Best Fiction You Read This Summer


Maybe I can squeeze in time for one more novel.

I don’t know about you, but summer’s the time of year when I give myself enough time to read fiction on a regular basis, and I’m looking for one more book.

Philosofriends, what novel did you read and like over the past few months? (It needn’t have been published recently.)

Please share your suggestions in the comments—and hurry, summer’s almost over! (sorry!)

Include the title, author, and maybe a line about why you’re recommending it. Thanks!

(I’ll share a book or two in the comments.)

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Felix Larsson
Felix Larsson
9 months ago

Samuel R. Delany’s Sword-and-Semiology series: Tales of Nevèrÿon, Neveryóna, Flight from Nevèrÿon, and Return to Nevèrÿon. Low fantasy at its lowest (with semiology supplanting sorcery), most intellectual (actually very little sword in the mix either), and most deconstructive (I never read anything that made modern continental philosophy make as much good sense to me as the fiction parts of these books).

Nate Sheff
9 months ago

“The Bell” by Iris Murdoch. Always been curious to read her fiction and found this one at a bookstore, so I sat down with it to kill some time. I read the first chapter and had to know what happened next. The book spends a lot of time in the heads of its main characters, so by the time the plot really starts to unfold, everything that happens flows really naturally from the characterization. It’s great.

Nate Sheff
Reply to  Nate Sheff
9 months ago

Uh, I also read “Lord of the Rings” for the first time this year, and that’s technically one book in three parts. You probably have time for a 1000+ pages, right.

Jan Dowell
Jan Dowell
9 months ago

“Small Days and Nights” by Tishani Doshi

Dan Weiskopf
Dan Weiskopf
9 months ago

For the past two years I’ve been involved in a reading group that’s working our way through Arno Schmidt’s Zettel’s Traum (Bottom’s Dream in John Woods’ English translation). It’s possibly the strangest book ever written: staggeringly long, typographically and orthographically experimental, thick with often opaque references to other texts, relentlessly pornographic (and, unfortunately, misogynist), plotless, and consumed almost entirely with microscopic dissections of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The group is also interested in the history and reception of mega-novels generally, so this summer I added Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook and John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor.

However, outside all of that one of the finest things I read was Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Corner That Held Them. It’s another plotless book: there are many characters but no single continuous protagonist(s) and it simply leaves off at the end, a terminus as arbitrary as its starting point. The sentence by sentence writing is a marvel: burnished without being overwrought. And Warner’s Marxism shows in her attention to the precarious finances of the convent. I almost wish some pages of the accounting books had been inserted, but we get enough description of the flow of funds that money is practically a character as well. I’ll certainly reread it, which I don’t do often.

(P.S., if anyone wants to join the reading group, feel free! Next up we’re shifting gears to Beckett’s Watt: http://tinyurl.com/Meganovels)

V. Alan White
9 months ago

Julie Schumacher has just released the last book in her Dear Committee Members trilogy, The English Experience, which I will start now just having finished the second one, The Shakespeare Requirement. By turns a hilarious and sobering reflection of the immense changes facing higher ed, focusing on those changes as they impact an English department.

Maxine W Almanza
Maxine W Almanza
Reply to  V. Alan White
9 months ago

Thank you for alerting me that Dear Committee Members is a trilogy! I absolutely loved the first one. Now I have something to look forward to.

Deborah Boyle
Deborah Boyle
9 months ago

“Yellowface” by Rebecca Kuang. Fascinating (and funny) novel about cultural appropriation, friendship, self-deception. The best novel I’ve read in a long time.

Madeline Martin-Seaver
Madeline Martin-Seaver
9 months ago

I enjoyed Farrell Covington and the Limits of Style very much – it was both romantic and irreverent.

William
William
9 months ago

Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams

Castorp
9 months ago

The Sleepwalkers, by Hermann Broch

Pekka Vayrynen
9 months ago

The best book I read this summer was Jon Fosse’s Septology. You’d think it’s not a beach read, but its incantatory rhythm and protagonist’s (or should it be protagonists’?) repetitive thinking worked very well with the sound of the waves. If that sounds like a stretch, a still darker choice is Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy, and Joshua Cohen’s The Netanyahus a lighter-hearted one.

Gorm
Gorm
Reply to  Pekka Vayrynen
9 months ago

Nice to see Tove Ditlevsen appreciated. She is such an emotional writer.

Craig Agule
9 months ago

If you like footnote-heavy, historical fiction that pushes you to think anew about the body, and if you don’t mind being regularly scandalized, go read Confessions of the Fox, by Jordy Rosenberg.

I’m friends with Jordy, but even if my endorsement is to be taken with a grain of salt, here is the New Yorker and NPR:

“A cunning metafiction of vulpine versatility”! -https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/confessions-of-the-fox-is-a-cunning-metafiction-of-vulpine-versatility

“the power of a little chaos, for freedom’s sake, in the face of the kind of commodification — of people, of sexuality, of identity, of knowledge, of stories — that threatens to suffocate life itself” –
https://www.npr.org/2018/06/26/621037857/an-academic-adventure-goes-awry-in-confessions-of-the-fox

Anat Schechtman
Anat Schechtman
9 months ago

Brilliant, dark, and hilarious: “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” by Olga Tokarczuk

Mike Noy
Mike Noy
9 months ago

….. The Road and Blood Meridian ( Cormack McCarthy )

Ralph West
Ralph West
9 months ago

Anything by Nick Harkaway is both fun and intellectually engaging. For max fun it’s “Tigerman”. For max stimulation it’s “Gnomon”. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.

Fyodor
Fyodor
9 months ago

Dostoevsky’s Demons

I recommend it because it’s got everything: nihilists, Slavophiles, satire about obscure Russian literary debates, messianic Christianity, and a stunningly uncomfortable charity gala.

Emily Mathias
Emily Mathias
9 months ago

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake. If you like a little magic twist on reality, this is good. For anyone who doesn’t mind YA literature, The Inheritance Games series is entertaining.

Sam Duncan
9 months ago

Fiona McFarlane’s “The Sun Walks Down.” It’s about the search for a lost child in a village in the Australian outback at the end of the 19th century. McFarlane’s book switches narrators every chapter and she manages to capture each one’s voice and inhabit their characters in a way that’s just striking. You just get a feel for this soon to be gone town and its people. Also, she’s very good at surprising you with the contrast between how people see each other and their actual inner lives and thoughts.
Colin Winnette’s “Users” gets an honorable mention. It’s deeply creepy in a fever dream sort of way that few books that try to be weird manage. It also has a lot to say about how people use work to avoid the harder tasks of fixing their own character flaws or repairing damaged relationships with others. (I know that’s hard to imagine since there aren’t people like that in academia, but it’s good to see how people outside the academy live). The end is pretty disappointing though.

Sam Duncan
9 months ago

Also, it’s not really a novel– though it borders on novella length– but Kelly Link’s “Skinder’s Veil” is just incredibly good. Among other things she managed to write something about trying to finish a dissertation that’s actually a fun time. It’s the best story in her latest collection “White Cat, Black Dog” but they’re all pretty solid. Link’s just an incredible author, and if you like weird fiction at all you should definitely seek out her stuff.

Brian Garvey
Brian Garvey
9 months ago

I’ve been working my way through the Brontë sisters’ novels beyond the two that are very well-known. So far I’ve read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne, and Shirley, by Charlotte. The former is a pretty harrowing depiction of a woman married to an abusive drunkard, the scenes describing the violent debauchery of the husband and his mates are so intensely written that I wonder if they drew on her observations of their brother’s behaviour. (I am no literary scholar.) Overall, it comments very sharply on the raw deal marriage was for Victorian women. Apparently, Charlotte thought it was too much.

Charlotte’s own Shirley seems to me a clear precursor of Middlemarch. Like Middlemarch, it’s a sort of state-of-the nation story about a time forty years or so before it was written – which in the case of Shirley means it’s set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. It includes some very vivid descriptions of Luddite agitation, but it’s not clear (to me anyway) what side the author is on.

You probably already know if you like Victorian novels or not, but these seem to me very good examples of the genre that deserve to be much better known: there’s the usual combination of intricate plotting and authorial commentary – and quite a surprising amount of theology in both, including some strikingly unorthodox views. They’re faster-paced than Dickens.

Fun fact: the name ‘Shirley’ was previously an old English boy’s name, and became a girl’s name because of Charlotte Brontë’s novel.

Clive Anderson
Clive Anderson
9 months ago

I read the first two books of the Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert and I was fascinated by the way time was treated in the story.

Wra Zom
Wra Zom
9 months ago

Birnam Wood – Eleanor Catton. I tried reading Luminaries many years ago and got lost somewhere in the middle. This on the other hand is a thrilling ride till the last sentence. Eco thriller, Left Politics, Conservation, Billionaire. It has it all. Wont be be suprised if it becomes a Hollywood movie or TV series

Charlotte
Charlotte
9 months ago

Cleopatra and Frankenstein. I’m an avid reader and I love plenty of novels, but this one has made me sit up and take notice. Stunning in every way.

Max
Max
9 months ago

“Shadow of Arms” by Hwang Sok-yong is a novel about Korean participation in the Vietnam war alongside the US. “The Plotters” by Kim Un-su is about assassins that underwrite corruption and the amorphous nature of corrupt power (both in translation).

Mere
Mere
9 months ago

The tin drum

Sharon
Sharon
9 months ago

The Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse. I just stumbled upon the book. And I loved it 😍. Finished it in two days.

Louis F. Cooper
9 months ago

Viet Thanh Nguyen, _The Sympathizer_ (still have the very last chapter to read).

A dazzling blend of satire and verbal pyrotechnics that skewers all parties to the Vietnam War in the voice of a half-Vietnamese, half-French, U.S.-educated Communist double agent.

Ethel2Tilly
Ethel2Tilly
9 months ago

My first Ursula Le Guin – The Name for World is Forest. I enjoyed it very much – there will be more Le Guin titles in my future!

Antti Kauppinen
Antti Kauppinen
9 months ago

The Joke by Milan Kundera. I was expecting his sharp analysis of the psychology of real socialism, but the depth and originality of the characters came as a pleasant surprise.

Christy
Christy
9 months ago

Colson Whitehead’s Crook Manifesto is perfect summer read

David M Macauley
David M Macauley
9 months ago

The Overstory by Richard Powers.

https://www.richardpowers.net/the-overstory/

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
9 months ago

Stoner by John Williams. It’s a sad story about a life spent in academia, in the English department at the University of Missouri. Partly, it’s a chilling horror story about life in academia (It isn’t genre horror – just scary for academics).

Orlanda
Orlanda
9 months ago

THE LAST ONE by William Dean.

Michel
9 months ago

Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games: It’s really fantastic, actually. I imagine I needn’t say more, since everyone’s sene the movie/heard about it. But this is really a high quality piece of teen fiction. Loved it.

Adrian Tchaikovsky – The Tiger and the Wolf: The first in an excellent fantasy trilogy. Think human prehistory, save that they can shapeshift into a totem animal. I know that might not sound promising–I hesitated read it despite loving Tchaikovsky’s work for that very reason–but actually, it’s great. This is the story of a young girl who doesn’t fit in, and it’s heavily reminiscent of Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (one of the best works of dystopian scifi nobody’s ever read).

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Michel
9 months ago

Riddley Walker is a truly magnificent novel and far too little read.

John Rapko
9 months ago

Sheila Heti’s Pure Colour, which struck me as a work of unusual intelligence and sustained philosophical brilliance. It’s a meditation on the death of a father, on criticism, and on the cosmos. I was also struck that Lucy Mercer, the only reviewer I read after reading the novel, said it was the worst one she had read in a long time. That, too, was interesting and induced much reflection

dni
dni
9 months ago

“M, the son of a century”, a great description of the rise of Mussolini in Italy after the first world war: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/m-son-of-the-century-antonio-scurati-review-robert-gordon/

Daniel Adsett
9 months ago

I recently finished Penguin’s English translation of Robot by Adam Wiśniewski-Snerg. The novel follows a robot who is unsure if he’s human as he navigates his way through a city being dragged through space. The penultimate chapter offers Wiśniewski-Snerg’s excellent argument for the existence and incomprehensibility of ‘super beings.’

Lynne Fox
Lynne Fox
9 months ago

The Biography of X by Catherine Lacey
The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas by Daniel James
Two similar character studies of elusive artists and their biographers who are obsessed with knowing their subject. Complex, layered tales with a bit of pychological thriller woven in.