15 Books We're Excited to Read This Summer

The weirdest summer on record demands a fun reading list.

summer books 2020
Emily Carpenter/Thrillist
Emily Carpenter/Thrillist

What does a summer reading list look like with no beaches to read them on? Frankly, not that different than any other year (for a better, more nuanced, and comedic take on living in extraordinary times, try Jenny Offill's Weather). The operative word here is "fun," whatever that means for different kinds of genres and authors, whether it's a new Stephen King collection of spooky novellas, a must-read take on a Western from a powerful new voice, or a bizarre alt-sci-fi universe where cannibalism is chill. Don't expect any of these titles to be tearjerkers or abundantly somber, though there will be a fair amount of adversity -- nobody ever said dealing with problems automatically surmounts to tragedy, and what is a book without some juicy conflicts anyway? We've looked back at compelling releases from earlier in the year and ahead at the impending release calendar to pick out 15 books you should add to your stack of books this strange summer. 

Looking for more books to read? Check out our favorite books from 2020.

All Adults Here by Emma Straub 

Release date: May 4 (Riverhead)
Author Emma Straub has compared the Hudson Valley backdrop of her new novel, All Adults Here, the follow-up to her Brooklyn-bound bestseller Modern Lovers, to the bustling, gossiping small town setting of Gilmore Girls, which saw most of its action play out in quirky confines of Stars Hollow. So, it's reasonable to expect intrigue and wit, along with a largely cheerful ambiance, from this tale of 68-year-old Astrid Strick and her three adult children, who each possess their own problems that have perhaps prevented them from becoming the type of people they thought they could be. Luckily, in Straub's novels, the solutions often aren't too far out of reach. 
Get it now on Bookshop.org

Antkind by Charlie Kaufman

Release date: July 7 (Random House)
Perhaps inspired by his up-and-down career adventures in Hollywood, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has described his epic debut novel as "unfilmable," and the synopsis makes it sound like he followed through on his promise. The plot follows a film critic who views a nearly three-month-long experimental movie, one shot by an outsider artist in Florida using stop-motion animation, and then loses the film in an accident, forcing the critic to reconstruct it from memory. For Kaufman fans, there are clear echoes of his own work here, from the metafictional one-up-manship of Adaptation to the fastidious structural gambits of Synecdoche, New York. At over 700 pages, Antkind should give Kaufman all the room he needs to explore his obsessions and neurosis in strange, hilarious detail and enough of a story to last readers all summer long. 
Get it now on Bookshop.org

Deacon King Kong by James McBride 

Release date: March 3 (Riverhead)
For his first novel since winning the National Book Award in 2013 for The Good Lord Bird, writer James McBride uses a shooting committed by a grumpy preacher in 1969 South Brooklyn as the jumping off point for a free-wheeling, bittersweet comic story of New York in turmoil. At a time when many New Yorkers are cooped up inside their apartments, unsure of whether or not it's safe to make a trip to the grocery store or the park, this is like a wry and poignant look at the city in a different era. Whether he's writing historical fiction, digging up personal history, or examining the life of James Brown, McBride's voice has a combination of sharp humor and moral clarity that always inspires joy on the page. 
Get it now on Bookshop.org

Death in Her Hands by Otessa Moshfegh

Release date: June 23 (Penguin)
Ottessa Moshfegh writes in the first person like almost no one else. She draws her readers into the minds of distinctly prickly people on the margins, whose imaginations veer toward the grotesque and discomfiting. This is true in her latest novel Death in her Hands, which gets inside the head of Vesta Gul, a widow adjusting to an isolated life in an unfamiliar town. While walking her dog, she comes across a note: "Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body." Intrigued and disturbed, Vesta begins obsessing over, inventing a narrative to surround the message. As the reader spends more time with the protagonist the lines are blurred between what's real and what's her own fiction leading to a grimly funny conclusion.
Get it now on Bookshop.org

Florida Man by Tom Cooper

Release date: July 28 (Random House)
Putting aside all the jokes about the archetypal Florida man, a meme-worthy figure of ridicule for his tendency to get caught committing outlandish crimes, the state has inspired a number of crime writers: Elmore Leonard, John D. MacDonald, Charles Wileford, and Carl Hiaasen have all examined its sunny and seedy sides. This '80s-set novel from Tom Cooper, the author of the oil spill adventure yarn The Marauders, looks to be working in that off-kilter noir tradition, tracking an aging beach bum as he untangles a plot involving deadly assassins, underwater artifacts, and even a sea monster or two. Perfect for tossing in a beach bag, reading by a pool, or inspiring your own Florida Man-like robbing spree. 
Get it now on Bookshop.org

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Release date: March 24 (Knopf)
Emily St. John Mandel, author of the National Book Award-winning novel Station Eleven in 2015, has finally released another swirling novel that takes readers through some of the darkest moments of people's lives -- but don't let that deceive you into thinking this is one bleak read. It's more like a fantastic reading companion, tonally and thematically similar, to HBO's movie Bad Education. Diving into the fascinating inner-workings of investment banking Ponzi scheme (based on Bernie Madoff's) coming together and falling apart, The Glass Hotel is told in piecemeal through all the lives it touches -- the investors, the incriminated, the decision makers and their partners -- until the full picture devastatingly comes together at the end. Read The Glass Hotel now -- it's already been optioned to become a TV series by NBCUniversal.
Get it now on Bookshop.org

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

Release date: April 7 (Riverhead)
Simply put, this is one of the best literary debuts of the year. Zhang has managed to spin the Wild West into a tale of immigration and anomie so vivid and bold, it’ll surely be stay with readers for years. Lucy and Sam are two newly orphaned children, their father dying and their mother out of the picture. Much like Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, they both seek to bury their dead loved one but to do so, they must traverse the foreign land, encountering all kinds of terrors. And that’s without factoring the mental strain on both siblings, especially as they encounter a ravaged sense of racism previously unfamiliar to both. You need to read this.
Get it now on Bookshop.org

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Release date: April 21 (Ballantine)
If Bong Joon Ho's Oscar-winning Parasite had you on the lookout for more South Korean media that wields its sharp social commentary like a plastic surgeon's scalpel, immediately direct your attention to Frances Cha's If I Had Your Face. Focusing on the country's obsession with plastic surgery -- it's reported that one in three women will have had some kind of work done before they're 30 -- the novel ponders upward socioeconomic mobility through these kinds of procedures (and other factors) via four women who live together. Cha's work as a CNN travel and culture editor in Seoul serves her story well, vibrantly bringing her locales to life. Excitingly, Cha's debut is being adapted for TV by the team behind TNT's adaptation of director Bong's movie Snowpiercer.
Get it now on Bookshop.org

If It Bleeds by Stephen King 

Release date: April 21 (Scribner)
This collection finds the wildly prolific horror icon returning to a form that's served him well in the past: the novella. If you're intimidated by the length of his more famous door-stoppers novels or turned off the occasionally grisly twists of his short stories, the novella can be the perfect way to ease your way into King's dark world of evil and intrigue. Like his wonderful 1982 collection Different Seasons -- which contained the tales that inspired movies like The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, and Apt Pupil -- If It Bleeds compiles four novellas with different characters, settings, and moods. And, as always, there are connective breadcrumbs for the King obsessives: the title novella features Holly Gibney, the paranormal investigator seen in HBO's recent King adaptation The Outsider
Get it now on Bookshop.org

Luster by Raven Leilani 

Release date: August 4 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In Raven Leilani's debut, Edie, a Black twentysomething aspiring artist living in a gross Bushwick apartment, working an unsatisfying admin job, and making a bunch of not-so-great sexual choices, stumbles into the lives of a couple in an open marriage. Before she knows it, she's integrated herself into their family, becoming a friend to the wife and a role model to their adopted daughter, navigating the racial and sexual politics of a complex modern world. Sexy, funny, and wholly self-aware, Luster couldn't come at a better time. 
Get it now on Bookshop.org

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

Release date: June 9 (Doubleday)
When a down-and-out pizza delivery girl, eighteen, pregnant, and grieving the loss of her father, becomes obsessed with one of her customers, a middle-aged mom who keeps ordering pickle-topped pizzas for her precocious son, their lives begin to blur together. Jean Kyoung Frazier's debut has been described as an "awe-inspiring," "subversive," and "darkly comic" glimpse into a suburban Los Angeles wilderness where manicured yards disguise radical and new forms of love in the strangest places. It'll probably also make you want to try pickle pizza.
Get it now on Bookshop.org

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

Release date: June 30 (Doubleday)
With the coronavirus putting many Hollywood productions on hold and reshaping the release schedule for the next couple years, it will likely be a long time before we see the sequel to 2018's Crazy Rich Asians on the big screen. If you already devoured the other two entries in the trilogy that inspired the film, this new book from expert rom-com author Kevin Kwan, which was reportedly inspired by E.M. Foster's classic A Room with a View, should hold you over for a bit. Focusing his eye on glitzy locations in the peaceful island of Capri in Italy and the busy streets of Manhattan, Kwan crafts a love triangle that provides "fun, juicy travel porn" at a time when summer vacations are on hold. 
Get it now on Bookshop.org

Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (trans. by Sarah Moses)

Release date: August 4 (Scriber)
For a crazy translated work of fiction, look no further than Tender Is the Flesh, from Argentinian fixture Agustina Bazterrica, that's already won the prestigious Premio Clarin Novela prize. And what could be more nuts for a literary subject than cannibalism? Set in a world where a virus (ahem) has rendered animal meat dangerously inedible, society has transitioned to "special meat," aka human flesh, and it's the central character Marcos's job to slaughter beings at a processing factory. Yuck! Propulsive and deranged, Tender Is the Flesh is a weird and quick read that strays far enough from our current reality to be utterly engrossing, reminiscent of last year's excellent The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etters, and a book that will stick with you for a long time.
Get it now on Bookshop.org

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

Release date: June 2 (Random House)
Utopia Avenue is the best version of a "getting the band together" story that's perfect for these summer months. Chronicling the rise of a fictional British band, Utopia Avenue follows vocalist and keyboardist Elf Holloway, virtuosic guitar player Jasper de Zoet, and bassist Dean Moss as they find their way to each other, form the titular band, and make it big at the close of the psychedelic '60s while navigating a changing world of politics and fame, found families and turbulent times. A highly anticipated release, this is David Mitchell's first book since 2015's supernatural Slade House, and it absolutely delivers on all fronts -- including Mitchellian Universe world-building (recognize anything, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet readers?).
Get it now on Bookshop.org

The Vapors by David Hill

Release date: July 7 (Farrar, Straus and Girous)
Mob stories are fun, right? How about an absolutely true one from the "forgotten capital of vice," Hot Springs, Arkansas, penned by the state's own David Hill? The Vapors is a deeply researched work focusing on the years between 1930-60, when Hot Springs served as the country's original Las Vegas with its one casino, full of organized crime, cons, bootleggers, and all kinds of other seedy characters you hope for in a colorful history book. A perfect conspiracy of capers that's ripe for summer reading. 
Get it now on Bookshop.org

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

Release date: August 25 (Grove)
From the author of the runaway hit memoir H is for Hawk, Vesper Flights is a collection of essays from nature writer Helen Macdonald, touching on everything from headaches to ostrich farming to mushroom hunting, and revealing what the natural world teaches us about ourselves -- a poignant, if a little sad, topic for these quaran-times. Some of the pieces have been published in various places before, but many of them are new, offering never-before-seen insights into nature's oddest and most beautiful subjects. If you loved Macdonald's moving previous book -- or even if you've never heard of it! -- you'll have a lot of fun digging into her other experiences with the world around us. 
Get it now on Bookshop.org

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