“Summer beach reads” is its own special genre — those highly-consumable, light, fun books that we can plough through on a balmy afternoon while lounging on white sands.
Since we’re celebrating everything summer this month, we’ve curated a list of our favourite books for the hottest days of the year. Some are beach reads in the typical sense, while others feature lavish summertime settings, and still others are merely volumes that will induce a healthy amount of laughter and pleasure — perfect for poring over beside a pool while soaking up that June sun.
By Claire Vaye Watkins
Trust us — reading this under a scorching midday sun will heighten the experience. Set in a near-dystopian future, against the parched backdrop of a California that is reduced to an anarchic underworld thanks to depleted water supplies, this work of speculative fiction is best read with a tall drink at hand. It tells the story of former model Luz Dunn and her boyfriend, Rey, who have eked out a living as squatters in the mansion of a former starlet in Los Angeles. They spend their days foraging for supplies, drinking ration cola, and killing time, until a chance encounter with a mysterious child forges their twosome into a makeshift family and prompts a treacherous journey towards the fertile lands of the east.
By Linda Rosenkrantz
Talk was a groundbreaking and genre-bending work in its day. Author Linda Rosenkrantz set off for the Hamptons in the summer of 1965, armed with a tape recorder and a voyeuristic curiosity. Here she spent weeks recording the conversations of others, and by the time she left, she had 1500 pages of transcriptions. With rigorous editing, she whittled the speakers of her book down to three, and the resulting narrative—or very creative non-fiction—reads like a play script. Lines of dialogue reveal three characters on the brink of thirty, and their discussions on art, life, sex, self-help, and religion over the course of a leisurely summer make for the perfect June read.
By Eve Babitz
Eve Babitz was born into the elite art world and had a knack for seeking out the most famous residents and visitors of her Hollywood hometown; Igor Stravinsky was her godfather, and she first achieved notoriety at the age of twenty, when a nude photo of Babitz playing chess with Marcel Duchamp was taken for the artist’s retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum. Sex and Rage was originally published in 1979, and has since resurfaced and found an audience with a new generation. The story follows a young and beautiful beach bum as she listlessly wanders from one Los Angeles party to another, swept up in the mania of the 1970s California lifestyle — until she decides to seek out a greater purpose in life, and moves to New York City.
By Claire-Louise Bennett
The international success of Pond, first published by a small Irish press, is something of a head-scratcher; it’s not often that a work of plotless fiction enjoys such commercial popularity. But perhaps it’s not surprising that so many readers have fallen in love with this unique and meandering piece of prose. The charm of its narrator and her witty voice, full of amusing observations about life in her small coastal village, academia, affairs, and kitchen appliances, is entrancing. This is more character study than story, and will both amuse its readers and stir their poetic sensibilities.
By André Aciman
If you haven’t seen the sun-drenched 2017 motion picture adaptation of Call Me By Your Name, perhaps one of the greatest love stories of all time, then be sure to add it to your summer viewing list. You’ll be aching to spend the summer in a place as beautiful as the family’s mansion on the Italian Riviera. But before you watch this riveting Oscar darling, be sure to read the novel on which it was based. This book is an instant classic and follows the story of a young man who meets a scholar, who is staying as a summer guest in his parents’ home. Their instant, electric attraction is one navigated against the backdrop of a conservative country and the social attitudes towards homosexuality in the 1980s. We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that Call Me By Your Name might be one of the greatest summer reads you’ll ever lay your hands on.
By Jana Prikryl
Itching to pepper your summer reading list with a little poetry? The After Party comes highly recommended; the late poet John Ashbery described it as “A truly moving book.” This collection from Prikryl spans many places and times — ancient Rome, the New World suburbs, cold-war Central Europe, present-day New York City. But perhaps what makes this such a great summer read is the second half of the collection, “Thirty Thousand Islands,” which explores the natural beauty of the shores of Lake Huron through multiple voices and language that is venerable and facetious in turns.
By Sylvia Plath
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” Thus begins Sylvia Plath’s tragic-but-hopeful The Bell Jar, a work of fiction that heavily drew from Plath’s own life. The American classic follows Esther Greenwood, who seems to have everything going for her: brilliance, beauty, talent. But beneath the shiny façade, Esther is struggling with a harrowing descent into depression — and perhaps worse. This haunting exploration of mental health and a young woman’s struggle to carve out a place in a patriarchal, shallow society is a work that everyone should read at least once.
By David Sedaris
There is perhaps no American writer that has so consistently delighted and entertained readers with humour; Sedaris’ sharp, wry observations about his own life and bizarre encounters (the kind, it would seem, that only Sedaris could find himself in by virtue of a commanding curiosity) have made for some of the funniest non-fiction of our time. Theft By Finding: Diaries is his latest work, and draws from forty years of meticulous diary entries in which the gossip-loving, soap opera-obsessed Sedaris recorded absolutely everything that captured his attention. This one will have you in stitches on those sultry summer nights.
By Virginia Woolf
Once you’ve tackled the plotless fiction of Pond, you’ll be ready to dive into one of the seminal works of this lyrical, strange genre. Woolf’s most experimental work, The Waves features internal soliloquies from six characters. Their lives are interspersed by third-person interludes that map a coastal vignette over the course of a single day, sunrise to sunset, mirroring the characters’ journeys from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Despite the complex and at times opaque nature of the work, this one is a staple of British literature, and delving into its sweeping narrative is something like an exercise for the brain — the perfect complement to a little summer ennui.
By Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith burst onto the literary scene as something of a prodigy when her unfinished manuscript, White Teeth, prompted a bidding war from various publishing houses while she was just twenty-two. It went on to become a bestseller and racked up numerous prestigious awards, and her continued success with each subsequent book is the sort of thing that young literary wannabes dream about. Feel Free, Smith’s latest work, is a collection of essays that provide a unique window into the mind of this prolific writer. Here she explores various facets of contemporary society, from the tangled web of social media to politics to rappers to Swiss literature. Interspersed throughout are anecdotes from her own life, and Smith’s unique and forthcoming voice will leave you feeling like you’re picking the brain of a very intelligent friend.