13 Books Perfect For The Beach

Spring Break Essentials Packing List: bathing suit, sunscreen, plane snacks, classic tunes, and of course, a great novel to keep you enthralled on your beach towel or otherwise. But, you know, you can't just take any old book to the beach — you, intrepid reader, need something that's fun and fast-paced enough to stand up to sand and distractions (not the time, perhaps, for War and Peace) but still complex and literary enough to make sure your brain doesn't totally crash and burn over break. Luckily for you, we've collected 13 perfect choices for your vacation reading, all available in paperback, and all perfect for enhancing your tan and your mind at the same time.
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Photo: Courtesy of University of Iowa Press.
Safe as Houses, by Marie-Helene Bertino
Short stories are just about perfect for beach reading — you read one, you go for a dip, you read another while you dry off, you go get a snack, you read another, and so on. You rarely have to pay attention for more than 20 pages, but in Marie-Helene Bertino's delightful collection, which is full of both the strange and the familiar (Bob Dylan coming to Thanksgiving dinner; chasing after the ideal of an ex-boyfriend; winning a free ham), you'll almost definitely want to.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ecco.
The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson
The Family Fang is as close as anyone has ever gotten to writing a Wes Anderson movie in novel form, which should sell you right off the bat. The book follows the children of two conceptual performance artists (who have, to the best of their abilities, turned their entire lives into works of art) searching for their missing parents, who may or may not have disappeared on purpose.
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Photo: Courtesy of Pantheon.
The Lover, by Marguerite Duras
Duras' famous novel is sultry in almost every way imaginable: the story of a young girl's affair with an older man, set in French colonial Vietnam, told in vibrating, poetic prose. Plus, it's slim enough to fit in the back pocket of your favorite denim cutoffs.
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Photo: Couretsy of Reagan Arthur / Back Bay Books.
Dare Me, by Megan Abbott
This novel investigates the thrumming, intense world of the teenage girl — cheerleaders, to be precise — with their hierarchies and power struggles and hot-running emotions. Hooks you from the start.
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Photo: courtesy of FSG Originals.
Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
In the first, deceptively slim volume of VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy, a group of researchers head into a remote patch of land called Area X and begin to attempt to unpack its mysteries — before its mysteries unpack them. Think of it as a science thriller, and make sure not to read it anywhere too verdant.
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Photo: Courtesy of Tin House Books.
The Virgins, Pamela Erens
There's nothing more incendiary than a teenage love affair — especially at boarding school. Through its jealous, curious narrator, always on the outside looking in, this novel lets you play the voyeur and revel in all the titillating delight of the just-out-of-reach romance.
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Photo: Courtesy of Picador.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan
If your dream vacation would be spending the day in a bookstore and on the beach at the same time, you can absolutely achieve it. Just pack this novel of book cults and dusty tomes in your beach bag. You're almost guaranteed to read it in a single sitting. Plus, all that under-the-sun reading will have a bonus effect: the book cover doubles as a glowy nightlight.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dell.
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
Time travel, intrigue, and sexy Scots — plus a book big enough to keep you constantly enthralled on a flight to just about anywhere.
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Photo: Courtesy of Atria Books.
The Anatomy of Dreams, by Chloe Benjamin
This elegant first novel is both driving mystery and stirring love story, following two young researchers trying to unpack the therapeutic possibilities of lucid dreaming under the tutelage of their strange mentor (who may have some unexplained motives of his own). A fast-paced, satisfying read from a bright new talent.
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Photo: Courtesy of Back Bay Books.
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
With spring comes baseball season, and with spring break comes the perfect time to read this utterly engrossing campus novel about baseball, love, and growing up.
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Photo: Courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company.
All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost, by Lan Samantha Chang
This book is a delicious morsel, like porn for writers — the story of an affair between a promising literary talent and his notorious professor. If you're an English major on spring break, this one will (almost) make you want to go back.
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Photo: Courtesy of Harper.
Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
What goes perfectly with the beach? A good old-fashioned mystery novel. This one will keep you so engrossed and entertained that you might get a sunburn — but it'll be worth it. Plus, if you don't know detective Hercule Poirot, the only fictional character ever to get an obit in the New York Times, now's your chance.
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Photo: Courtesy of Back Bay Books
Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple
A hilarious, perfectly crafted novel (by a writer for Arrested Development, if that gives you an idea) about a woman who disappears, and the way her daughter tries to find her — by sorting through all the detritus of a modern life. A clever charm of a novel, and one that'll have you giggling all day long.
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