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Time and again, reading has saved me.

Way back in 1993, I spent most of the year teaching in a remote region of Slovakia. There was no Internet, no available English radio, no English television. Thankfully, I had friends and family who would send me books, magazines and newspapers.

Life then was so unlike today’s never-ending access to information and reading material. In those days, I read and re-read the limited items I had so many times that I memorized entire sections of books and articles in magazines. I can still quote passages from “A Prayer for Owen Meany” and a certain story about Chuck Berry from Life Magazine.

In July of that year, in a strange twist of fate, I made my way to England — for a single day (on a bus of German tourists, but that's another story). At the end of that day, I had mere minutes in the Dover Ferry gift store, with funds even more limited than time.

I knew this would be the last chance I had to buy something to read in English. I selected my reading material by what would be the greatest return on investment — what was the biggest book I could buy for the money?

The answer turned out to be perfect, poetic even. It was James Michener’s “Poland.” As fate would have it, back in Slovakia, I was living in some of the places where the book took place. I remember reading the book once on a train and looking out the window and realizing the story I was reading was the story of the mountains I was passing.

As in that moment, reading can be so powerful.

My annual list of summer reading recommendations includes some new titles and some that have been around for a long time. These are my favorite reads from the last year.

My reading tastes lean hard toward fiction, but I’ve added excellent non-fiction titles for those who prefer it. Most of the recommendations are geared toward women’s preferences, but I believe everyone can find one or two below that will delight or engage your brain and heart.

Coming in hot is a book I finished two weeks ago. “Miss Benson's Beetle” by Rachel Joyce is endearing on every level.

If you’re interested in sinking into another time and place, read Ken Follet's entire Kingsbridge series: “The Evening and the Morning,” “Pillars of the Earth,” “World Without End” and “A Column of Fire.” Follet’s books are some of the best historical fiction ever written.

Plus, if you read these books, you’ll gain so much context into the world. I believe you will likely connect dots that may have never quite connected historically for you before. Read the books in whatever order you choose. Each stands alone and is world-class storytelling. Both men and women like reading this series.

If you (like me) like long, historical fiction series, I heartily recommend Sara Donati's “Into the Wilderness” series.

If you need a new perspective on regrets, read “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig.

If you’re looking for something fun and light, read Kevin Kwan's series: “Crazy Rich Asians,” “China Rich Girlfriend,” “Rich People Problems” and “Sex and Vanity.”

Taking it old school, I reread many of Rosamunde Pilcher’s books during the pandemic. Talk about soothing! My four favorites are “The Shell Seekers,” “September,” “Winter Solstice” and “Coming Home.”

Finding a book more charming than “The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper” by Phaedra Patrick would be a challenge!

If you appreciate an unconventional memoir and a vocabulary lesson to boot, read Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.” This book, a National Book Critic’s Choice finalist, is in the style of the most sophisticated comic book you'll ever read. Be sure to keep a dictionary handy.

If you’re looking for a timely read, try this Pulitzer-winning letter to the author's son,

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

If you enjoy Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show,” you must read his life story, “Born a Crime.” Plus, they’re making a movie about it that I’m certain everyone will be talking about. Lupita Nyong’o will star in it, along with Trevor Noah himself. He is a funny man, but in this book, he speaks from the heart.

If you’re interested in a Louisiana memoir, try “The Yellow House” by Sarah M. Broom. A heads up — if you don't get into it at first, skip to p.100 and start reading there.

I hope you’ll be able to read at least one of these selections with your toes curled in the sand. Holly Beach will do!


Email Jan Risher at janrisher@gmail.com