No tweed bikinis! (10 Best Beach Reads I Actually Read on Beaches)

I don't dispute that all the books on the NPR Beach Reads list are great books. I've read 18 (and loved 16) of the top 20. But I'm not sure we're all clear on the "beach reads" vibe. I agree with Colleen's post yesterday -- the prime directive is fun. "Beach Read" is the essence of reading for pleasure, which doesn't mean it has to be brainless, but it needs to be a page turner with a vacationary feel. The NPR list seems to be geared toward people who wear socks to the beach.

This summer, despite an appalling state of over-employment, I'm trying to stick with the Infinite Summer schedule and make my way through David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. I was enormously relieved to see Avery Edison's post yesterday, declaring the very truth I was too timid to voice: "I am not enjoying this book." The fact is, I don't think I'm going to make it to page 1000. I do want to read this book, but I think it's a winter thing.

The novel that's really calling to me right now is one of my old favorites. Reading Colleen's WIP recently made me remember how much I loved this book when I was a kid, and it tops my Books I Actually Read (and Mightily Enjoyed) On or Near Beaches and Highly Recommend in No Particular Order List '09.

Pleasure reading at it's coastalest...

#1 Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Thrilla chilla! Love! Reversals of fortune! Spectacular vistas of great writing and gothica. The second Mrs. DeWinter finds her way through a maze of murder and obsession.

#2 My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki
This book is so dang funny but there's still plenty of thinky thoughts. A fab young reality TV producer discovers offal truths about the meat industry. (Warning: Plan to eat a nice summer salad that day.)

#3 Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
An orphan's adventure in a simpler time and place. Everybody has that dear old friend they need to connect with once in a while, and Anne is mine. First read it on a beach camping trip in Michigan. (Yes, they have beaches in Michigan.)

#4 Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susann
That's right! I said it! V to the D, bi-otch. Get in the tub and pretend it's the insane asylum. "Neeeeely! Neely O'Hara!" It's trashy, it's flashy, it's the sand-in-your-pantiest beach read of all time. Take two and call me in the morning.

#5 Scruples by Judith Krantz
See above. It's a feast of Funions and Tab in book form.

#6 Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
The loveliest, most delicious, truest, funniest, heart-rendingest novel I've ever read. Unrequited love and magical realism in old Mexico. Must must must must read. Ah, Destin. Ah, Esquivel. Ah, Gulf of Mexico, how I love you!

#7 Henry and June by Anais Nin
The subtitle is From "A Journal of Love" -The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin (1931-1932). Yeah. Unexpurgated. Eat that, NPR. Nin's gorgeously salacious account of the time she spent with Henry Miller and his wife June. I started it in the bathtub at a hotel in Gibraltar and finished it on the ferry from Spain to Morocco. Couldn't wait to get back to Paris.

#8 Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
Okay, I read most of this in a park overlooking the East River, but I say that counts. Amnesia, love, intrigue, haunting characters, twisty turns, and melodic writing. I read this book months ago and just can't get shed of it.

#9 Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday
As gut-wrenching, street smart, lovelorn and darkly comic as her music. First read this nestled in a sand dune when I was a kid in Pensacola Beach, then revisited when I knew being a memoir guru was what I wanted to do. Best celeb memoir ever. Lady Day's story is beautifully co-authored by William Dufty, a music enthusiast, freelancer for the New York Post, and Gloria Swanson’s last husband.

#10 Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado
Somehow manages to set a wry political parable against a lovely love story. Readable and unforgettable. Loved it 25 years ago on a firetower and rocky beaches in Northern California. The enchanting words and places are woven together in my head forever.

So there you have it. The ten best books I've read on the beach. Would love to hear your list! Dish it, darlings, dish it! And don't forget the sunscreen.


Ooh, Valley of the Dolls! Haven't thought of that in years. And Scruples. What fun!

Also: Olivia Goldsmith's First Wives Club; early, politically-incorrect, adverb-happy but still somehow compelling Kathleen Woodiwiss; and Nora Roberts' Montana Sky, Hidden Treasures, Northern Lights, or Chesapeake Trilogy. I'd also add Michael Connelly's terrific The Lincoln Lawyer to the list.

Great list!
Suzan Harden said…
Ahhh, those summer beaach reads...

Anything by Sidney Sheldon, James Clavell, & Michael Crichton.

Tried to read Memoirs of Geisha on a trip to Kaua'i, but it was just too freakin' serious. The pod of whales splashing nearby had it right. The beach is supposed to be fun.
Lark said…
Add to the list Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Chicago Stars, witty and thoroughly satisfying for a lazy afternoon.
Good one, Lark. I'd recommend SEP if only for the Lucky Charms scene. What a riot!

To my list, I'd also add the fabulous memoir THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeanette Wells. I started in on vacation and could barely look at my surroundings after reading the first lines!

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