A Tale of Classics and Popcorn: A Summer Reading List

As we go deeper into the summer, the commonly asked question begins to circulate in the air: ‘What is worth reading this summer?’ The typical response to this question is a melting pot of two types of literature depending on who is asked. The first is the obvious classic literature that “all must read.” Usually this recommendation is greeted with an air of pretension to it (“I mean, you haven’t read it?”). The second suggestion usually is a mixture of what literature majors, such as myself, like to categorize as “popcorn” literature, which are usually book series or novels that are the flavor-of-the-week. Keep in mind this is not a derogatory categorization, but rather one that suggests such novels do not need to be taken seriously. For instance, one does not need to read E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey with the same seriousness as Ernest Hemmingway’s Farewell to Arms. Or, one shouldn’t read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies with the same leisure as one would read Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Classic and popcorn literature are not mutually exclusive when it comes to reading techniques. Therefore summer book lists are typically one or the other due to preferential bias of the person making such suggestions.

The suggestions of this list do not aim to be “must reads” or “this ought to entertain you,” but rather is a list that combines both classic and popcorn literature into one single list. To further compliment this notion of a non-biased list, this summer reading list will categorize each individual entry as being either “Classic,” “Contemporary” or “Popcorn.” Added to that will be an indicator of how “serious” the novel is, to which they will be labeled as: “Not Serious,” “Somewhat Serious,” “Serious,” “Very Serious.”

The ultimate goal of this list is to provide a summer reading list that has at least one entry that appeals to a prospective reader regardless of their reading preference.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and ClayAuthor:
Michael Chabon
Novel Type: Contemporary
Seriousness Level: Serious
This novel chronicles the Golden Age of Comics through its two main characters, who develop a comic strip entitled “The Escapist,” an anti-fascist superhero who protects those who have been wronged by oppression. The novel further extends to themes of war, employment, sexuality and personal acceptance. More notable is how the novel’s narrative is based upon the lives of various true-life comic-book creators, such as Bob Kane (Batman), Jerry Siegel (Superman) and Joe Simon (Captain America).

The Rules of Attraction
Rules of AttractionAuthor:
Bret Easton Ellis
Novel Type: Popcorn
Seriousness Level: Not Serious
This multiple-character narrative follows three Camden college students as they progress through their daily lives of substance abuse and sexual dalliances. Ellis’ dark comedy captures an aura of college students who aren’t aware of what they want in life, therefore they behave in a reactionary style of existence. They aren’t worried of being self-destructive because being self-destructive is at least something to do. This novel shouldn’t be put in association with its inferior 2002 film adaption.

The Catcher in the Rye
Catcher in the RyeAuthor:
J.D. Salinger
Novel Type: Classic
Seriousness Level: Very Serious
This famous novel chronicles a weekend with the iconic literary character, Holden Caulfield, a teen suffering from tremendous guilt and alienation, who is expelled from his school at the beginning of the novel and decides to spend a weekend on his own in New York City before breaking the news to his parents. He regards most people as “phonies” and proclaims himself as “the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life.” The novel explores his personal relationships with various characters, which indirectly gives the reader a vantage into Holden’s psyche. I have argued for years that no film adaptation of this novel could ever bring it justice, and I have been grateful none have been made as of 2015.

Empire Falls
Empire FallsAuthor:
Richard Russo
Novel Type: Contemporary
Seriousness Level: Serious
No novel captures the aura and environment of a small blue-collar town better than Russo’s Empire Falls. The novel follows a wide array of characters, but at the center of it all is Miles Roby, who runs the Empire Grille in town. The novel is equally about mortality than it is about finding an understanding of self, with Miles seeking to find a place in life that he finds satisfying while also seeking to answer questions he still has about his past. The 2005 HBO miniseries adaptation of this novel nowhere near touches the brilliance the novel offered to readers.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeAuthor:
Mark Haddon
Novel Type: Contemporary
Seriousness Level: Not Serious
With the recent play adaptation of this novel winning Best Play at the Tonys last weekend, it is sure to inspire many to read this novel. Don’t think this novel’s popularity is because of the Broadway hype because this novel already was worthy of being hyped about. The novel’s narrative is uniquely its own since it is written from the vantage of Christopher, an autistic teenager who lives with his father, is obsessed with math and prime numbers, cannot understand human emotions and hates being touched. The novel follows Christopher as he tries to solve who murdered his neighbor’s dog with a garden fork, which ignites a series of memorable, and oftentimes hilarious exchanges between him and other characters. Reading this novel is an experience in itself; a literary experience one should not deny themselves.

Meditations in an Emergency
Meditations in an EmergencyAuthor:
Frank O’Hara
Novel Type: Classic
Seriousness Level: Not Serious
In my opinion, the greatest collection of poetry ever written.

Suzanne Collins
Novel Type: Popcorn
Seriousness Level: Not Serious
Last chance to find out the conclusion of The Hunger Games trilogy before the second half of the Mockingjay film comes to theaters in November. The final novel of the trilogy is explosive and worth reading.

Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York
Boss TweedAuthor:
Kenneth D. Ackerman
Novel Type: Contemporary
Seriousness Level: Very Serious
For those of you interested in history, Boss Tweed offers a compelling piece of American history that is rarely discussed in-depth: the corruption of Tammany Hall in the 1860s. This corruption was led by William M. Tweed, who was known as the “boss” of Tammany Hall. Together with his cronies, Tweed was able to defraud New York City of between 25-45 million dollars. Ackerman’s biography provides a detailed and compelling narrative that explains to the reader how such corruption and fraud was possible while also offering insight to who Boss Tweed really was and why was he motivated by greed and power. For history buffs, this biography is a must read.

Catch 22Author:
Joseph Heller
Novel Type: Classic
Seriousness Level: Somewhat Serious
This satirical novel about war, society and procedure perhaps is one of the most hilarious novels ever written. The novel’s primary character is Captain Yossarian, who wishes to not pilot any more missions, much to the chagrin of his superiors. He is told in order not to fly, he has to declare being mentally unfit. Yet if is he is aware he is mentally unfit, he is sane enough to fly, hence the phrase “Catch-22.” Heller’s novel is uniquely written with sequences being out of order, each character having his own vignette that is seemingly pointless but holds value later in the novel, and repeating occurrences in the novel, but doing it from the vantage of other characters. Catch-22 is unlike any novel ever written with its mocking of policy, embellished situations and undercurrent of the horrors of war.

 A Song of Ice and Fire Series (Game of Thrones)
Game of ThronesAuthor:
George R.R. Martin
Novel Type: Popcorn
Seriousness Level: Serious
Popcorn literature with an edge; best way I can describe this book series. Whether you are still reading the books or just getting started with them, either way, this book series makes for a very entertaining and adrenaline-fueled literary experience. The books and the TV series may not be in sync with each other as of late, but that doesn’t mean the books do not deserve the same level of attention. A Storm of Swords (book 3) and A Dance with Dragons (book 5) are particular standouts in the book series.


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