of my all-time favorite novels, biographies, poetry/short story collections, and epistolary reads. I recommend these titles to absolutely all adult readers because they are just that amazing.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Let me preface this with the following: I love this book so much that my very first tattoo was of Mr. Darcy’s second proposal in Jane Austen’s handwriting.

If you’re not interested in a classic romance, that’s perfect! Pride and Prejudice is not a romance novel! In fact, the most influential novel on the romance genre is actually a merciless roast of social conventions by a (more than likely) frustrated 20-year-old Jane! Elizabeth Bennett, feminist-icon and protagonist, turned 1800’s social norms on their head when she told the wealthiest man around that he is “the last man in the world whom [she] could ever marry.” Why? Because he’s a total jerk. Which was not a reason to turn down a wealthy man’s proposal for women of that day. Elizabeth does her best to exist as an empowered woman amongst men who try to control her and her sisters, her overbearing mother’s push for marriage, and the general ridiculousness of the attitudes of the 1800s.

One Day in December, by Josie Silver

This novel is a new favorite. Laurie and Jack meet eyes at a busy bus stop and don’t see each other again until Laurie’s best friend and roommate introduces Jack as the newfound love of her life a year later. While this setup is a romance classic, Silver writes a refreshing story in its lack of betrayal between friends—everyone mutually supports, grows, and learns from one another. There are so many different types of love explored—love between best friends, love between two people who can’t be together, and love with a person who is wonderful but just isn’t right. Amazing!

The Kiss Quotient, by Helen Hoang

If you aren’t familiar with the #OwnVoices movement in which marginalized authors write characters who are marginalized in the same way, then this novel is an excellent place to start! Stella is a woman with autism who is wildly successful in her career but just can’t seem to succeed in relationships. Thinking this is due to her discomfort with physical touch, she writes up a lesson plan on becoming an excellent lover and hires a male escort as her teacher. While this is a distinctly steamy erotica, the emphasis on consent and clear communication in a romance novel is refreshing and makes for a heartwarming read. 

Flush: A Biography, by Virginia Woolf

This is a perfect read if you want to be pretentious without any of the work! Just say: “My favorite of Virginia Woolf’s work is Flush.” This biography is obscure enough to impress Woolf’s fans, and you can get away with not reading anything else by her (like me). Flush is a uniquely heart-wrenching biography—we only learn about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s life experiences through the eyes of her dog, Flush. Flush’s unending loyalty and love made me immediately need a cuddle from my little fur-baby (and I may have possibly cried all over him, too).

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh, selected and edited by Ronald de Leeuw and translated by Arnold Pomerans

If, like me, you have been passionately in love with Vincent van Gogh at some point in your life, you must read this collection of his letters. Because it turns out that Vincent could actually be very annoying and was also almost completely dependent on his brother. His letters reveal his immersion into passion after passion. During his clerical years, he sends pages upon pages of religious sermons to his brother. During his art critic years, he sends pages upon pages of art descriptions and always his needs of “money, time, and a place to live, please?” His overwhelming passion and unstable mental state will tear at your heart. (I cried when he defeatedly relayed the destruction of a few of his paintings during a mental episode.) Van Gogh’s mental illness has been overwhelmingly romanticized as the source of his inspiration. Reading these letters will dissolve any romantic notions of his mental health to reveal a perfectly imperfect and flawed human being.

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

Imagine that the dominant driving force in the world was literature rather than, say, religion or politics. Instead of missionaries, door-to-door Shakespearean sharing conspiracy theories would interrupt your day. Forging author’s works would get you prison time. And there’s a portal that can transport you into any and every novel. In this magical literary wonderland, somebody has dropped into the pages of Jane Eyre and stolen Jane out of the story entirely! It’s up to this novel’s main character, Thursday, to navigate around a time-travelling and dodo-loving world to rescue her! I cannot recommend this enough to literature geeks.

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

At nearly 800 pages, The Goldfinch is a page-turner you could also conveniently use as a doorstop. Theo is 13 when he is a victim of a horrible accident in a museum—now motherless, traumatized, and disoriented, he steals a painting from the museum and runs. While Theo ages and tries to reintegrate into society and make a life for himself, the stolen painting haunts him as a never-ending reminder of his trauma. Only as he learns to let go will the burden be released from him. Donna Tartt writes with so much detail about Theo and his surroundings that you truly live Theo’s life through his eyes. This is a beautiful read that is set to be a movie this September—give it a go!

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories, by Tim Burton

I went through an emo phase (in case that wasn’t obvious by now, this book review will make that clear). This is a fun and mildly disturbing collection of Tim Burton’s storytelling shared as character poetry. Meet Stain Boy and the Girl with Pins in Her Heart—the poems are short and the drawings are Burton originals. It’s fantastically fun and spooky!

Rachel Underwood

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