A Not-So-Easy-Breezy-Beachy Summer Reading List

Woman sitting on brown wooden beach chair reading

The other day I was talking to a friend about her upcoming trip to the beach with her family; I asked if she was planning to read anything in particular while on vacation. She replied she did not have a book picked out yet, and asked for “fun beach book” suggestions. I paused to think a moment, but, before I could say anything, she reminded herself, “wait a minute, I know who I’m talking to, never mind, you don’t read fun books.” It’s true, others would not generally classify the books I read as fun, at least most of the time. Among my friends I am affectionately known as the one who only reads ‘depressing’ books. And that’s ok with me. I find the books I read to be ‘fun reads’ because they are interesting, I usually learn something, and they represent brilliant authors.

For this post, I decided to curate a list of some “not-so-easy-breezy-beachy” books that I absolutely recommend.

While thinking about which books to include, I went over the list of books I have read most recently. I keep track of my reading through Goodreads, an online platform that lets you list titles (for free!) that you have read, are currently reading, or are interested in reading at some point. In addition, you can rate and review each book on your bookshelf and follow the ratings and reviews of others. I have found Goodreads to be an incredibly helpful tool and would recommend it to anyone interested in tracking their reading. The list below represents a mixture of fiction and nonfiction books I have read in the past two years and would recommend for your next reading adventure. They are not listed in any particular order.

  1. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Maté
    (Tags: Nonfiction, addiction, harm reduction, behavioral health)
    As someone who recently worked for an organization providing recovery services, I was interested in learning more about addiction and recovery. In this book, Dr. Mate explores the social, psychological, physiological, environmental, and biological basis of addiction through the lens of his patients in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, BC. Personal stories of his patients are mixed in with scientific research to point out “a hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviors.” In my opinion, this is an absolute must-read for anyone who is curious, interested, frustrated, and/or devastated by the way the world approaches and talks about addiction.
  2. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
    (Tags: Nonfiction, race, racial justice, dialogue, intersectionality)
    Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race is bold, clear, sarcastic, funny, and heart breaking all at the same time. She delves into language and conversation around race raising thoughtful questions with each chapter title and answering them throughout each chapter. Chapter topics include (but are not limited to):
    -What if I talk about race wrong?
    -What is intersectionality and why do I need it?
    -Talking is great, but what else can I do?
    A good read for all, but especially top priority for all my fellow white folks out there.
  3. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murikami
    (Tags: Fiction, Japanese literature, translation, inner journey)
    This book was first recommended to me by a dance teacher long ago. She was entranced by Murikami’s style, but told me to wait to read this novel until I was an adult. When I picked it up earlier this year in Recycle Bookstore (my favorite secondhand bookstore in San Jose), I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Murikami’s style is unique, intriguing, and well-paced. Throughout the novel, two story lines run parallel; while inextricably linked, the characters don’t necessarily know the impact each has on the other. It is a story of time, purpose, forgiveness, and the inner journey. All I can say is that it’s bonkers and I enjoyed it. I am still reflecting on some of female characters, their limited functions in the novel, and the violence they endure. Since this is the only Murikami book I have read, I am not sure if it is typical of Murakami or just happened to be that way in this novel.
  4. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
    (Tags: Fiction, African diaspora, collective historical memory,
    intersectionality, connectedness)
    Homegoing is an incredible novel both for its storyline, as well as its structure. Following the familial lines of two sisters separated when young, Homegoing addresses the topic of slavery and the impacts it had/continues to have on those forced to come to the United States, as well as on those who remained on the continent of Africa. Each chapter gives the point of view of a different character, and an unresolved storyline from one chapter will be picked up by that person’s daughter or son in the next or subsequent chapters; this is done in a way that answers questions you were left with, while simultaneously introducing new ones. This novel is powerful in demonstrating the generational and historical trauma resulting from slavery in the United States. It speaks to the many stories that are woven into each individual’s story and the necessity of seeking them out in order to become more whole.
  5. Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood by Mari Andrew
    (Tags: Graphic Novel, doodling, adulting, watercolors, growing up)
    My friend Laura gifted me this beautiful book at a critical time in my life. At the time I was trying to decide if I was going to move to another state, whether or not I should quit my job, and if the things I was worried about were actually worth my energy. Andrew’s book is part funny, part serious, and wholly quirky. She writes and draws about relationships, traveling, grief, the creative process and much more. Follow her on instagram @bymariandrew for more!
  6. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long & Happy Life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles
    (Tags: Nonfiction, Japanese lifestyle, purpose, longevity, joy)
    This short book is a great read for anyone contemplating the intersections of what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs. García and Miralles study the Blue Zone of Okinawa, Japan in order to learn more about a culture that supports and encourages community, longevity, and lifelong purpose.
  7. An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum
    (Tags: Nonfiction, diary, WWII, psychology, letters, existentialism)
    The compilation of Etty Hillesum’s diary pages and letters is an intimate look at her thoughts about and experience as a 26 year old Jewish woman during World War II. Her relationship and study under Julius Spier, a psycho-chirologist, adds an additional layer of insight into her experiences through self-reflection and processing. Incredibly engrossing and overall chilling.
  8. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön
    (Tags: Nonfiction, Buddhist spirituality, awareness, mindfulness)
    This book was also given to me as a gift by a friend and co-worker (best gift ever!). It is a great read for anyone interested in learning more about Buddhism and Buddhist practice, but also for those simply looking for tools to identify and break down habitual responses in situations. Chödrön suggests sitting with discomfort instead of trying to outrun it and consciously letting things fall apart in order to go against habits to create new energy. While I personally am still digesting her thoughts on hope and hopelessness, this book offers both practices and concepts to try.
  9. Another Country by James Baldwin
    (Tags: Fiction, race, interracial relationships, sexuality, 1950s)
    Another Country was my first exposure to James Baldwin (I know, I know, I’m behind and there’s no excuse), but it definitely will not be my last. This novel is captivating, intriguing, and poetic. The complexity of each character gave them realistic depth many authors strive for, but do not achieve. Set in Greenwich Village, Harlem, and France, this novel explores the intertwined factors of race, sexuality, and relationship among a small group of friends.
  10. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
    (Tags: Nonfiction, history, autobiography, race, religion)
    Even though I am only about halfway through The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I could not leave it off of this list. Until reading this autobiography, my knowledge of and about Malcolm X was limited to a couple of soundbites, a comparison and contrast to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and one or two college lectures. To be honest, I was hesitant to start this book because of its relative length and the fact that I don’t always enjoy books with a historical lens. However, after the first page I was hooked. Malcolm X’s writing style is fast-paced, reflective, and full of the honesty you wish every autobiography contained. I am looking forward to finishing the second half and recommend to all for a better understanding of Malcolm X, his background, and his lasting legacy.

Thanks for checking out my not-so-easy-breezy-beachy summer reading list. As a lifelong-learner, I am always in the market for reading suggestions. One specific area I am looking for recommendations is LGBTQ+ literature (both fiction and nonfiction), but I am open to any recommendations you might have. Hope this list piques some interest, and happy summer reading to whatever you might be perusing this summer!

Photo by chen-zo on Unsplash

About Cami Kasmerchak

Cami is a writer, photographer, and avid reader. She has lived in 6 different states (WI, MO, TN, VA, CA, WA), one other country (South Africa), and currently resides in St. Louis, MO where she is pursuing her Masters in Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to her year of service with JVC, she also served with AmeriCorps VISTA and has worked in multiple non-profit agencies focusing on education, housing, workforce development, re-entry services, and long-term recovery support. Her dream jobs are to be a photographer for National Geographic and a licensed social worker both promoting connection to nature as a path for healing. She is excited to be contributing both blog posts and art to The Ruined Report. (Casa Pedro Arrupe, San Jose 2015-2016) Follow her photography on Instagram @camikazphotography or visit her website at https://camikazphotography.wixsite.com/mysite