Readers, two weeks ago I shared the 2021 Summer Reading Guide with subscribers, kicking off my favorite reading time of the year.
This year’s guide includes 31 titles—or 46 for the Expanded Edition—as well as audiobook recommendations and backlist titles for your TBR. Every year since 2014, I’ve narrowed the choices down to five total for my fellow minimalists and decision haters.
It’s never easy to choose just five titles to spotlight, but this year the decision proved impossible. That means for the first time ever, our minimalist guide features six titles. I’m not sad about it.
For each minimalist edition, I strive to select titles that keep you turning the pages but also have substance. While easy to read, these titles are wonderfully thought-provoking and discussable.
These minimalist titles are featured in the guide (and don’t miss our fun feature called The Minimalist Summer Reading Guide Time Machine where we take a look at past picks!), and we also traditionally share them here on the blog, both so those who’ve read the Guide can take another look, and those who haven’t yet can get a taste of its contents with these featured picks.
Speaking of discussable: it’s no coincidence that three of these titles are Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club selections. We’re reading People We Meet on Vacation in June, Sparks Like Stars in July, and The Whispering House in August. I’m thrilled that each author will be joining us to chat—and we would love for you to join the conversation.
I hope you enjoy this short and sweet summer list, and I’d love to hear more about your own summer selections in the comments.
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The 2021 6-book Summer Reading Guide
A chance encounter prompts a renowned surgeon to reexamine the past she left behind in this sweeping historical novel. Daughter to the president’s most trusted advisor, Sitara’s family is murdered before her eyes in a 1978 coup in the Afghan palace. She miraculously survives with the help of a palace guard who whisks her away to safety. Sitara is eventually adopted and grows up in the United States. Flash forward 30 years. Sitara has buried that long-ago trauma and built a life for herself in NYC. But when that same guard shows up in her hospital, his presence awakens her desire for the answers she never got about what happened back then. With references to Anastasia Romanov and nods to the main character’s love of literature, this story will captivate history and book lovers alike. More info →
Indie rockstar Michelle Zauner delivers a heartfelt, poetic memoir about losing her mother and searching for her identity. “Ever since my mother died, I cry in H Mart.” So begins Zauner’s poignant story. After her mother received a grim cancer diagnosis, Zauner realized her mother’s death would also mean losing her only tie to her Korean heritage, so she sought to shore up stories while she still has time. Whether she writes about the intricacies of preparing traditional Korean dishes or a hurtful misunderstanding, she explores moments from her tumultuous mother-daughter relationship with tenderness and love, often returning to the idea that our experiences of home, family and culture are viscerally rooted in what we taste, see and hear. An honest, lyrical, and life-affirming memoir about grief, growing up, and making amends. More info →
Lamenting all those lost pandemic vacations? Globetrot with Alex and Poppy in this modern twist on When Harry Met Sally. The pair of opposites once shared a ride home from college and their witty banter ignited a decade-long friendship. Now free-spirit Poppy lives in NYC, working as a travel writer for a posh magazine. Strait-laced Alex lives in their small Ohio hometown, longing to start a family and live that picket-fence lifestyle. Connecting once a year for an epic vacation, these besties were always in sync…until they weren’t. Now they haven’t spoken in two painful years, and against all odds, Poppy is hoping one great vacation can save them. This will they/won’t they contemporary romance from Beach Read author Emily Henry is every bit as playful as its tangerine cover. Heads up for one open door scene. More info →
Full of twists, turns, and biting social commentary, this highly original (and highly discussable) debut novel will leave you with your jaw on the floor. Editorial assistant Nella Rogers is thrilled when Wagner Books hires another Black woman. Finally, she won’t be the sole Black voice at the publisher, she won’t endure microaggressions alone, and maybe she’ll even make some progress on her stalled-out racial diversity efforts. But new hire Hazel doesn’t turn out to be the ally and friend she expected. Meanwhile, threatening notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk, saying LEAVE WAGNER NOW. The atmosphere grows ever creepier as Nella tries to befriend Hazel, while surreptitiously investigating her past. The ending left me gobsmacked: I was desperate to discuss it with a fellow reader asap. More info →
This page-turning family saga has everything you could want in a beach read: surfers, rockstars, 80s pop culture, and a mansion going up in flames. It’s 1983, and the four adult children of rockstar Mick Riva are preparing to host Malibu’s party of the year, unaware of how this one night will irrevocably change their lives. Reid employs an interesting structure to unpack what happens, hour by hour, the day of the party, intercutting the present-day narrative with scenes from the family’s past that go back generations. With well-drawn characters and a strong sense of time and place (I hung on every reference to Tab, big hair, and belted t-shirts), it’s a perfect summer selection for fans of messy family stories and compulsively readable literary fiction. I couldn’t put it down. (Content notes include an open door sex scene, substance abuse, and death of a loved one.) More info →
With a compelling narrator, absorbing atmosphere, and loads of literary references, this modern gothic novel is a stunner. While attending her cousin’s wedding in the gardens of Byrne Hall, a drunken Freya can’t resist stumbling into the off-limits house to investigate. When she ducks inside she discovers a startling portrait on display: it looks just like her sister Stella, who, years before, died mere miles from the historic seaside grounds. Once safely home in London, Freya can’t get the house—or its portrait—out of her head. When she returns to investigate, she gets tangled up with the residing family and their eerie house—and the consequences could be disastrous. More info →
What’s on your summer reading list? Have you read any of these titles yet, or do you plan to? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
P.S. I’ll be talking about these titles in more detail in our upcoming summer season of One Great Book. Listen wherever you get your podcasts. Click here for this season’s trailer, and subscribe now to get the first episode when it drops on June 14!
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