What makes a good beach read? Should it be pulpy and trashy and greasy with sunscreen? Or a gut-wrenchingly realistic commentary on the human condition? Ask Molly Young, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, and she'd say a good beach read is easy enough to take frequent breaks, but "brain-gripping enough to provide a steady opportunity for escapism." That sounds about right. Right?
But then we asked a dozen more writers for their favorite beach reads and, well, it turns out there's really no consensus to be had. Which is kind of beautiful. So this list is eclectic-as-hell—it's got everything from science fiction thrillers to classic Japanese lit to contemporary poetry. Meaning there's something for everyone. Even if you like contemporary poetry.
"Not a summer book, but a novel that will snatch your summer away. There has never been anything like it, and not because of the Black female spy telling the story, but the kind of story it is: espionage thriller, African political drama, wild romance, and doomed family epic."Marlon James is an author and winner of the Man Booker Prize. His most recent novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, came out this February.
"Say Say Say, Lila Savage's subversive debut novel, comes out in July. In it, Ella, a young woman living with her beautiful girlfriend in Minneapolis, works as a caregiver for Jill, a woman suffering from memory loss. Ella develops complicated feelings for Jill's husband, and familial tensions feed Ella's richly articulate consciousness. It's a riveting story and a meditation on work, loss, intimacy, and desire."
Ottessa Moshfegh is an author and winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Her most recent book, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, is out in paperback June 25.
"It's common to read a book and learn something interesting. It's pretty rare to stumble across a book that convincingly introduces the possibility that our most basic assumptions about reality might be totally backwards. Yet that's what happened when I read Empty Planet: The Shock of Population Decline. The premise of Empty Planet, written by two Canadians, initially struck me as an attempt at performative contrarianism. How could it be possible that the earth's population is on the verge of dramatically decreasing? Isn't global overpopulation a virtual inevitability? To be totally honest, I only started reading the book to figure out what weird political underpinnings would prompt people to make such a curious claim. But it turns out there aren't any. There is no agenda here. This is a situation where the paradoxical premise slowly starts to seem obvious. What the authors describe is hard to deny—as the world becomes more and more westernized, the human replacement rate will eventually fall below 2.1, which statistically guarantees that the world's population in 100 years will be considerably less than it is today. I'm not sure why this book isn't getting more attention."
Chuck Klosterman is an author, essayist, and journalist. His first short story collection, Raised in Captivity, is out July 16.
"We wait all year for summer to envelop us again, and let that anticipation warm our hands when the world is locked in ice; I do the same thing with books. For a new novel by Téa Obreht, I would wait another century, but lucky for me, I have just two months to go. Inland is a novel I plan to disappear with into the late light of August. The follow-up to Obreht's family legend and mythic Balkan masterpiece, The Tiger's Wife, it's been thrilling early readers. Set in 1893 in the thirst-crazed lands of the Arizona territory, Inland is grounded in the bedrock of real history: a story of a frontierswoman and a haunted outlaw whose solitary lives twine into an intricate new geometry. Obreht is a true landscape artist, and I can't wait to read her West. A starred Kirkus review describes Inland: 'A frontier tale dazzles with camels and wolves and two characters who never quite meet... a novel saturated in enough realism and magic to make the ghost of Gabriel García Márquez grin.' She had me at the camel cavalry.
"And maybe you don't automatically reach for poetry when you're plugging the Coors into your beach cooler, but Ariana Reines' The Sand Book is an epic, perfect beach read. At nearly 400 pages, this gorgeous and terrifying travelogue and book of mourning has enough poems to get you from blue June to haunted October. Her titles alone give me chills: 'Gizzard,' 'The Saddest Year of My Life,' 'To Live in a Jewel Was Bliss,' 'Ditch Face,' 'Still Groaning Under All She Owed,' 'A Partial History of Iridescence.' Reines is a sorceress, a writer without limits. Ben Lerner calls her voice "a dialectic between the very ancient and the bleeding edge.'"
Karen Russell is an author and recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship. Her most recent story collection Orange World came out in May. Check out her classic GQ beach read, "The Blind Faith of Juan Jose Padilla, the One-Eyed Matador."
"An Ember is the epic, cinematic fantasy that made me want to write Children of Blood and Bone. It'll hook you from the first chapter, then it won't let you go. The Poet X is a sensational story told in verse with some of the most beautiful language I've ever read in my life!"
Tomi Adeyemi is the author of Children of Blood and Bone, the first book in the Legacy of Orïsha trilogy. Children of Blood and Bone won the Andre Norton Award and is currently being adapted into a feature film.
"My summer reads are big, sprawling books that spin their own wild, flourishing, off-kilter worlds, scoop you in and keep you there for a long time. Paul Murray's Skippy Dies is one of my favourites: in a Dublin boys' school, the stories of various chaotic characters interweave to lead to Skippy's death, and create an exuberant, funny, incisive and heartbreaking book. And my all-time favourite summer read has to be Richard Adams's Watership Down, which I read for the first time the summer I was seven and have reread during plenty of summers since. It's about a group of rabbits striking out in search of a safe home, but that doesn't do justice to the stunning writing, the unbreakable grip of the plot, or the way our world transforms into a different place when it's seen through the rabbits' eyes."
Tana French is the author of several award-winning thrillers and crime novels. Her most recent book, The Witch Elm, is out in paperback July 30.
"The opening of Seth Fried's The Municipalists is so utterly convincing that I thought I was reading a PREFACE to the story, and that the events depicted therein were something that had happened to Fried in real life, and not the novel itself. That's no knock on Fried, because he's able to take a story about a procedural fetishist named Henry—who savors his role as a city planning pencil-pusher in a not-too-distant future America before he gets sent to the big city of Metropolis with a hyperintelligent AI projection named OWEN and stumbles upon a terrorist plot within the government to remake modern society, Ultron-style—and makes it feel fully formed. Real. Tangible. Fried eschews flowery prose in favor of grounding you in his future with pinpoint details and, oddly enough, convincing takes on urban design. The result is a sci-fi novel that reads like flawlessly researched nonfiction. Also, shit explodes in it.
"Then there's Louder Than Hell by Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman. I would tell you that even non-metal fans will enjoy this exhaustive oral history of the genre, spanning from Sabbath to Mastodon, that includes eyewitness testimony from approximately 95 million different metal gods and their contemporaries. But no. That's a lie. To fully enjoy this shit, you need to be INTO Dio, preferably listening to 'Lock Up The Wolves' as you read. That's the best way to approach this tome, especially when you read Robert Patrick of Filter tell a story about Al Jourgensen of Ministry deliberately putting bleach AND motor oil into margaritas and then serving them to everyone, himself included. 'It was not enough to hurt anybody,' he remembers, 'but you still knew there was Clorox in your margarita.' M E T A L ! (:sticks tongue out:)"
Drew Magary is a frequent contributor to GQ.com. His most recent novel is The Hike.
"A poetry collection I've really been enjoying lately is Harmony Holiday's A Jazz Funeral For Uncle Tom. It is a book of both curiosity and invention. But more than that, it's also deeply rooted in history and artifacts. The work unearths both of these things, but also the text is interwoven with actual, touchable imagery. This is a book that requires such a full and immersive investment from a reader, and I will hold it close for many years to come."
Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and critic. His most recent book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest, came out in February.