CULTURED's Summer Reading List: 7 Indulgent Books to Kick off the Season


Who says summer reading ends after high school?

Once the subject of month-long malaise, a voracious summertime reading list is one of the season’s joys—and a hallmark of sitting poolside. Even better is a list that captures the summer's sense of indulgence, be it through passionate first encounters or curiosities allowed to run wild for pages on end. 

For our first summer reading list of the season, CULTURED identified 7 titles that’ll immerse any reader in their tantalizing worlds. 

Image courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Exhibit by R.O. Kwon

This is R.O. Kwon’s much anticipated follow-up to The Incendiaries, which topped most publications’ "Book of the Year" lists in 2018. With the San Francisco-set Exhibit, she ups the ante by following a restless young photographer who forms an intense connection with a world-class ballerina battling an injury. Their shared ferocious ambition sparks a rare all-night talk at a party and the crackling romance that follows.

Image courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Perfume & Pain by Anna Dorn

Dorn crafts a lesbian pulp novel for our Internet-addled foment: We follow a lightly canceled Los Angeles author who can’t help but indulge in a few tawdry romances and the occasional drug binge as she attempts to revive her career. A touching homage to the 1950s ribald genre and a brilliantly specific send-up of contemporary Hollywood and its many patchouli-inundated, bungalow-dwelling oddballs.

Courtesy of Harper Collins.

Woman of Interest: A Memoir by Tracy O’Neill

A 5 Under 35 National Book Award Honoree in 2015, novelist Tracy O’Neill takes a stylish genre-spin into the annals of her own life with her first memoir. Reeling from a breakup, O’Neill hired a private investigator to delve into the origins of her birth mother only for him to ghost her. Taking up the mission herself, O’Neill headed to South Korea to meet up with family members she found through DNA research, only to find more questions than answers. It’s an exercise in self-examination as much as in style. 

Image courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

Cerebral, sexy, and hard to pin down, Kitamura’s novel is a “beach read” of greater sophistication. An interpreter takes a post at the International Court in The Hague, having left New York out of perturbation. Her lover has separated from his wife but is dragging his feet on the divorce. Her friend has witnessed a random act of violence that sticks in the interpreter’s mind. To boot, her latest assignment involves translating a trial rife with war crimes. One of the most celebrated books of 2021, Intimacies approaches betrayal and heartbreak in an eclectic, subversive, and wholly original manner.

Image courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Capote's Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era by Laurence Leamer

Truman Capote is one of the most enduring writers of the 20th century, a true icon of the New York literati known almost as much for his outsized persona, parties, and gossip-mongering as for his landmark works. The Ryan Murphy-produced Feud: Capote vs. The Swans, which aired on FX earlier this year, delves into the more dubious aspects of his character, with delicious results. Settle into the book the series was based on and luxuriate in more of the glamor.

Image courtesy of Tin House.

Thirst for Salt by Madelaine Lucas

This novel took BookTok and the Gen Z literary milieu by storm upon its release last year. A rumination on love, loss, and the passions that linger, Thirst for Salt follows one woman’s recollection of a May-December romance she had years prior with a man 18 years her senior. Set off the coast of Australia, the book highlights Lucas’s deftness for embodied memory, excavating the enduring sweetness and detritus of yearning itself.

Image courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Dogland by Tommy Tomlinson

Combining rigorous research with the off-kilter tone of Best in Show, Tommy Tomlinson’s Dogland is a deep dive into the world of dog competitions and the relationships between the pets and their handlers. Following a Samoyed named Striker as he enters the Westminster Dog Show, Tomlinson travels around the country to hundreds of different competitions, meeting thousands of canines and people along the way. It’s a feel-good indulgence, because what could be better than a book about dogs?