There’s a common perception that as the temperature starts to rise and we fling open our windows and off our clothes and make weekend plans to go to the beach, we also shed our intelligence. Or, at least, that’s the sense I get whenever I see a list of recommended beach reads, usually full of books as mind-numbing as the brain-freezes I always get from eating ice cream too fast. I’m not even quite sure why frivolity and whimsy are thought to belong in the summer. Winter is what we need a respite from, what needs lightening up. Summer, on the other hand, should be a time to dive deep and sink into something weighty and intricate. Summer is the perfect time to lose yourself in complex plotlines and profound explorations on themes of life, love, loss, death… you name it.
This is not to say that more frivolous fare can’t belong on a summer reading list, rather that superficiality is not the only defining quality of a beach read. In fact, the most important thing about summer reading—whether on the beach or in your bathtub, whichever body of water best suits your lifestyle, really—is just the simple act of getting lost. And this is partly because summer is the ideal time to escape, but also because the stillness of summer gives us the opportunity to go deeper into our own minds, to explore and challenge our perceptions and even ourselves, to travel the country from the quiet of our own fire escapes. That’s the type of summer read I look forward to every year, anyway. And here are five of the books that I’m planning on packing in my beach bag this summer, and recommend you do too.
The Turner House
Flournoy’s novel takes readers into the Detroit home of the Turner family, and is not only a saga of generations of this family, but is also about the ephemerality of the American Dream, and of how the hold we all have on our futures is more tenuous than we’d ever dare think. The compelling tale of Flournoy’s Turner family is not one you’ll soon forget.
The Ghost Network
An ambitious mystery that revolves around the disappearance of a pop star with an alliterative name, this novel toys with and ultimately subverts all the conventions of its genre, and is as smart and funny as it is compelling. Warning: If read close to the shoreline as the tide is coming in, be prepared to suddenly find yourself with the water at your feet. It’s just that engrossing.
City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis
edited by Keith Gessen and Stephen Squibb
Even if you’re spending the summer somewhere bucolic, far from the steady thrum of the city (or even a city), this book is excellent, essential reading material. A compendium of essays (some personal, some more academic, some contemporary, and some historical) about life in the American city—and all the accompanying problems that go along with it.
I’ve been eagerly anticipating Alcott’s second novel since I read her extraordinary debut, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, a couple years ago. Infinite Home doesn’t disappoint. At turns despondent and darkly funny, Alcott has woven a uniquely beautiful story which challenges the way we view the concept of home.
In the Unlikely Event
Everyone’s favorite childhood author is back with only her second novel meant for adults. This one takes place during a disorienting time in the early 50s, when three separate passenger planes heading to Newark Airport crashed within a couple of months of one another. Blume uses this unsettling backdrop to explore multiple generations of families and friends, and her trademark blend of compassion toward and honesty with her characters comes shining through.