There's a lot to be said for the frothy beach read. It provides an escape from the grind (which is obviously the only thing keeping you from your own glamorous adventures), gives you really nice dreams after you fall asleep reading on your beach towel, and doesn't tax your work-fried brain.
The happiness trajectory, though, is a little like eating a hot fudge sundae. You anticipate the indulgence, enjoy the instant rush of good feelings, and a few minutes later, start to feel groggy, useless, and maybe even regret eating it in the first place.
That said, it is summer, and there are some deliciously engrossing books out there that'll leave you feeling lighter, freer, and more capable of facing whatever the world throws your way.
Rather than leave you to do the legwork yourself, we picked eight books that are as fun to read as they are beneficial to your well-being. Here's to your best summer ever.
Inspired by the author's magazine series detailing her renovations of Bee Cottage (it ran in House Beautiful), the book uses these improvements as a structure through which to examine the "mess" of Schultz's life. It's part memoir, part home decor how-to, and entirely charming.
2. Manhattan, When I Was Young, Mary Cantwell
Cantwell's autobiographical journey wends through five New York apartments in the 1950s and '60s, each representative of a phase in her life. The tale sees her go from single, ambitious writer to married mother, to divorcée in search of meaning. The honesty, candor, heartbreak, and hope that define it make this memoir resonant and cathartic, whether you've lived in New York or not.
3. The Glorious Adventure, Richard Halliburton
If you haven't heard of Richard Halliburton, he was a famed adventurer and author in the 1920s. He swam the Panama Canal, flew around the world in an open cockpit biplane, and died (or so it's presumed) trying to sail a Chinese junk boat across the Pacific Ocean. The Glorious Adventure is a retelling of Halliburton's attempt to retrace Ulysses' steps through the classical Greek world.
"I thought of Ulysses and his stirring drama, and then looked at my own life, imprisoned by apartment walls, surrounded by self-satisfied people who were caught in the ruts of convention and responsibility. All that seemed drab. I had tasted the drug of romantic travel, and I could not rest from it." To say the whole book is as full of passion and revelry as that passage would, in fact, be absolutely true. If you find yourself plagued by wanderlust after reading it, don't say I didn't warn you.
4. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, David Rakoff
NPR essayist Rakoff addresses the necessity of kindness in a cruel world through this novel in verse. Tales of generosity and cruelty over the span of decades connect his characters, painting a vivid picture of the consequences of our choices. It's masterfully written, and will leave you with a profound awareness of how much our treatment of others really does matter.
5. Sum: Forty Tales From The Afterlives, David Eagleman
Each chapter in this book is a variation of the afterlife, as imagined by Eagleman (a neuroscientist). In one, every deceased person is an actor in the dreams of the living. In another, we are a tiny particle on the giant organism that is "God." The scope of his imagination alone makes the book worth reading. The outlandish fictions he's concocted will remind you that most of us have scarcely even begun to consider what might be possible in the afterlife. The only limits are our own imaginations. And you might even start to question if that's true in this life, too.
6. Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple
This short comedic novel follows the quirky Bernadette Fox: Mother and best friend to Bee, game-changing architect, and total agoraphobe. When Bernadette disappears, 15 year-old Bee starts to compile a history of her mother's life that she hopes will lead her to Bernadette. The result is a totally relatable (and deeply touching) story about the relationship between mother and daughter. The only complaint was that it was over too soon.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, hospitals were flooded, generators were broken, and patients and health care workers were stranded for days. Doctors and nurses had to make excruciatingly difficult decisions about how to allocate resources, and 45 patients died. This book is an exploration of what happened and the difficult decisions that led to the deaths.
While this might not sound like a page-turner, our editor-in-chief called it, "hands-down the best book I read last year." The writer, a New York Times reporter who covered Katrina, tells a suspenseful story about the struggles of Katrina, paints a picture of an ever-evolving city, and explores the ethical questions in ways that make you question what you believe.
8. The Boys In The Boat, Daniel James Brown
This NYT bestseller tells the story of America's unlikely 1936 Olympic rowing team. Coming out of The Great Depression, a group composed of manual laborers was sent to compete against the impeccably trained teams from Europe, defying everyone's expectations and beating even the German team on their own territory in Berlin. The book is an underdog story that happens to be true, and a wonderful reminder of how important it is to maintain hope during times of adversity.