Do you ever wish you could read a book again for the first time? When you read the last line, you move on to the acknowledgments, the paragraph about the author, and even turn to the back of the book to reread the synopsis, trying to find any new information to consume, unwilling to come to terms with the fact that the book is done?
It doesn’t happen to me often, but there are a handful of books I’d undergo hypnosis to be able to read anew. I’ve collected five of those stories into a list of books to get lost in this summer. I’m talking beautifully lost, like the hours that pass when you can’t put a book down. That kind of lost.
If spending hours reading a book doesn’t sound like a productive use of your time, I might first suggest picking up Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday, an underlinable text about the urgent need to find stillness.
While thinking about this list, I took to my bookshelf and pulled two books I distinctly remember getting lost in. I remember the feeling of the sun on my arms, the swell of my pregnant belly, the lawn chair making little imprints on my legs from spending hours inside of The Idiot in the summer of 2017. I remember a baby asleep in my arms as I took every minute I could to read another page of The Heart’s Invisible Furies the following spring. I threw both of those books into this list. They are perfect stories in which you can get hopelessly lost. The other books on the list are ones I’ve read within the past couple of months, and each of the books—all of which are novels—are ones I wish I could approach as a new reader again. They take you through Turkey and Singapore, Ireland and the American South, Budapest and Amsterdam. They fit any mood that might strike you on a balmy summer day—there’s humor, crime, travel, obsession, and, of course, love.
I once read that writers should put everything they have into the piece they are working on, never to save something for later. This list is that for me; it’s every book that took me in to such a degree that I was lost, engrossed, smitten. My hope is that these books do the same for you.
When you’re ready to get lost, here are my suggestions:
If I read a list of books to get lost in that didn’t include Brit Bennett’s second novel, The Vanishing Half, I wouldn’t trust it and would move right along. This novel is stunning, haunting, expansive. It stretches the mind in such ways I didn’t know were possible, telling the story of identical twins who grew apart and led lives as seemingly different as possible: one Black, one white. It tells of the different places two paths can lead, even when starting at the same junction. Race, class, sex, identity—all of the timeless issues—create the bones of this book that will be a classic of the decade.
If this type of story interests you, I also suggest The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, both of which also chronicle the divergent lives of siblings and the steep possibilities of differences.
2. The Idiot by Elif Batuman
This is easily one of the funniest novels I’ve ever read. It takes place in the confusing time of the nineties when the internet had just emerged and is narrated by an equally confused freshman at Harvard named Selin. Born to Turkish immigrants, Selin spends her freshman year trying to figure out who she is, how she might get to know the cute boy in her Russian class, and what a proper email looks like. It’s witty, nostalgic, and a beautiful combination of sophisticated and, well, idiotic.
When I say I couldn’t put this novel down, I mean I carried it around like an extra appendage, picking it up any spare moment I had. It’s the sprawling story of an Irish man searching for his identity. His affluent adoptive parents are quick to tell him he’s not one of them, and his mother, who birthed him out of wedlock as a teenager and was shunned by her rural Irish community, isn’t in the picture. The novel takes us through decades of curiosity, friendship, and discovery, challenging the Catholic church and shining a light on the shadows of postwar Ireland.
Stay with me. Maybe you’ve seen the movie, maybe you’ve heard some buzz about the books, but if you haven’t read them, and you’re looking for a novel to take you away, here are three of them. If not to learn about haute couture, Singapore’s colonial black and white houses, or the pressures of dynastic Asian families, then for the pure entertainment that comes with the tangled stories of Asia’s wealthiest elite. This series covers the pressures of status and family trees while exposing the wild, beatific, and utterly maniacal lives of the rich and mostly unfamous. While not exactly cerebral, these books are impressive in scope, which the reader wants, as it’s hard to put the books down once you pick them up.
I think this is my favorite book ever—all 771 pages of it. It’s about an underage New Yorker who survives the terrorist bombing which kills his mother, leaving him parentless thanks to an absent, but living, father. He winds up leaving the bombing with a possession that intoxicates him, haunts him, drives him to obsession—and reminds him of his mother. This story is a love letter to art and a testament to family being what you make it. It’s gorgeous and tragic, engrossing and devastating, and completely deserving of the Pulitzer Prize, which it won in 2014. (If on page 353, just before the chapter break, you get chills, your eyes well up, and you think about it for days, weeks, and months after reading it, I want to hear from you.)
This summer, let the hours slip away as you journey inside of these stories that you will never forget. And if you feel a little blue or want a little more after you put the book down, you know who to reach out to.
Kolina Cicero is enamored with stories – reading them, writing them, getting lost within them. Other things she loves include yoga, traveling, and taking cooking, Italian, and writing classes. Her first children’s book, Rosie and the Hobby Farm, was published in July 2020.