Your Ultimate Summer Reading List
If you hate to be seaside (or lakeside or poolside or anything -side) without a book in hand, you’ve landed in the right place. Here, great beach reads recommended by notable authors and experts.
The Inn at Lake Devine,by Elinor Lipman
“Set in the summer of 1962, this beguiling gem of a romantic comedy is about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, a segregated inn in Vermont, and 12-year old Natalie Marx’s sense of justice during a turbulent time in America. Lipman is brilliant with dialogue and characters and can spin a provocative tale that still manages to feel punchy and light. One of my favorite novels of all-time.”
—Emily Giffin, the New York Timesbestselling author of Something Borrowed and Where We Belong, will release First Comes Love this June ($19, amazon.com). She lives in Atlanta with her husband and three children.
Into The Wild, by Jon Krakauer
“A page-turning, real-life mystery about a young man’s tragic journey to find himself. As vivid as it is broadly thought-provoking, Into The Wild is an intimate story of one person’s struggle against nature and with himself, but the questions raised are universal. At times it will make you contemplate hitting the open road yourself, while at others it will leave you praying that the ones you love always stay on the beaten path.”
—Kimberly McCreight is the New York Times bestselling author ofReconstructing Amelia, Where They Found Her and, most recently, The Outliers ($11, amazon.com). She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.
Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks
“I first read this book the summer after college, as I traveled through Europe on a Eurail pass with my best friend from high school, and I can just about remember on which youth hostel sofa, which train compartment, which hot riverbank I read each scene. Part love story, part mystery, part aching historical journey, Birdsong explores the territory of France before, during, and after the First World War, and the effect of apocalypse on the human spirit. Like the best of summer reads, it absorbs you utterly until the ending hurls you to a drunken, extraordinary stop. You won’t want to start anything else for a long time.”
—Beatriz Williams is the authorAlong the Infinite Sea; her latest work,A Certain Age ($18, amazon.com), comes out June 28. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and four children.
How to Talk to a Widower, by Jonathan Tropper
“Tropper went on to huge acclaim with his subsequent novels, but this one, about a young widower who has to reboot his life (complete with a teenage stepson), remains my favorite. His humor is sharp as ever, and his voice and storytelling are both poignant and real. I remember reading this book over sunny summer afternoons in a New York City dog run, and my lucky dog got to linger with his pals much longer than he usually did. I loved the book so much that I immediately read all of Tropper’s backlist and then sent him a fan email. Fortunately, he didn’t find me crazy or overly fawning, and (begrudgingly on his part?) we became friends.”
—Allison Winn Scotch is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels, including the upcoming In Twenty Years ($11, amazon.com). She lives in Los Angeles with her family and their dogs.
Seating Arrangements,by Maggie Shipstead
“This novel is set on a beach and features lots of cocktails and simmering family resentments. It’s a page-turner with a WASPy bite. Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever is another favorite. It’s a collection of historical short stories about scientists and naturalists. How is that a beach read, you may be asking? It’s so gripping and moving you’ll forget you’re at the beach (I promise).”
—Anton DiSclafani is the author of the nationally bestselling novel The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girlsand, most recently, The After Party($18, amazon.com). She lives in Auburn, Alabama.
The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher
“This novel about a strong woman and her complicated family was published years ago, but I re-read it every summer because it’s full of seashells and flowers and the sense that all will be well in the end. I also love One for the Money by Janet Evanovich. I grab all of Evanovich’s mysteries because they’re laugh out loud funny. Also, it’s pretty nice to spend time with handsome, dangerous Ranger and gorgeous good cop Morelli, the two sexy men in bounty hunter Stephanie Plum’s turbulent life. In one wild moment, when her book came with stickers with their names, I put them on the back bumper of our SUV. My husband is Morelli, the good guy. I’m Ranger. No one has mentioned it yet.”
—Nancy Thayer is the author of 28 novels, including The Island House,which comes out May 31 ($18,amazon.com). She lives on Nantucket.
The Enchanted April,by Elizabeth Von Arnim
“Simply the most perfect holiday read imaginable, The Enchanted Aprilbegins with an advertisement in The Times addressed to “Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine.” Four very different English women answer the call, to spend the month of April in a miniature Italian castle. The stay begins with squabbles over the best rooms and muted resentment about precedence. But they soon find the sunshine and surroundings begin to work in strange ways — thawing hearts and binding affections. If ever there was a book to convince you that a good holiday is the best medicine for the soul, it is this one, and as you would expect from the author of Elizabeth and her German Garden, the plants and flowers that grow around the castle are as lovingly rendered as the characters within. Read it on a vine-draped balcony with a glass of chianti in your hand and feel your tensions drain away.”
—Ruth Ware is the author of the psychological crime thriller, In A Dark, Dark Wood ($10, amazon.com). The followup, The Woman in Cabin 10, is due out in July. She lives in London with her husband and two small children.
Under the Tuscan Sun,by Frances Mayes
“Summertime is the perfect time to go armchair traveling, and what better tour guide than Frances Mayes? I can’t believe it’s been almost 20 years since Mayes wrote of traveling to Italy from San Francisco following the dissolution of her marriage. In the Tuscan village of Cortona, she discovers a broken down villa she painstakingly restores and names Bramasole, and eventually the solace of cooking and gardening mend her broken heart. Finding a new love and partner in her enterprise makes Mayes’ journey all the sweeter.”
—Mary Kay Andrews is the author of 24 novels, including The Weekenders ($19, amazon.com). She lives with her husband in Atlanta.
The Valley of the Dolls,by Jacqueline Susann
“The ultimate summer novel for me is, and will always be, Valley of the Dollsby Jacqueline Susann. This iconic novel tells the story of three friends, all trying to make it in the entertainment industry, who claw their way to the top with the help of each other, various celebrities they meet along the way, and of course, their beloved “dolls.” Although it was originally published in 1966, it still manages to shock, even today.
—Brenda Janowitz, the author of five novels, published The Dinner Party ($10, amazon.com) this spring. She lives on Long Island, New York with her family.
The Vacationers, by Emma Straub
“A good beach read is something engaging that isn’t too taxing on the brain. I love Faulkner. Faulkner is not a beach read. The best book I’ve read in the last year is The Vacationers. It’s about a family trip to Spain, and everyone has issues. It’s funny, sad, and poignant. I think it’s the perfect book. But there are so many! Maine, by J. Courtney Sullivan, is a drama set in a family’s old summer house. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern—oh, gosh, it was like a drug. And Euphoria, by Lily King—it’s based on Margaret Mead and her work in Papua New Guinea in the 1930s and has one of the best love triangles.”
—Elin Hilderbrand is the author of 16 novels, including The Matchmaker, ($14, amazon.com). She lives on Nantucket.
Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen
“It’s a great romance. You have a true story of a strong woman, Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen was her pen name), living on the land, but then there’s also a dramatic love affair. In July, a new book is coming out that reminds me ofOut of Africa—Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain. It is set in the same time period and is about Beryl Markham, who, like Blixen, defied her well-to-do European family to do something wild. She was an aviator, and—coincidentally—was involved with the same man, Denys Finch Hatton, whom Blixen was. That ties the stories together.”
—Sara Nelson is the editorial director for Amazon.com. She lives in New York City.
Tourist Season, by Carl Hiaasen
“Hiaasen is a South Florida native, and this was the first book he wrote as a solo author. It’s fast-paced and has a lot of dark humor. You shake your head at these outrageous things that go on in the novel, and then, a week later, something just like it appears on the news here. Another Florida writer I love is Les Standiford. His book Last Train to Paradise is a nonfiction page-turner (yes) about developer Henry Flagler in the early 20th century and the building of a railway from Miami to Key West, which made it possible to hop to Cuba.”
—Mitchell Kaplan is the owner of theBooks & Books bookstores in South Florida and a cofounder of the Miami Book Fair International. He lives in Miami.
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
“If you want to escape a little bit, this is your book. It takes place near Cinque Terre, in Italy, and starts out in 1962, when an innkeeper meets a beautiful, dying actress. He falls in love with her, and then it goes back and forth in time. It has Italy; it has Hollywood; it has a sweeping scope.
All of these great threads come together in a really entertaining way. I also go back to an old favorite: The Buccaneers, by Edith Wharton. But if you watch the habits of Goodreads users, people like beach reads that are gripping without any emotional stress.Confessions of a Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella, is popular.”
—Elizabeth Khuri Chandler is the editor-in-chief of Goodreads. She lives in San Francisco.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
“Semple was a writer for Arrested Development and Ellen, so you know this book is comical. It’s about a girl who gets all A’s in middle school, and her family promises her a reward. She wishes to go to Antarctica. But the mom has a social phobia and doesn’t want to deal with it. It’s great for the beach because much of it is written as e-mail correspondence, so you can read it in short bursts. You won’t lose your place if you put it down to go snorkeling. Of course, if you’re visiting us, I’d recommend the quintessentialHawaii, by James A. Michener. But it’s 937 pages, so download it to an e-reader.”
—Aaron Garsombke is the manager of fun at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas, on Kauai. He lives on Kauai.
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
“Brilliantly plotted and utterly original, its 520 pages whizz by and leave you craving more.”
—Maria Semple, author of the wittyWhere’d You Go, Bernadette, now out in paperback ($15, amazon.com).
Lessons in French, by Hilary Reyl
“A perfect beach read: slim, sexy, and young at heart. There is so much tenderness and wit in this debut novel; it will make you nostalgic for your year abroad even if you never had one.”
—Joanna Hershon, whose latest novel, A Dual Inheritance, came out in May ($26, amazon.com).
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
“This intense and haunting love story is not your typical beach read, but I say it belongs in the beach bag because it’s absolutely riveting from the first page to the last.”
—Karen Thompson Walker, whose debut novel, The Age of Miracles, is now in paperback ($15, amazon.com).
The Boy, by Lara Santoro
“Because even if you’re reading something quickly on a beach it might as well be a riveting, erotic account of how a little crush can blow one busy mother’s life apart…”
—Emma Donoghue, author of the best-selling Room, published the short-story collection Astray ($26,amazon.com) in October.
The Terra-Cotta Dog, by Andrea Camilleri
“Part of a series, it’s a funny, charismatic detective story about an Italian police inspector, Montalbano, who is wise, determined, and, above all, a passionate lover of well-made food.”
—Erik Larson, author of the nonfiction blockbuster In the Garden of Beasts, which is now in paperback ($16, amazon.com).
The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love, by Kristin Kimball
“A hard-driving journalist gives up her career when she falls in love with a farmer and farming.”
—Jeannette Walls is the author ofThe Glass Castle, Half Broke Horses,and, most recently, The Silver Star($26, amazon.com).
Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri
“I think books of short stories are perfect for a beach read; you can read a story, have a piña colada, read another story, snooze a little…. These stories are gorgeously written and full of humanity and characters you will take to your heart.”
—Melanie Benjamin, best-selling author of historical fiction, publishedThe Aviator’s Wife ($26, amazon.com) earlier this year.
The Chill and The Underground Man, by Ross Macdonald
“For a classic crime novel read, try any of the masterpiece noirs by Ross Macdonald. My personal favorites areThe Chill and The Underground Man.”
—Jonathan Kellerman, author of more than 30 novels, most recentlyGuilt ($28, amazon.com).
The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters
“It has everything I adore in a race-to-the-end story—a crumbling English mansion; a chilly, doomed romance; and the creepiest, most chilling ghost story. You’ll need the heat of the sun to convince you you’re not at the top of a midnight-haunted staircase.”
—Jacquelyn Mitchard, author ofThe Deep End of the Ocean; her newest work is the YA novel What We Saw at Night ($18, amazon.com).
The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
“I loved traveling from Wichita to New York City in the summer of 1922 with a young, obnoxious Louise Brooks and her chaperone, Cora Carlisle, who uncovers her own secret past there.”
—Ann Hood, whose recently published fifth book is the hauntingThe Obituary Writer ($27,amazon.com).
The Odyssey, by Homer
“For me, The Odyssey is the ultimate beach read. As I read it by the ocean in Australia, the story really came to life: I could see the water, feel the sun, hear the waves that wafted Odysseus onward in his journey to meet his destiny.”
—M.L. Stedman, whose best-selling debut, The Light Between Oceans,recently came out in paperback ($16,amazon.com).
Jim the Boy, by Tony Earley
“A quiet, graceful coming-of-age novella set during the Depression.”
—Thrity Umrigar, author of The Space Between Us and five other books, including her latest, The World We Found ($15, amazon.com).
Goodbye for Now, by Laurie Frankel
“A computer simulation lets people communicate with their loved ones, after they’ve died.”
—Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter of Sweet), who will publish his second novel, Songs of Willow Frost($26, amazon.com), in September.
Kim, by Rudyard Kipling
“When we think ‘beach read’ we do not, perhaps, think first of books published in 1901; but this one totally qualifies. Kipling’s classic is pure adventure and charm, and according to some, it’s the first spy novel.”
—Robin Sloan, author of the gleeful mystery Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore ($25, amazon.com).
The Demonologist, by Andrew Pyper
“The Demonologist, about a professor of Milton using his knowledge of the underworld to try to save his daughter’s life, is both a chilling page-turner and a psychological study of a tormented man.”
—Nancy Bilyeau, whose second historical novel, The Chalice ($27,amazon.com), was published in March.
Drinking With Men, by Rosie Schaap
“Drinking With Men is a gorgeously written, moving, brilliant memoir about finding community and family, and the beach is the perfect place to fall in love with Rosie Schaap.”
—Kate Christensen, author of six novels, will release the memoir Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites ($27, amazon.com) in July.
Mary and O’Neil, by Justin Cronin
“Before Justin Cronin scared the hell out of us with his ripping good vampire saga—The Passage and then The Twelve—he gave us a book that was tender and moving and beautiful:Mary and O’Neil. In that novel in stories, Cronin writes about love—between parents and children, between siblings, between lovers—with a wisdom and humor that’s rare.”
—Chris Bohjalian, whose best-sellerThe Sandcastle Girls ($16,amazon.com) just came out in paperback, will release his next novel,The Light in the Ruins ($26,amazon.com) in July.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson
“I could be happy reading almost anything at the beach, but it’s a rare book that takes my mind off the trouble of getting there. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand kept me happy through a tedious delay at the airport, a six-hour flight, a long line at the rental car desk, and a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam.”
—Annie Barrows, author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society ($15, amazon.com) and the Ivy and Bean series of children’s books.
Love Water Memory, by Jennie Shortridge
“This is a moving story told by a wonderful writer. It explores truth and love and reminds us that the people around us have helped form who we are, but in the end, the person we are capable of becoming is up to us.”
—Garth Stein, whose three novels include the beloved The Art of Racing in the Rain ($15, amazon.com).
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
“This memoir, of Strayed’s solo three-month trek across the Pacific Coast Trail, is a page-turner and an easy read, and that’s what matters at the beach. But it’s so much more. The writing is raw and vivid, Strayed is a warm and indomitable human being, and her story of loss and redemption is deep and honest and true.”
—Susan Cain, author of the nonfiction best-seller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking ($16, amazon.com).
Legends of the Fall, by Jim Harrison
“Jim Harrison’s novella Legends of the Fall has everything one could want in a story. It is astonishingly rich, exquisitely written, and can be read in an afternoon.”
—Kevin Powers, whose powerful debut novel, The Yellow Birds, was just published in paperback ($15, amazon).
Instructions for a Heatwave, by Maggie O’Farrell
“I recently finished a fabulous new novel called Instructions for a Heatwave. It’s the beautifully written story of what happens to one London family when the patriarch goes out for the newspaper one morning and doesn’t return.”
—J. Courtney Sullivan, author ofMaine, has just published her third novel, The Engagements ($27,amazon.com).
When Will There Be Good News?, by Kate Atkinson
“Kate Atkinson is my go-to beach book author. When Will There Be Good News? has maybe the most compelling opening scene I can name and then just gets better from there.”
—Laurie Frankel’s noted second novel, Goodbye for Now, is just out in paperback ($15, amazon.com).
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Süskind
“Very inventive, very creepy murder mystery about a man with an absolutely extraordinary sense of smell. Really fun read.”
—Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, will publish a new story collection, The Color Master ($26, amazon), in August.
These Things Happen, by Richard Kramer
“The author is best known as a writer, director, and producer who has worked on television shows ranging from My So-Called Life to Thirtysomething toJudging Amy. He’s now created a gloriously charming, wise, and moving novel that features a boy and his two sets of parents—one gay and one straight. Told in alternating voices, the story explores how we find ourselves in families. It’s the perfect book to read when you are on vacation with—or apart—from yours.”
—Will Schwalbe, author of the moving memoir The End of Your Life Book Club, newly released in paperback ($15, amazon.com).
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware
“When on vacation, I love graphic novels—the perfect combination of relaxing and engaging—and Jimmy Corrigan, the genre-bending life story of an ordinary man with extraordinary fantasies, is one of the best ever published.”
—Jane Bordon, author of the memoirI Totally Meant to Do That ($14,amazon.com).
Poems, by Elizabeth Bishop
“I love to read poetry on the beach, mostly because you read one poem, pass out in the sun, wake up, read another and then feel like you’ve accomplished something. Elizabeth Bishop’s Poems is my bible, simply for wisdom, tenderness, and sweeping visual sense; these are poems that reads like paintings. This collection is a beach-friendly paperback and has all the favorites like ‘Questions of Travels,’ as well as really obscure beauties like…well…‘Dear, my compass/still points North,’ which was never published during her lifetime.”
—Leigh Newman’s memoir, Still Points North, was published in March ($26, amazon.com).
Frederica, by Georgette Heyer
“Instead of picking up yet anotherPride and Prejudice knockoff (Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, anyone?), die-hard fans can get their fix of masterful prose, sparkling characterizations, and perfectly choreographed courtships from Jane Austen’s true heir, Georgette Heyer (aka “The Queen of Regency Romance”), in this surprisingly modern tale of an inveterate bachelor who finds himself saddled with responsibility when he falls for the eldest sister of a large and rambunctious family.”
—Pauline Chen, whose second novel,The Red Chamber, was recently released in paperback ($16,amazon.com).
Drift, by Jon McGoran
“This is a rare rip-roaring read that’s also about something very serious—in this case, genetically modified foods. It’s somehow both escapist fun and a scary real-life wake-up call.”
—J.I. Baker, whose debut novel, The Empty Glass ($16, amazon.com), is newly available in paperback.