And while there’s a time and place for mindless, vapid entertainments (not to mention Dakota Johnson), we take issue with the notion that a beach read must be, by nature, unchallenging, unedifying or about overwrought middle-aged female sex fantasies.
Which is why we set out to redefine this sorry fake-genre with a list of books that actually enrich you on subjects pertaining to the season at hand—including, of course, the beach itself.
You had to see that one coming...
The Book About Summer Love
Title: The Great Gatsby.
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Synopsis: It’s that old story. Man meets girl. Man goes away to war. Man returns, makes a boatload of money and tries to win back girl by throwing lavish parties.
Topics for summertime-related enrichment include: Wearing colorful shirts; wooing girls whose names are kinds of flowers; ostentatiously showcasing your wealth while learning an invaluable lesson about the American dream.
Ideal beach at which to read it: Main Beach in East Hampton.
The Book About Being Marooned
Title: Robinson Crusoe.
Author: Daniel Defoe.
Synopsis: One man’s epistolary tale of survival on a perilous remote island.
Topics for summertime-related enrichment include: Living off the land; getting away with scant sunscreen application; literally not dying at the beach.
Ideal beach at which to read it: The Caribbean island of Tobago. Hopefully they’ve dealt with their fictional cannibalism problem in the nearly 300 years since this book’s publication.
The Book About a Summer Cruise
Title: “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” (from the book of the same name).
Author: David Foster Wallace.
Synopsis: A neurotic, microscopically detailed exegesis of a Megaline cruise (plus American excess, American leisure time, American fear of death and other American things).
Topics for summertime-related enrichment include: The machinations of very big boats; making polite dinner conversations with South Floridians; philosophical significances of the modern vacation.
Ideal beach at which to read it: Definitely not the fake one on your resort cruise.
The Book About the Beach
Title: Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life.
Author: William Finnegan.
Synopsis: From his days in a Haole surf gang to becoming a New Yorker staff writer and war reporter, Finnegan details his obsession with surfing as a near affliction. One that has taken him around the world and threatened his work-life-family balance as he searches for the all-holy perfect wave.
Topics for summertime-related enrichment include: Making you not feel so bad that you’re on the beach reading books instead of surfing.
Ideal beach at which to read it: Banzai Beach in Oahu.
The Book About Islands
Author: Kurt Vonnegut.
Synopsis: A group of humans are shipwrecked on an island after a global crisis cripples the world economy. Their descendants are the only fertile humans left on the planet. Weird evolutionary stuff involving seals ensues.
Topics for summertime-related enrichment include: Marine biology; primitive fishing methods; sex on the beach.
Ideal beach at which to read it: The Galápagos. Naturally.
The Book About Summer Camp
Title: The Interestings.
Author: Meg Wolitzer.
Synopsis: The book follows the interwoven lives of a group of people who first befriended each other at an artsy 1970s summer camp.
Topics for summertime-related enrichment include: Outdoor joint-rolling; reading by flashlight; telling stories from the perch of your top bunk.
Ideal beach at which to read it: On the shores of the beach at your old summer camp, whilst feeling nostalgic for adolescence and hungry for s’mores.
The Book About Waves (That’s Not Actually at All About Waves)
Title: The Waves.
Author: Virginia Woolf.
Synopsis: Umm... Let’s chalk it up as a “prose poem” and call it a day.
Topics for summertime-related enrichment include: Simply telling people that you’ve read The Waves. It’s great for any season.
Ideal beach at which to read it: Rottingdean, in Sussex, England.
The Book About Swimming
Title: “The Swimmer” (from John Cheever: Collected Stories and Other Writings).
Author: John Cheever.
Synopsis: A melancholic, middle-aged man traverses his suburb via a chain of swimming pools.
Topics for summertime-related enrichment include: Poolside gin drinking; handling oneself with aplomb at neighborhood pool parties; the inevitable vicissitudes of time.
Ideal beach at which to read it: Not a beach, per se, but your neighbor’s pool. Where you’re slowly but surely getting loaded on G&Ts.