What to Read When Beach Weather Arrives
Summer might be another few weeks away, but its hot weather has arrived early and that means it’s time to head to the nearest beach or swimming pool with a great book!
As such, we’ve asked our editors to suggest some of their favorite page-turners and summertime reads. Please note: these books are also suitable and recommended for holing up in the nearest air-conditioned room or devouring on a bench in the sun during your lunch break.
Sunburn by Laura Lippman
They meet at a local tavern in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. Polly is set on heading west. Adam says he’s also passing through. Yet she stays and he stays—drawn to this mysterious redhead whose quiet stillness both unnerves and excites him. Over the course of a punishing summer, Polly and Adam abandon themselves to a steamy, inexorable affair. Still, each holds something back from the other—dangerous, even lethal, secrets. Then someone dies. Was it an accident, or part of a plan? By now, Adam and Polly are so ensnared in each other’s lives and lies that neither one knows how to get away—or even if they want to. Is their love strong enough to withstand the truth, or will it ultimately destroy them?
The Likeness by Tana French
In the follow-up to Tana French’s runaway bestseller In the Woods, it’s six months later and Cassie Maddox has transferred out of the Dublin Murder squad. But an urgent telephone call beckons Cassie to a grisly crime scene. The victim looks exactly like Cassie and carries ID identifying herself as Alexandra Madison, an alias Cassie once used as an undercover cop. Suddenly, Cassie must discover not only who killed this girl, but, more importantly, who is this girl?
Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
In her fourth collection of poetry, Nezhukumatathil studies forms of love as diverse and abundant as the ocean itself. She brings to life a father penguin, a C-section scar, and the Niagara Falls with a powerful force of reverence for life and living things. With an encyclopedic range of subjects and unmatched sincerity, Oceanic speaks to each reader as a cooperative part of the earth, an extraordinary neighborhood to which we all belong.
MEM by Bethany C. Morrow
Set in the glittering art deco world of a century ago, MEM makes one slight alteration to history: a scientist in Montreal discovers a method allowing people to have their memories extracted from their minds, whole and complete. The Mems exist as mirror-images of their source―zombie-like creatures destined to experience that singular memory over and over, until they expire in the cavernous Vault where they are kept. And then there is Dolores Extract #1, the first Mem capable of creating her own memories. An ageless beauty shrouded in mystery, she is allowed to live on her own, and create her own existence, until one day she is summoned back to the Vault. Morrow has created an allegory for our own time, exploring profound questions of ownership, and how they relate to identity, memory, and history, all in the shadows of Montreal’s now-forgotten slave trade.
The Answers by Catherine Lacey
Mary Parsons is broke. Dead broke, really: between an onslaught of medical bills and a mountain of credit card debt, she has been pushed to the brink. Hounded by bill collectors and still plagued by the painful and bizarre symptoms that doctors couldn’t diagnose, Mary seeks relief from a holistic treatment called Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia―PAKing, for short. Miraculously, it works. But PAKing is prohibitively expensive. Like so many young adults trying to make ends meet in New York City, Mary scours Craigslist and bulletin boards for a second job, and eventually lands an interview for a high-paying gig that’s even stranger than her symptoms or the New Age-y PAKing. The Answers is both a mesmerizing dive into the depths of one woman’s psyche and a critical look at the conventions and institutions that infiltrate our most personal, private moments.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. And in the novella “Especially Heinous,” Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgängers, ghosts, and girls-with-bells-for-eyes. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.
The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine
For three years Tessa Fontaine lived in a constant state of emergency as her mother battled stroke after stroke. But hospitals, wheelchairs, and loss of language couldn’t hold back such a woman; she and her husband would see Italy together, come what may. Thus Fontaine became free to follow her own piper, a literal giant inviting her to “come play” in the World of Wonders, America’s last traveling sideshow. Transformed into an escape artist, a snake charmer, and a high-voltage Electra, Fontaine witnessed the marvels of carnival life: intense camaraderie and heartbreak, the guilty thrill of hard-earned cash exchanged for a peek into the impossible, and, most marvelous of all, the stories carnival folks tell about themselves. Through these, Fontaine trained her body to ignore fear and learned how to keep her heart open in the face of loss. A story for anyone who has ever imagined running away with the circus, wanted to be someone else, or wanted a loved one to live forever, The Electric Woman is ultimately about death-defying acts of all kinds, especially that ever constant: good old-fashioned unconditional love.
Good Bones by Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith writes out of the experience of motherhood, inspired by watching her own children read the world like a book they’ve just opened, knowing nothing of the characters or plot. These poems stare down darkness while cultivating and sustaining possibility and addressing a larger world.
Marlena by Julie Buntin
Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat is quickly drawn into Marlena’s orbit and as she catalogues a litany of firsts―first drink, first cigarette, first kiss, first pill―Marlena’s habits harden and calcify. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try again to move on, even as the memory of Marlena calls her back.
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Lucy has been writing her dissertation on Sappho for nine years when she and her boyfriend break up in a dramatic flameout. After she bottoms out in Phoenix, her sister in Los Angeles insists Lucy dog-sit for the summer. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube on Venice Beach, but Lucy can find little relief from her anxiety. Everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer while sitting alone on the beach rocks one night. But when Lucy learns the truth about his identity, their relationship, and Lucy’s understanding of what love should look like, take a very unexpected turn.
How to Fall in Love with Anyone by Mandy Len Catron
In a series of candid, vulnerable, and wise essays that takes a closer look at what it means to love someone, be loved, and how we present our love to the world, Catron deconstructs her own personal canon of love stories. She uses biologists’ research into dopamine triggers to ask whether the need to love is an innate human drive. She uses literary theory to show why we prefer certain kinds of love stories. She urges us to question the unwritten scripts we follow in relationships and looks into where those scripts come from in the first place. And she tells the story of how she decided to test a psychology experiment that she’d read about—where the goal was to create intimacy between strangers using a list of thirty-six questions—and ended up in the surreal situation of having millions of people following her brand-new relationship.
Smith Blue by Camille Dungy
In Smith Blue, Camille T. Dungy offers a survival guide for the modern heart as she takes on twenty-first-century questions of love, loss, and nature. From a myriad of lenses, these poems examine the human capability for perseverance in the wake of heartbreak, the loss of beloved heroes and landscapes, and our determination in the face of everyday struggles. Dungy explores the dual nature of our presence on the planet, juxtaposing the devastation caused by human habitation with our own vulnerability to the capricious whims of our environment. In doing so, she reveals with fury and tenderness the countless ways in which we both create and are victims of catastrophe.
Clean Time: the True Story of Ronald Reagan Middleton by Ben Gwin
Framed as the drug-addled memoir of addict-turned-reality TV star Ronald Reagan Middleton (annotated and published by floundering doctoral candidate Harold Swanger), Clean Time is a darkly comic satire set in a near-future America ravaged by addiction. Chased from rehab back to his squalid life in Booth by a salacious TV producer, a relapsing counselor, and a serial killer who targets addicts, Reagan struggles to stay clean while continuing to hit new bottoms. As Reagan’s life spirals out of control, Swanger’s narrative interruptions become more frequent, his endnotes increasingly dubious. In a poor attempt at academic notoriety, Swanger presents Reagan not as a troubled, lost, and obnoxiously privileged drug addict, but as a new kind of American hero. Gwin balances farce and irony with a genuine compassion for the large cast of characters that fumble through a nightmarish and all-too-familiar version of America.
Hey Ladies!: The Story of 8 Best Friends, 1 Year, and Way Way Too Many Emails by Michelle Markowitz and Caroline Moss
Based on the column of the same name that appeared in The Toast, Hey Ladies! is a laugh-out-loud read that follows a fictitious group of eight twenty- and thirty-something female friends for one year of holidays, summer house rentals, dates, brunches, breakups, and, of course, the planning of a disastrous wedding. This instantly relatable story is told entirely through emails, texts, DMs, and every other form of communication known to man. With a perfectly pitched sardonic tone, Hey Ladies! will have you cringing and laughing as you recognize your own friends, and even yourself.
Submergence by J. M. Ledgard
In a room with no windows on the coast of Africa, James More is held captive by jihadist fighters. Posing as a water expert to report on al-Qaeda activity in the area, he now faces extreme privation, mock executions, and forced marches through the arid badlands of Somalia. Thousands of miles away on the Greenland Sea, Danielle Flinders, a biomathematician, prepares to dive in a submersible to the ocean floor. She is obsessed with the life that multiplies in the darkness of the lowest strata of water. Both are drawn back to the previous Christmas to a French hotel on the Atlantic coast, where a chance encounter on the beach led to an intense and enduring romance. For James, his mind escapes to utopias both imagined and remembered. Danny is drawn back to beginnings: to mythical and scientific origins, and to her own. It is to each other and to the ocean that they most frequently return: magnetic and otherworldly, a comfort and a threat.
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
In Abandon Me, Febos captures the intense bonds of love and the need for connection—with family, lovers, and oneself. First, her birth father, who left her with only an inheritance of addiction and Native American blood, its meaning a mystery. As Febos tentatively reconnects, she sees how both these lineages manifest in her own life, marked by compulsion and an instinct for self-erasure. Meanwhile, she remains closely tied to the sea captain who raised her, his parenting ardent but intermittent as his work took him away for months at a time. Woven throughout is the hypnotic story of an all-consuming love affair. At once a fearlessly vulnerable memoir and an incisive investigation of art, love, and identity, Abandon Me draws on childhood stories, religion, psychology, mythology, popular culture, and the intimacies of one writer’s life to reveal intellectual and emotional truths that feel startlingly universal.
Some Say the Lark by Jennifer Chang
Chang’s poems narrate grief and loss, and intertwine them with hope for a fresh start in the midst of new beginnings. With topics such as frustration with our social and natural world, these poems openly question the self and place and how private experiences like motherhood and sorrow necessitate a deeper engagement with public life and history.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned—from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead, and no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson. Enter Mia Warren—an enigmatic artist and single mother—who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town—and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
As he arrives with his family at the villa in the hills above Nice, Joe sees a body in the swimming pool. But the girl is very much alive. She is Kitty Finch: a self-proclaimed botanist with green-painted fingernails, walking naked out of the water and into the heart of their holiday. Why is she there? What does she want from them all? And why does Joe’s enigmatic wife allow her to remain? A subversively brilliant study of love, Swimming Home reveals how the most devastating secrets are the ones we keep from ourselves.
Virgin by Analicia Sotelo
At every step, Sotelo’s poems seduce with history, folklore, and sensory detail―grilled meat, golden habañeros, and burnt sugar―before delivering clear-eyed and eviscerating insights into power, deceit, relationships, and ourselves. Here is what it means to love someone without truly understanding them. Here is what it means to be cruel. And here is what it means to become an artist, of words and of the self.
Made for Love by Alissa Nutting
Hazel has just moved into a trailer park of senior citizens, with her father and Diane—his extremely lifelike sex doll—as her roommates. She’s just run out on her marriage to Byron Gogol, CEO and founder of Gogol Industries, a monolithic corporation hell-bent on making its products and technologies indispensable in daily life. For over a decade, Hazel put up with being veritably quarantined by Byron in the family compound, her every movement and vital sign tracked. But when he demands to wirelessly connect the two of them via brain chips in a first-ever human “mind-meld,” Hazel decides what was once merely irritating has become unbearable. The world she escapes into is a far cry from the dry and clinical bubble she’s been living in, a world populated with a whole host of deviant oddballs. As Hazel tries to carve out a new life for herself in this uncharted territory, Byron is using the most sophisticated tools at his disposal to find her and bring her home. His threats become more and more sinister, and Hazel is forced to take drastic measures in order to find a home of her own and free herself from Byron’s virtual clutches once and for all.
Land of Enchantment by Leigh Stein
When Leigh Stein received a call from an unknown number in July 2011, she let it go to voice mail, assuming it would be her ex-boyfriend Jason. Instead, the call was from his brother: Jason had been killed in a motorcycle accident. He was twenty-three years old. She had seen him alive just a few weeks earlier. Leigh first met Jason at an audition for a tragic play—he was nineteen and troubled and intensely magnetic. Leigh was twenty-two and living at home with her parents, trying to figure out what to do with her life. Within months, they’d fallen in love and moved to New Mexico, the “Land of Enchantment,” a place neither of them had ever been. But what was supposed to be a romantic adventure quickly turned sinister, as Jason’s behavior went from playful and spontaneous to controlling and erratic, eventually escalating to violence. Even once Leigh moved on to New York, throwing herself into her work, Jason and their time together haunted her. With searing honesty and cutting humor, Leigh wrestles with what made her fall in love with someone so destructive and how to grieve a man who wasn’t always good to her.
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Fans of Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse will love visiting Jasper Fforde’s Great Britain, circa 1985, when time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously: it’s a bibliophile’s dream. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection. But when someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature and plucks Jane Eyre from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday is faced with the challenge of her career.
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
When Martin Grace enters the hip Philadelphia coffee shop Cornelia Brown manages, her life changes forever. But little does she know that her newfound love is only the harbinger of greater changes to come. Meanwhile, across town, Clare Hobbs—eleven years old and abandoned by her erratic mother—goes looking for her lost father. She crosses paths with Cornelia while meeting with him at the café, and the two women form an improbable friendship that carries them through the unpredictable currents of love and life.
Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl by Diane Seuss
Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl takes its title from Rembrandt’s painting, a dark emblem of femininity, violence, and the viewer’s own troubled gaze. In Diane Seuss’s new collection, the notion of the still life is shattered and Rembrandt’s painting is presented across the book in pieces―details that hide more than they reveal until they’re assembled into a whole. With invention and irreverence, these poems escape gilded frames and overturn traditional representations of gender, class, and luxury. Instead, Seuss invites in the alienated, the washed-up, the ugly, and the freakish―the overlooked many of us who might more often stand in a Walmart parking lot than before the canvases of Pollock, O’Keeffe, and Rothko.
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous, while others are devastatingly poignant. Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body.
The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, The Fact of a Body is a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed, but about how we grapple with our own personal histories. Along the way it tackles questions about the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth. This groundbreaking, heart-stopping work, ten years in the making, shows how the law is more personal than we would like to believe—and the truth more complicated, and powerful, than we could ever imagine.
Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You by Juliana Spahr
Juliana Spahr uses details to explore Hawai’i’s politics of location and her own place in it as an outsider: a hardcore show where the singer shouts out “fuck you-aloha-I love you” over and over; the pidgin word ‘da kine;’ native Hawaiian rights to gathering; Palolo stream; the similarities and differences between hotel rooms and conference rooms; and acrobats at a Las Vegas-style floor show in Waikiki. Spahr is attentive to specifics and she draws from documentary poetics in these five interconnected poems that move between lyricism, rhythmic repetition, and explanatory prose.
Tell Me If You’re Lying by Sarah Sweeney
Growing up in an eccentric North Carolina home, with aging hippie parents whose marriage was forever crumbling around her, Sarah Sweeney was primed for trouble. For drugs and boys. For learning about sexuality from Madonna videos and prank-calling teachers and meeting celebrities. For escaping the South and even her own family. Funny, exuberant, and often heartbreaking, Tell Me If You’re Lying examines the lies we’re told as children and the downright unbelievable—but true—stories that comprise Sweeney’s colorful coming of age.
Against Memoir by Michelle Tea
The razor-sharp but damaged Valerie Solanas, a doomed lesbian biker gang, recovering alcoholics, and teenagers barely surviving at an ice creamery: these are some of the larger-than-life, yet all-too-human figures populating America’s fringes. Rife with never-ending fights and failures, theirs are the stories we too often try to forget. But in the process of excavating and documenting these queer lives, Michelle Tea also reveals herself in unexpected and heartbreaking ways.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
A hilarious collection that touches on life’s big and small moments with equal empathy and wit. The essays in We Are Never Meeting in Real Life span topics as varied as living on a budget, explaining why Irby should be the next Bachelorette, a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes, and advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms. What makes her writing so damn good is that despite all the ways that Samantha Irby may (or may not) be different from you, she knows how to relate.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Fresh from a brief stay at a psychiatric hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.