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The Mental Floss Summer 2022 Reading List

We've compiled 24 books from a range of genres that deserve a spot on your to-read list.
We've compiled 24 books from a range of genres that deserve a spot on your to-read list. / Amazon
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Summer is here, and if you're looking to unwind on the beach, in the backyard, or just on the couch with a good book, we're here to help. Below, we've rounded up 24 of our favorite titles to add to your TBR pile. From sci-fi and horror to heartfelt memoirs and enthralling non-fiction, we've got something for every taste.

1. A Deadly Education // Naomi Novik

'A Deadly Education'
'A Deadly Education' / Random House Publishing Group

A Deadly Education is for everyone who loves when young people go to school to learn how to use their magic. This novel, like other Naomi Novik works, will make you feel the youthful excitement of wishing the school day would hurry up and be over so you can get back to your book—and as soon as you finish, you might just start wishing you could read it again for the first time. Fortunately, it’s part of a trilogy: The second installment, The Last Graduate, is already out, and the third, The Golden Enclaves, is set for September 2022.

Buy it: Amazon

2. A World Beneath the Sands // Toby Wilkinson

'A World Beneath the Sands'
'A World Beneath the Sands' / W. W. Norton & Company / Amazon

In A World Beneath the Sands, Egyptologist Dr. Toby Wilkinson focuses on the race between the French and British to discover the wonders of Ancient Egyptian artifacts and treasures in the 19th and 20th centuries. It touches on the West's history in Egypt, but its main focus is on the pivotal hundred years between French linguist Jean-Francois Champollion's work deciphering the Rosetta Stone in the 1820s and Howard Carter's discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Capote's Women // Laurence Leamer

'Capote's Women' book cover.
'Capote's Women' / G.P. Putnam's Sons / Amazon

Truman Capote’s unfinished final novel, Answered Prayers, (pretty lightly) fictionalized the sometimes scandalous lives of the high-society women he spent much of his time with. In Capote’s Women, Laurence Leamer gives readers a riveting front-row look at who these so-called “swans” were (Lee Radziwill, Pamela Churchill, and Babe Paley among them), who Capote was to them, and how Answered Prayers never really came to be. The book is also the basis for the upcoming second season of Ryan Murphy’s FX anthology series Feud.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama: A Memoir // Bob Odenkirk

'Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama: A Memoir'
'Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama: A Memoir' / Random House / Amazon

When Bob Odenkirk first appeared as shady lawyer Saul Goodman in the second season of Breaking Bad, millions of viewers were charmed. (So were producers: Odenkirk got his own spin-off, Better Call Saul, which wraps up this summer.) But Odenkirk was no new kid—he was a seasoned veteran of irreverent, smart comedy, and he details his whole career in this insightful memoir. From his days as a jaded writer on Saturday Night Live to a series of false starts to a late-career turn as an action hero, few careers have been as eclectic as his. Consider it part autobiography and part tutorial on the rewards of perseverance.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Crying in H Mart // Michelle Zauner

'Crying in H Mart'
'Crying in H Mart' / Knopf / Amazon

This heartfelt memoir comes from a 2018 essay that author Michelle Zauner had published in the New Yorker and explores issues of race, identity, and grief. It follows Zauner as she grows up as one of the only Asian Americans in her school and, later, details how she copes with her mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis. Though highly personal, the book has universal themes that so many of us can relate to. It even caught the attention of former president Barack Obama, who named it one of his favorite books of 2021.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism // Amanda Montell

'Cultish'
'Cultish' / Harper Wave / Amazon

Every documentary about a cult, from the disciples of Charles Manson to the credulous believers of Heaven’s Gate, leaves viewers wondering how seemingly smart people could fall for “it”—the hope of immortality, money, or bliss. Amanda Montell explores and explains using examples of society’s fringe groups, parting the curtains on why we can all be seduced into a certain set of beliefs.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Dating Dr. Dil // Nisha Sharma

'Dating Dr. Dil'
'Dating Dr. Dil' / Avon / Amazon

This whirlwind romance has all the perfect tropes for a daytime beach read. An awkward almost hook-up leads to Dr. Prem Verma’s national embarrassment as Kareena Mann berates him on live daytime television. Will this hate birth a whole new love? Of course it will, but you’ll want to stay strapped in for the journey. Dating Dr. Dil takes inspiration from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, but it’s also loaded with a ton of Bollywood references and enough Indian Aunties to solve any disaster that comes Kareena’s way.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch // Rivka Galchen

'Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch'
'Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch' / Picador Paper / Amazon

Starting off in 17th-century Germany during the Thirty Years' War, this book draws on actual historical documents to tell the story of Katharina Kepler, mother of astronomer Johannes Kepler, who is accused of being a witch. Author Rivka Galchen wanted to examine how people get swept up in moral panics and witch hunts—both literal and figurative—despite overwhelming evidence that goes against their case.

"Katharina, she’s the mother of an amazing mathematician, and she has this almost childlike, sweet sense that if you can prove something, people will listen because you’ve shown why it’s the case," Galchen said in an interview with Electric Literature. "I find that quite moving because it’s so incorrect. It’s not the way humans seem to work. And so that was part of the connection to the present moment—it was just the folly of thinking, like, if you just run a fact-check on this, it’s going to go away."

Buy it: Amazon

9. Free Food for Millionaires // Min Jin Lee

'Free Food for Millionaires'
'Free Food for Millionaires' / Grand Central Publishing / Amazon

As anyone who’s read Pachinko already knows, Min Jin Lee is incredible at writing from so many different character perspectives with such care for detail that the resulting novel seems both sweeping and contained. In her debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires, she exercised this skill in full force to tell the story of Casey Han—a young milliner-cum-banker navigating career moves, money moves, and personal relationships in 1990s Manhattan—and the Korean immigrant community she’s part of.

Buy it: Amazon

10. From Here to Eternity // Caitlin Doughty

'From Here to Eternity'
'From Here to Eternity' / W. W. Norton & Company / Amazon

This project stems from a fascination with something that we’ll all experience but no one can truly understand until it has happened: death. Using her experience as a mortician and research into how various cultures care for the deceased, Caitlin Doughty offers critiques of the American funeral industry while suggesting what she’s seen work best in honoring the dead around the world. The accompanying illustrations work to satisfy fans of the macabre and present a new way of looking at what it means to die.

Buy it: Amazon

11. How Much of These Hills Is Gold // C. Pam Zhang

'How Much of These Hills Is Gold'
'How Much of These Hills Is Gold' / Riverhead Books / Amazon

Author C. Pam Zhang's 2020 debut follows a pair of orphaned Chinese American siblings—Lucy and Sam—who have to navigate the harsh landscape and unending racism of life during the American gold rush. Their goal is to leave their mining town behind to give their recently deceased father a burial that respects their family and culture, but the journey proves to be more than they’d bargained for as the siblings encounter family secrets and a glimpse into a future that seems too far out of reach to be possible.

"I think what I wanted to do with this book was skewer the myth of the American dream, which states that there is equal and ample opportunity for everyone," Zhang said in an interview with NPR. "And as a young person and as an immigrant myself, I believed very deeply in this idea, as my parents believed in it. And it was only as I got older that I realized how pernicious this myth is because the dark flipside is the assumption that if you don't make it, that reflects a personal moral failure rather than the systemic failure of a country that is racist and sexist and bigoted."

Buy it: Amazon

12. I'm More Dateable Than a Plate of Refried Beans: And Other Romantic Observations // Ginny Hogan

'I'm More Dateable than a Plate of Refried Beans'
'I'm More Dateable than a Plate of Refried Beans' / Chronicle Books / Amazon

The best way to cope with the nightmare that is modern dating is to laugh about it—and stand-up comedian Ginny Hogan can make you do this better than anyone. I’m More Dateable Than a Plate of Refried Beans is entertaining enough to read cover to cover in one long sitting, but it can also function as a reference text to help you find the funny in whatever part of the romance landscape you’re mired in at the moment. Swiping through sketchy dating app profiles? See “How To: Ignore Dating App Red Flags.” Just got ghosted? See “Phantoms and Prejudice,” in which the time-traveling narrator heads back to the Regency era to explain the concept to Lizzie Bennet. Feel free to buy this book for your single friend as a way of saying you’re sorry you met your soulmate at age 15 and they didn’t.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Magic: A History // Chris Gosden

'Magic: A History'
'Magic: A History' / Picador Paper / Amazon

Magic—which this book defines as "direct human participation in the universe" that differs from science and religion—predates human civilization, so tracing its history is a big job. Author and archaeologist Chris Gosden manages to pull it off here, demonstrating the role magic has played in cultures on every continent since the Ice Age. The book argues that ancient ways of seeing the world can be valuable in the modern era—even if you've never held a Tarot card deck or read your horoscope.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Matrix // Lauren Groff

'Matrix'
'Matrix' / Riverhead Books / Amazon

In Matrix, author Lauren Groff takes a look at the life of Marie de France, a real-life figure from the 12th century who is considered to be the first woman to write poetry in French. At 17, she is cast out of the royal French court and is relocated to a rural English abbey, where she is tasked with leading a group of impoverished nuns. Despite us not knowing much about the real-life Marie, Groff did plenty of research on her in order to craft this engrossing bestseller.

"[We] don't know much about Marie de France," Groff told NPR. "She was the first female poet in the French language that we know of. There are suppositions that she was an abbess. There are suppositions that she was a bastard daughter of nobility. But what I was able to do was to go back to her own works, the lais and the fables that she wrote, and to pull out images. And I built a life, a biography out of those images."

Buy it: Amazon

15. Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011 // Lizzy Goodman

'Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City'
'Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City' / Dey Street Books / Amazon

New York's punk underground made the city the place to be in the 1970s, but that era was just a distant memory by the late 1990s. It wasn't until The Strokes burst on the scene and lit a fire with their 2001 debut album, Is This It, that the Big Apple got a much-needed musical renaissance. Following in the footsteps of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Lizzy Goodman's Meet Me in the Bathroom retraces the highs and lows of New York's turn-of-the-century musical revival, with all the gossip, sordid hijinks, and tales of in-fighting to go along with it. But for fans of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, and other breakthrough bands from that period, this one is a must-read.

Buy it: Amazon

16. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl // Andrea Lawlor

'Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl'
'Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl' / Vintage / Amazon

On the surface, author Andrea Lawlor's joyful debut novel is a celebration of gender fluidity, but it also functions as a sort of modern-day fairytale. Set in 1993, it follows 23-year-old college student Paul Polydoris, who can shapeshift and transform his gender at will but keeps it a secret from those around him. Lawlor, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, wrote Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl over the course of 15 years and drew heavily from classic Greek myths and Virginia Woolf's Orlando. They also drop plenty of deep-cut '90s references throughout the book, which helps give it a firm sense of place (plus, you could make your own mixtape off all the grunge and alt-rock gems mentioned here). From Iowa City to San Francisco's queer punk scene, our hero's quest for love and a sense of genuine community takes him all over the country, but this tale goes straight to the heart.

Buy it: Amazon

17. Sea of Tranquility // Emily St. John Mandel

'Sea of Tranquility'
'Sea of Tranquility' / Knopf / Amazon

Station Eleven and Glass Hotel author Emily St. John Mandel's latest book weaves together—and pings back and forth between—four separate timelines spanning 500 years and features a pandemic, life on the Moon (and beyond), simulation theory, and time travel (not to mention characters that fans of her previous novels will recognize). And yet it's a ridiculously quick read, both because it's short and hard to put down. And though it sounds topically heavy, Mandel, as always, manages to imbue the book with hope.

Tranquility was written largely during COVID-19 lockdown, which influenced Mandel in ways that didn't occur to her as she was writing: "When I realized a lot of the narrative was going to be set on the moon, I thought I was trying to escape from my apartment, you know? In lockdown conditions, I just wanted to get away," she told W magazine. "The world became so small in the spring of 2020. I was like, it’s got to be the moon, because anywhere else is too close. I told someone, and they were like, ‘So … it’s a narrative about people living in a very tightly contained situation?’ I was like, darnit. It wasn’t what I was consciously doing!"

Buy it: Amazon

18. Seven Days in June // Tia Williams

'Seven Days in June'
'Seven Days in June' / Grand Central Publishing / Amazon

This second-chance romance follows Shane, a reclusive but famous fiction writer, and Eva, an author of vampire erotica whose genre isn't sparking the same joy it used to. The two had a brief fling in high school, and when they unexpectedly meet again 20 years later, it might just be what they need to get those literary juices flowing. The book was a runaway hit in 2021 and a television adaptation is now in the works with author Tia Williams signed on as executive producer.

Buy it: Amazon

19. The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America's Wildlands // Jon Billman

'The Cold Vanish'
'The Cold Vanish' / Grand Central Publishing / Amazon

The Cold Vanish is Jon Billman's sobering take on the thousands of people who have headed into the wilderness of North America and simply ... disappeared. Billman's book largely revolves around the search for Jacob Gray, a 22-year-old who went missing in Olympic National Park in 2017 and was found dead the following year. Through Gray's disappearance and others featured in the book, readers learn about the desperation and frustration of the families missing persons leave behind; the challenges searchers face; and why we should all be careful when we venture into the wild—making The Cold Vanish a must-read for anyone thinking of visiting a national park this summer.

Buy it: Amazon

20. The Haunting of Alma Fielding // Kate Summerscale

'The Haunting of Alma Fielding'
'The Haunting of Alma Fielding' / Penguin Books / Amazon

In 1938 London, Alma Fielding’s life has been turned upside down by things she can’t explain—six-fingered handprints are appearing in her home, glasses are floating about, and coins are mysteriously bouncing across the floor. With the help of ghost hunter Nandor Fodor, Fielding hopes to get to the bottom of the haunting. To get the details of this real-life case just right, author Kate Summerscale drew upon actual reports to get exact quotes and conversations that Fodor had with Fielding.

"I wanted this book to be as rigorous and precise and vivid—like concrete with real things and then settings in a real place and time—as anything else I’ve done," Summerscale told Shondaland. "The transcripts of the interviews and séances were tremendous for those purposes, so you actually know what people said to one another."

Buy it: Amazon

21. The Road Trip // Beth O'Leary

'The Road Trip'
'The Road Trip' / Berkley / Amazon

What’s more cringe-worthy than running into the person you used to love? How about them literally running their car into yours on the way to a mutual friend's wedding? When this happens to former couple Dylan and Addie, they find themselves forced to road trip together to catch their friend's ceremony, all while recounting where their relationship went wrong in the first place. Beth O'Leary's latest is a fun, breezy summer read that still manages to add some poignant observations of a failed romance.

Buy it: Amazon

22. The Unidentified // Colin Dickey

'The Unidentified'
'The Unidentified' / Penguin Books / Amazon

In The Unidentified, Colin Dickey explores some of the wildest (and sometimes irrational) fringe beliefs throughout America, from rumors of the ancient (space?) race of Lemurians living beneath California's Mount Shasta to the classic Jersey Devil. But the book is about more than having a laugh at oddities like Kentucky's strange Meat Shower from 1876—Dickey digs deep into the culture surrounding these beliefs and explores why these theories persist for decades and centuries after, especially in today's social media-driven world.

"Where we’re at right now is a period of such constant upheaval that I think a lot of our prior beliefs are being challenged in a lot of ways," Dickey said in an interview with Gizmodo. "It is easier for a lot of us to respond to that challenge by simply denying the reality in front of us, rather than facing that challenge head-on, and that’s one thing that drives conspiracy theories in this kind of moment."

Buy it: Amazon

23. Woman, Eating // Claire Kohda

'Woman, Eating'
'Woman, Eating' / HarperVia / Amazon

Woman, Eating, Claire Kohda's debut novel, is a different kind of vampire story: Lydia, the daughter of a deceased Japanese artist and a Malaysian-English vampire, craves human food, but all she can actually eat is blood. After graduating from college, Lydia moves to London to pursue her dream of being an artist; unfortunately, she has issues tracking down pig's blood and becomes hungrier and hungrier.

Interestingly, Kohda didn't know much about vampires when she started writing. "The vampire figure was interesting because the only thing that really sets a vampire apart from us humans is their diet," she said in an interview. "As someone who is mixed-race Asian, it is really interesting because I think for a lot of Asians, food and cuisine are used quite a lot to set them apart from others. So food becomes often, the source of why we might be made to feel different. Lydia, being a vampire, she’s made to feel foreign everywhere she goes because her diet is different to literally everyone on the planet."

Buy it: Amazon

24. You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty // Akwaeke Emezi

'You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty'
'You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty' / Atria Books / Amazon

This latest release by bestselling author Akwaeke Emezi follows the story of Feyi, a woman trying to figure out what it is to love and be loved five years after a fateful accident kills the man she thought she’d be with forever. With the push of her best friend Joy, Feyi jumps right into a summer of unforgettable flings and a line of potential suitors. You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty is a steamy beach read with the reminder that grief is not the absence of love.

Buy it: Amazon

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