I’ve always disliked the term “beach book”. What on earth is a beach book? If a book engages me, it’s going to engage me whether I’m at the beach, on a plane, on my couch, or in bed. (Well, maybe not in bed — too much likelihood of falling asleep, no matter how riveting the book.) CNN recently interviewed some well-known authors about their summer reading habits, defining beach reads this way: “While there are no hard and fast rules about what constitutes a ‘beach read,’ the idea is that they can be read quickly, or that they’re light in tone. Always, they’re captivating and preferably escapist.”
Joshua Ferris is a man after my own heart. He says, “What I bring to the beach is whatever I’m reading at the moment, and what I’m reading at any given moment usually concerns death, misery and marital discord, which don’t seem too beachy . . . I find it impossible to alter my reading for the sake of a season.”
Emma Donoghue, who “wants a meaty plot; brilliant language; extra points for hilarity”, is a very sensible person. She says she actually prefers to read magazines on the beach, due to the mess factor. So if I make it to the beach this summer, I’ll bring a pile of magazines — although here on Lake Michigan, we have these pesky little biting flies that make it almost impossible to read anything, or even to remain on the beach.
Here are 10 recommendations for summer reading. They’re all either available now or will be later this month.
Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest by Jen Doll
The New York Times (which called Jen Doll “Emily Post’s worst nightmare”) gave journalist Doll’s nonfiction account of weddings she’s attended a so-so review, but I thoroughly enjoyed her take on modern-day weddings. And yes, she needs some help in the manners department.
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
From the Oregonian: “Set deep in the backwoods of Reagan-era Montana and containing all the necessary ingredients of a slow-burn literary thriller — prickly characters, graphic writing, creeping suspense, Fourth of July Creek spins quite an unsettling yarn.” I’ve been waiting to read this ever since I picked it up at Winter Institute in January.
Goodnight June by Sarah Jio
From the publisher: “Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the “great green room” might have come to be.” I’ve just finished reading this and it is truly delightful.
Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
If you liked The Dinner, you’ll love Herman Koch’s latest. If you found The Dinner too dark . . . skip this one. From Publishers Weekly: “In Koch’s equally devious follow-up to The Dinner, civilization is once again only a thin cover-up for man’s baser instincts . . . very few real-world events will distract readers from finishing this addictive book in one or two sittings.”
The Other Language by Francesca Marciano
From the New York Times: “What makes these tales stand out as captivating exemplars of storytelling craft is Ms. Marciano’s sympathetic, but wryly unsentimental knowledge of these people’s inner lives; her ability — not unlike Alice Munro’s — to capture the entire arc of a character’s life in handful of pages; and her precise yet fluent prose (the result, perhaps, of writing in a second language), that immerses us, ineluctably, in the predicaments of her men and women.” Every list of recommendations needs a short story collection, and The Other Language is the best I’ve read in a long time.
Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
I’m slowly becoming a fan of (good) YA literature — and this one is excellent. From the publisher: “The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor & Park in this beautifully written, incredibly honest, and emotionally poignant novel. Cammie McGovern’s insightful young adult debut is a heartfelt and heartbreaking story about how we can all feel lost until we find someone who loves us because of our faults, not in spite of them.”
The Arsonist by Sue Miller
From Publishers Weekly: “A small New Hampshire town provides the backdrop for Miller’s provocative novel about the boundaries of relationships and the tenuous alliance between locals and summer residents when a crisis is at hand.” Several colleagues are highly recommending The Arsonist, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything Sue Miller has written.
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
I loved this memoir of Rakoff’s stint as an assistant to J.D. Salinger’s literary agent! From the Chicago Tribune: “Her memoir is a beautifully written tribute to the way things were at the edge of the digital revolution, and also to the evergreen power of literature to guide us through all of life’s transitions.”
China Dolls by Lisa See
From Publishers Weekly: “In the beginning of See’s stellar ninth book, three young women, Grace, Helen, and Ruby, meet and form an unlikely but strong bond in San Francisco in 1938, as the Golden Gate International Exhibition is about to open . . .The depth of See’s characters and her winning prose makes this book a wonderful journey through love and loss.” I’m thrilled that Lisa See is coming to our community for an event in late June.
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
From the New York Times: “For those unable to jet off to a Spanish island this summer, reading The Vacationers may be the next-best thing. Straub’s gorgeously written novel follows the Post family — a food writer named Franny; her patrician husband, Jim; and their children, 28-year old Bobby and 18-year-old Sylvia — to Majorca . . . When I turned the last page, I felt as I often do when a vacation is over: grateful for the trip and mourning its end.” I felt the same way!