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7 Must-Read Books for Summer

Photo: godadex, Getty Images.

Along with sunglasses, sunblock, and sandals, a book is an essential accessory for summer. Though beach reads are often assumed to be frothy and fictional, these seven books run the gamut, from fun topics like pop culture, sports, and music to more serious issues like addiction and troubled relationships. Whether in novel, essay, or memoir form, as a group, these books combine light-hearted humor with analytical insight. Read ‘em all to ensure you’ll have plenty to talk about with those babes you’re bound to meet while sunbathing this summer.

Chuck Klosterman is wicked smart. Thankfully for readers, his insights are shared in "amusing nerd" rather than "arrogant asshole" fashion. His tenth book, Chuck Klosterman X, is a collection of new and previously published work deeply influenced by pop culture, especially sports and music. Interviews with Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, and Noel Gallagher are juxtaposed with analysis of why KISS is his favorite band and a breakdown of why watching a prerecorded sports event is less pleasurable than watching that same event live. Quirky departures include essays on why he’ll never stop drinking Mountain Dew despite its mouse-dissolving properties, how Charlie Brown’s worldview makes him “infinitely likeable”, and the strange surge in the popularity of zombies. You won't always agree with Klosterman, but you will want to keep reading.

Rare is the journal entry that deserves to be read—by its author, much less anyone else. But David Sedaris is no ordinary journal-keeper. He’s considered by many to be a literary and comic genius. In Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977 – 2002, the New York native, now 60, revisits entries from his 20s, 30s, and 40s. Though the world has changed much in that time, the life of young men has not. Sedaris recounts hanging at IHOP, doing drugs, living in shitty apartments, and floundering in art school. A classic entry: “October 26, 1985: In the park I bought dope. There was a bench nearby, so I sat down for a while and took in the perfect fall day. Then I came home and carved the word ‘failure’ into a pumpkin.”

Lillian Alexie was far from a model mother, but alcoholism, an abusive temperament, and an inability to overcome poverty are the kinds of character flaws that make for a captivating story. In Sherman Alexie's case, that story is true, and cataloged in You Don't Save to Say You Love Me, a memoir made up of 78 essays, 78 poems, and photographs focusing on his mercurial mother, their contentious relationship, and growing up on the Spokane Reservation. Whether or not you have mommy issues, this book will make you appreciate your mom that much more.

If you think you don't like poetry, you haven't read Bao Phi. The acclaimed spoken word artist unites brutality and beauty in his new book, Thousand Star Hotel, a gritty, raw, poignant collection of poems on race, class, violence, and love in the United States. Phi lays bare his experience of growing up as a Vietnamese refugee in Minneapolis and his struggles to raise his daughter in a way that honors his Asian American heritage. While Phi unapologetically lobs truth bombs at readers, he balances them out with bittersweet homages to long-ago loves. This is a challenging read, but a necessary one.

Ray Parisi is in the midst of a shitstorm. The recently fired ESPN anchor with a gambling problem is living out of a hotel. His attorney ex-wife has replaced him with a new fiancé. And to top it all off, he’s wanted by the New York State Police and has a Cambodian bookie looking to collect. A surprise inheritance could change some of these circumstances, but only if his precarious plan pans out. Swimming with Bridgeport Girls is the rare kind of midlife crisis novel that will have you laughing at – and rooting for –the down-on-his-luck protagonist.

This playful and clever take on modern culture tosses traditional literary forms into a blender, then adds salt. Nate Dern, a senior writer for Funny or Die, toys with Q&A, scripts, telephone conversation transcripts, and open letters to maximize laughs. The chapter titles alone should tip you off: "It's Not You, It's Your Man Bun", "I'm Not an Asshole, I'm Just an Introvert" "Hand Job at 20,000 Feet" are among them. Not Quite a Genius is decidedly low-brow, but why would you expect anything else from a comedian?

Some books you read because you want to learn something. Others you read for the ride. Scab Vendor by Jonathan Saw is the latter. This unconventional memoir takes place on two planes: recollections in first person and conversations between a tattoo artist and his young client in third person. One assumes the vagabond star of both narratives is Shaw, but the lines between fiction and reality are heavily blurred in these pages. Ultimately, who cares what happened and what didn't; the description is visceral, the events outrageous, and the journey harrowing. Rolling Stone has deemed Shaw "the next Bukowski", but he isn't. He's his own thing, and that thing is mighty entertaining.