Whether you're currently at the beach, planning a trip to the beach, or wishing you were at the beach, the beach probably has something to do with your summer plans (whether real or imagined). So shouldn't your summer reading material reflect your location of choice? Unsurprisingly, the seashore has inspired countless authors — so finding
books that make you feel like you're at the beach isn't too hard (even if you're already there).
There's nothing like getting utterly lost in a tale that's steeped in salt water and scattered with sand, especially when the world around you is a big blur of mom-centric stress. From the sunsets to the balmy air to the likelihood of finding an attractive stranger under the next umbrella (we're talking about fiction here, right?), beach reads are an escape like no other. For the sake of variety, however, not all of these are daydream-y stories about blissful days at the beach. Some offer a bit of mystery, or a dash of thriller. There's plenty of romance, of course, but there are also storylines that take the reader on a wild ride filled with twists and turns, all with the beach as backdrop. So even if you're trapped at home, you'll still feel the ocean breeze with these reads.
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'Beach Read' by Emily Henry
How could I not include a book with this title? And it’s got a clever plot to boot. Two authors, one a romance writer and the other a literary fiction writer, find themselves living in side-by-side beach houses, both suffering from writer’s block... until they decide to swap stories: “Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel.” Something tells us they just might fall in love.
'The Sea, The Sea' by Iris Murdoch
Often included in lists of “best beach books,” Iris Murdoch’s
The Sea, The Sea won the Booker Prize in 1978. Here, haunted playwright Charles Arrowby decides to write his memoirs in seclusion by the sea. But as luck would have it, he runs into his adolescent love, Mary Hartley Fitch, and becomes obsessed.
'The Bookshop' by Penelope Fitzgerald
Short-listed for the Booker Prize, Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel takes place in the Sussex seaside town of Hardborough in 1959 where an enterprising widow named Florence risks it all to open a bookshop. When she decides to sell the runaway hit
Lolita, things get interesting.
'Beach Music' by Pat Conroy
There are two kinds of readers: those who love Pat Conroy and those who hate him. I love him. (In fact, I was lucky enough to interview the famous writer before his passing in 2016.) Known for books like
The Boo, My Winning Season, and The Water Is Wide, Conroy set most of his books on the coast of South Carolina. In this novel, main character Jack McCall has escaped his Southern home for Rome following his wife’s suicide. But when his mother calls him home, his past and all its demons comes bubbling back.
'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
If you didn’t catch the film adaptation on Netflix, good news: The book is better. Read it first. In this co-written novel by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, the reader is taken to the island of Guernsey just after World War II where a reader in an isolated town has discovered author Juliet Ashton’s book. The two begin to exchange letters, Ashton eventually decides to travel to the island, and as you might expect, some romance ensues.
'Jaws' by Peter Benchley
Before Steven Spielberg struck terror in the hearts of movie goers (with one of the most recognizable soundtracks of all time),
Jaws was a novel written Peter Bradford Benchley. Why not revisit the spooky story from the safety of your own home? In the small resort town of Amity, a fictional spot in Long Island, there's a Great White hellbent on attacking oblivious swimmers...
'Sag Harbor' by Colson Whitehead
Set in 1985, this award-winning coming-of-age novel about a Black teenager named Benji is set in the exclusive Hamptons village of Sag Harbor: “According to the world we were the definition of paradox: black boys with beach houses. A paradox to the outside, but it never occurred to us that there was anything strange about it. It was simply who we were."
'Where the Crawdad Sings' by Delia Owens
A book club hit,
Where the Crawdads Sing fits the beach read mold by its geographic location alone. Kya is a poor young girl living in a rural marsh town in 1950s North Carolina where the star quarterback is murdered. How their lives intersect, I won’t say, but it’s worth reading to find out.
'The Beach House' by Mary Alice Munroe
Like Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary Alice Monroe is another three-name Lowcountry author who uses South Carolina’s unique landscape as its setting. Readers who like stories with environmental plotlines will appreciate how the protagonist, who is called back to coastal Carolina by her aging mother, and finds solace in her childhood summer home as a bona fide “turtle lady” (or volunteer who cares for the sea turtle nests that dot the shore). Based on a real group of activists who care for the sea turtle nests, this unique twists adds a fresh thread to the typical beach read storyline.
'The Vacationers' by Emma Straub
Another overseas beach read,
The Vacationers takes place in Mallorca where a group of friends and family head out on a two-week vacation that naturally isn’t as perfect as planned. Per the book's website: “This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together.”
'Claire of the Sea' by Edwidge Danticat
titled its review of this book about a poor 7-year-old girl in Haiti: “Where Sorrow is as Constant as the Tides.” Claire Limyè Lanmè, means “Claire of the Sea Light,” lives with her widowed fisherman father who can barely make a living. Looking to give his daughter a fighting chance in the world, he arranges to have her adopted by a wealthy woman... but the day she’s to be handed off, Claire disappears. The sea plays a constant role in in this tragic tale. The New York Times
'Beautiful Ruins' by Jess Walter
If the Italian coast is more of your oceanside of choice, then read
Beautiful Ruins. It follows a love affair that begins there in 1962 and continues 50 years later in Hollywood, filled with rich humor and lots of twists and turns along the way.
'Maine' by J. Courtney Sullivan
Family vacations are always so full of promise, but who hasn’t been on one or two that devolved into complete dysfunctionality? That’s the story in
Maine, a book that came out in 2011. Four generations of Kelleher women take turns telling the story of what happens during this beachfront cottage getaway.
'The Hurricane Sisters' by Dorothea Benton Frank
Arguably the queen of beach reads, beloved author Dorothy Benton Frank passed away last year of
Myelodysplastic syndrome. But she leaves her devoted readers a catalogue of great South Carolina-set ocean-side reads. In The Hurricane Sisters, Frank returns to the Lowcountry where three generations of women are wrestling with their secrets. In classic Frank style, the book promises plenty of humor as it navigates the sticky relationships of these three women.
'Always Home: A Daughter's Recipes & Stories' by Fanny Singer
So, my folks recently sent this in the mail to me and what a nice surprise it was. Author Fanny Singer is the only daughter of famous chef and restaurateur Alice Waters, owner of Berkley, California’s Chez Panisse. Waters is considered the mother of the modern farm-to-table movement and Singer grew up in the heart of it. A good portion of this memoir takes place on the coast of France where Fanny spent many a childhood summer at a dreamy vineyard watching kids dive for sea urchins (which she, naturally, ate raw on the seashore).