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11 Irresistible Beach Reads

The perfect beach read walks the fine line between trash and literature. Well-written, plot-driven, and easy to pay attention to. You won’t find Fifty Shades of Grey here. You won’t find Ulysses either.

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery
By Sam Kean
Sam Kean is a masterful nonfiction writer. This latest from him travels through time with stories of neurological curiosities: phantom limbs, Siamese twin brains, viruses that eat patients’ memories, blind people who see through their tongues. he weaves these narratives together to create a story of discovery that reaches back to the 1500s and the high-profile jousting accident that inspired this book’s title. Kean explores the brain’s secret passageways and recounts the forgotten tales of the ordinary people whose struggles, resilience, and deep humanity made neuroscience possible.

“At his best, the author’s skill in illuminating how the brain’s functions and malfunctions manifest themselves in people’s lives makes for absorbing reading.”
—Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2014

The Bayou Trilogy
By Daniel Woodrell
Daniel Woodrell is the best writer you never heard of. He wrote Winter’s Bone, which you probably saw. The book is much better than the movie. Before that, he reeled off this trilogy of detective stories that predated True Detective. The plots move like lightning. It’s set in the Louisiana swamps of St. Bruno, where sex is easy, and double-dealing is a way of life. Rene shade is the detective and he takes on hit men, porn kings, a gang of ex-cons, and the ghosts of his own checkered past.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
By Bill Dedman
Nonfiction as a beach read works when it keeps up the pace and character of fiction. Empty Mansions works. It’s a true story turned mystery connecting the gilded age opulence of the nineteenth century with a twenty-first-century battle over a $300 million inheritance. At its heart is a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, a woman so secretive that, at the time of her death at age 104, no new photograph of her had been seen in decades. Though she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, why had she lived for 20 years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Her fortune was being sold off. The mystery surrounds her lack of control, or maybe it was all control.

By John Updike
For anyone who ever thought that Fifty Shades of Grey would have been a lot better if it was even decently written, John Updike was on the case in the early 70s. When it debuted, it scandalized the public with prose pictures of sexuality and infidelity. It chronicles the interactions of 10 young married couples in a seaside new England community who make a cult of sex. They form a magical circle, complete with ritualistic games, religious substitutions, a priest (Freddy Thorne), and a scapegoat (Piet Hanema). It approaches its topic with depth and reality. People feel great. People get hurt.

Prince of Tides
By Pat Conroy
It was a great read when everyone was reading it. Then it became the Barbra movie. Still a great read. Pat Conroy’s masterpiece spans 40 years in the story of Tom Wingo, his gifted and troubled twin sister Savannah, and their struggle to triumph over the dark legacy of the extraordinary family into which they were born.

By John Casey
It won the 1987 national Book award and it is arguably one of the most underrated American novels of the past 50 years. John Casey is better known for being Breece D’J Pancake’s college professor (if you haven’t read Breece D’J Pancake, go to Amazon and order his short stories like, now). This was Casey’s career. A brilliant plot and character freeze. It’s about Dick Pierce, a commercial fisherman along the shores of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, and a man of complicated passions. He can no longer make his living from the sea. Pierce’s one great passion, a 50-foot fishing boat called Spartina, lies unfinished in his backyard. His real test comes when he must weather a storm at sea in order to keep his dream alive. Robert Redford optioned it in the late 80s. The movie never got made. Or did it?
“The details of his fictional world are rendered closely and comprehensively, and we see his characters in all their complexity of motive, in relation to nature, to each other and to their individual pasts. But there is something so obsessive yet deeply unaware, even resistant, about his main character’s struggle to come to terms with himself, his life, his loves, his place in time and in the universe, that it can only be expressed in symbolic, even mythic terms.”
—The New York Times Book Review, June 25, 1989

By Nic Pizzolatto
You watched True Detective. You thought it was a genius mix of dialogue, bizarre characters, sex, violence, and the fringes of sanity. Nic Pizzolatto wrote True Detective. Before that he wrote this. On the same day that Roy Cady is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he senses that his boss, a dangerous loan-sharking bar-owner, wants him dead. Known “without affection” to members of the boss’s crew as “Big Country” on account of his long hair, beard, and cowboy boots, Roy is alert to the possibility that a routine assignment could be a death trap. Which it is. Yet what the would-be killers do to Roy Cady is not the same as what he does to them, which is to say that after a smoking spasm of violence, they are mostly dead and he is mostly alive.

The Goldfinch
Donna Tartt
It’s long. Long, like, maybe you can knock it off by August 1. But it’s what novels aren’t anymore: sprawling, excessive, and edgy. Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, survives a terrorist attack that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that draws him into the underworld of art.

Gone Girl
By Gillian Flynn
This is the summer novel. Crazy people. Crime. Moves like speed metal. Check it out before it becomes a bad movie. It starts on Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Amy disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick is suspected. Under pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents, he’s prosecuted. He’s sketchy. He’s dishonest. Is he a killer? “Within this single novel, there are many warring stories: The stories Nick and Amy tell about themselves, the stories they tell each other. The stories others tell about them, and the stories they tell about each other.”
—Chicago Tribune, July 28, 2012.

Sea Change
By Karen White
Karen White writes beach reads in the borderline romantic page-turner sense. This one surrounds ava Whalen, a tortured woman newlywed who meets a child psychologist and thinks her days of loneliness are behind her. After a whirlwind romance, they impulsively elope, and Ava moves to Matthew’s ancestral home on St. Simons island off the coast of Georgia. But after the initial excitement, Ava is surprised to discover that true happiness continues to elude her. There is much she doesn’t know about Matthew, including the mysterious circumstances surrounding his first wife’s death. and her new home seems to hold as many mysteries and secrets as her new husband.

The Invention of Wings
By Sue Monk Kidd
This is not a book you read but a story you feel. It is a powerful story told slowly and quietly and beautifully. The book draws you in by alternating firsthand accounts written by Sarah Grimke and her slave, Handful. Their lives are intertwined but the differences of their daily lives are as black and white as they are. For the next 35 years you are growing up beside them and experiencing the confines of both slavery and womanhood, as these remarkable women find ways to cope and thrive in their society. You will feel their guilt, frustration, defiance, determination, and love. The sacrifices they each make in order to achieve any freedoms will leave a mark upon you. seeing the day-to-day lives of these women will make an impression upon your conscience and may make you wonder if you would have had the fortitude to endure, rebel, and sacrifice as they did. The Invention of Wings is a gorgeous title which belies the pain and suffering that goes into earning these wings of freedom. This is not your typical “summer read,” but it will make your daily life seem like a day at the beach in comparison.

Image Credits: Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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