The Best Books and Graphic Fiction for Summer

by PopMatters Staff

12 Jun 2011


PopMatters writers offer up a selection of personal summer favorites that range from high-brow fare like William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf to mysteries from Agatha Christie and Craig Johnson. We also highlight an array of new and classic comics that make for perfect light summer perusal, as well as modern fare like spin-offs from Internet media.

R.J. Anderson’s Knife (Faery Rebels) Trilogy

Looking for a summer reading project for the kids that might resonate beyond the next Hot Topic? You couldn’t do better than R.J. Anderson‘s best-selling faery trilogy. These are the Wee Folk as you’ve likely never encountered them before—interwoven with myth, legend and literature, and imbued with idiosyncrasies both delicate and down-to-earth. Each tale explores a different facet of the Oakenwyld-shattering events that begin with Knife, the tale of a fierce faery huntress out to unlock the riddle of her people’s lost magic… and inadvertently uncovering the secrets of a human’s heart in the process. As they explore further in the Great Unknown that is mankind, Anderson’s tiny heroines move effortlessly from thrilling adventure to emotional depths without ever losing their human readers’ sympathy—not by swooning over sparkles but with courage, determination and a healthy dose of wit. Also—at least in the UK editions—cool Brian Froud covers! [Titles include: Knife (US: Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter), Rebel (US: Wayfarer), Arrow (no US edition)]. Kerrie Mills

Archie Comics

Archie Comics first came into being in 1939, so if you think about it, everyone should have grown up with Archie Andrews and the Riverdale gang, and formed some sort of opinion over whether he should end up with Betty or Veronica. The quintessential American comic book series has changed over the years and has moved from MLJ Magazines to various publishers, before finally settling into Archie Comic Publications. Archie himself has also changed. In the “Archie Marries Veronica/Archie Marries Betty” series written by writer Michael Uslan in 2009, the red-headed heartthrob walks down the aisle with Veronica in one universe, and Betty another. City slickers can get a real sense of the retro all-American summers from the comics, many of which see Archie and his friends drinking chocolate malteds at Pop Tates or alternating between babe watching and burying each other in the beach sand. It’s a slice of history. Sally Fink 

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (1988)

Pulitzer Prize winner, and all around class act, Michael Chabon set out to write an update of The Great Gatsby for his first novel. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, like Fitzgerald’s classic, follows a group of sad young men through an epochal summer. Chabon’s lyrical, staggeringly vivid prose details all of your favorite summer activities: sex, heartbreak, more sex, drinking, criminal activity, and—yes—sex. Equal parts emotional coming-of-age story and plot-based page-turner, Mysteries will be hard to put down once you pick it up. Luckily, you’ll lose yourself so thoroughly in its pages, you won’t even notice. Corey Beasley

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie (1941)

What is it about being on holiday that makes you want to read a crime novel? Queen of crime, Agatha Christie, wrote more than 80 novels, but none were more entertaining than those about the travelling Belgium detective Hercule Poirot, who solved cases with the power of his “little grey cells”. Poirot travelled everywhere from the English countryside, to the Middle East, and North Africa. In Evil Under the Sun, the little detective visits Devon for a quiet holiday, but soon finds himself in the midst of a murder mystery. He is forced to take a look at each of his fellow guests at the resort and discover which of them the murderer is. Like, Death on the Nile, or Murder on the Orient Express, Evil Under the Sun is a quintessential holiday read, one of the original whodunits that paved the way for James Patterson and Stieg Larsson. There’s nothing like a spot of murder when relaxing under a beach umbrella. Sally Fink

The Winners by Julio Cortázar (1960)

Hop aboard this novel written in 1960, the first by the late but immortal Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar. You’ll find yourself sailing off Buenos Aires and lounging in the atmosphere of easy cigarettes, newspapers, and slow travel by ocean liner, with not a cell phone or a laptop in sight. The characters, however, are shockingly familiar. Drawn from diverse social backgrounds and thrown together on a cruise after winning a competition, they find themselves in a bizarre situation, with half the ship out of bounds and under the control of a mysterious crew. Their hot and steamy trip delivers more than you’ll ever bargain for on any summer vacation—fantasy, sexual desire, class, cold beer, guns, and an unexpected destination. Paula Cerni

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (1936)

Every summer I like to compound the boiling of my brains with some super-dank prose. William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! is a dense, swampy novel about the complex racial problems embedded in the American South. The book is a series of cobwebby recollections, roughly covering the 1850s to 1910, centered on the familial doom of dubiously self-made American Monster Thomas Sutpen, a mulish racist described throughout as beast, ogre or, most often, “the demon”. Faulkner’s style is as lush as his content, with pages-long paragraphs and a lexicon of humid, marshy words perfect for summer conversation: words like “circumambient”, “miasmal” and “effluvium”. The ideal antidote to that “classic” Southern summer novel, Margaret Mitchell’s blustery Gone With the Wind, Absalom, Absalom! is about half its length and a hundred times heavier. “Jesus, the South is fine, isn’t it. It’s better than the theatre, isn’t it. It’s better than Ben Hur, isn’t it. No wonder you have to come away now and then, isn’t it.” Guy Crucianelli

Graham Greene

One of my favorite summer reading approaches is not to focus on a series of classics or conquering Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past or working my way quick like through a vampire or zombie series but, instead, tackling as many works by a single author as I can. You have to pick someone who has a broad, challenging oeuvre and dedicate yourself to a book a week. This year try British author Graham Greene. Travels With My Aunt (1969) is light and delightful, The Honorary Consul (1973) is one of his better espionage pieces and Monsignor Quixote (1982) has the perfect “Huh?” factor. No doubt you’ll find your way to his “Catholic” novels—The End of the Affair (1951), The Heart of the Matter (1948), The Power and the Glory (1940)—but with such a broad range of themes and genres you should be able to read without an agenda and without any sense of guilt at all. Jedd Beaudoin

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