What is the definition of a summer read? Many assume it’s a novel with a light, fluffy story. While I agree that the book should be light in weight, it does not necessarily have to be light in content. A true summer read can be fiction or nonfiction, classic or contemporary, as long as it keeps you turning the pages like the following:

Oracle Night
Paul Auster
Picador (paperback), 256 pp., $14

A mysterious blue notebook sets off a chain of strange events that keep the reader in suspense until the very end. Auster’s magnificent plot is so intricate, it is impossible to summarize. And this novel is so fast-paced and imaginative, it is impossible to put down.

Saints at the River
Ron Rash
Picador (paperback), 256 pp., $14

North Carolinian Rash explores the fight between a family trying to recover their drowned daughter’s body and an environmental group trying to protect the pristine river where she lies. A tale so intriguing and poetically written, you’ll read it straight through. It’s also the winner of the 2005 Southeastern Bookseller’s Award.

The Last American Man
Elizabeth Gilbert
Penguin (paperback), 288 pp., $14

The engaging story of North Carolinian Eustace Conway’s return to nature in the great Appalachian wilderness. An amazing account of a man learning to live off the land and to appreciate the natural wonders that surround him. An exciting journey away from the 9 to 5 world.

The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Penguin (paperback), 496 pp., $15 Murder, mystery, insanity and a “cemetery of forgotten books” rolled into a plot so full of mysticism it will keep you reading late into the night. Zafón’s English-language debut is a startling story, and proof of his great talent.

And one classic…
Travels with Charley
John Steinbeck
Penguin (paperback), 210 pp., $13

The immortal Steinbeck’s 1960 quest across our country to rediscover America and Americans. An adventurous account of a constantly changing country, utilizing all the best devices of good travel writing. Start here before reading any other travelogue.