There is nothing better than reading a good book on the beach! And I’ve got a great list of summer tales to make your beach reading better than ever. So slather on the Hawaiian Tropics, lay out your towel, and blast that LFO song that has the endurance of a Shakespearean tragedy. And while you’re soaking up that sun, forget all your troubles (and the fact that the ozone layer now looks like an old pair of Kurt Cobain’s jeans) and get lost in one of these great stories: 7 books that take place on beaches for your summer reading pleasure.
1. Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter (2013)
An easy, picturesque summer read alternating between laughter and heartbreak, past and present. This tale of a a tiny, worse-for-wear village on the Italian coast paints a sparkling image of the vivid Ligurian sea and charmingly shambled beachfront homes, intertwining the stories of Hollywood hopefuls with a camera-work narrative that gives the book a film-like quality as it plays out in your mind. Also, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton appear! A great read for a lively, bustling beach on a scorching hot day.
2. “The Fisherman and His Soul,” Oscar Wilde (1891)
From Oscar Wilde’s collection of fairy tales A House of Pomegranates, this is a mermaid story that’s a bit darker than Ursula the Sea Witch. In this version, a love-struck fisherman must sell his soul in order to be with his mermaiden, as men cannot live underwater with souls (apparently, though, lungs aren’t a problem). His soul is incessantly trying to trick him into coming back up to shore and, I don’t want to spoil the whole thing, but there’s no Disney ending here. A wonderfully grim and poetic fairy tale (which is of course the best kind) and best read on one of those untouched coastlines just before twilight, when everything looks a little bit surreal and you can suspend your disbelief (unless, like me, you’re already a believer!)
3. On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan (2007)
In this Booker Prize short-listed novella, McEwan tells the story of a couple’s first night of marriage on the beautiful Chesil Beach in pre-sexual-revolution 1960’s England. Apprehensions over the act of consummation lead up to the one inevitable act after which everything is irrevocably changed. Mainly spanning the short period of only one evening, the novella focuses on the importance of the smallest gestures and memories that infuse each moment. Wear your waterproof mascara to the beach that day, because this one hits pretty hard on a sadness we can probably all relate to: the seemingly small things that can overshadow happiness, even love. How close we come, sometimes.
4. The Summer Book, Tove Jansson (1972, published in English in 2003)
The story of Sophia and her grandmother’s summer on a small Finnish island, The Summer Book is really about summer itself. Jansson uses vignettes to closely observe the feelings that summer brings and the subtleties of Sophia and her grandmother’s relationship. A lovely and strange meditation on the natural world, its sparse prose is both dry and funny as well as poetic and beautiful, and the deceptively simple style is perfect to read while appreciating nature on a well-hidden beach where it’s just you and the sea, and maybe even a little rain.
5. The Music of Dolphins, Karen Hesse (1996)
Holy nostalgia. I’m sure my childhood copy of this book was dog-eared beyond repair (also pretty sure I got it at a Scholastic book fair. Remember those!?). A wonderful children’s novel about a girl raised by dolphins, this one is best read on a beach where there are dolphins, obviously (lucky Florida folk) or really any seaside locale that brings back fond childhood memories. My favorite page was always the page with only one sentence on it:
“I must get back to the sea.”
6. Fifty Stories, Kay Boyle (1980)
Sometimes, we have better things to do at the beach than read an entire novel– like swim or build sandcastles or paraglide. On those days, short story collections like Kay Boyle’s Fifty Stories are more appropriate: short little respites from all the beach-time fun.
Alternatively, sometimes we hate the hot, hot heat. For the debbie-beach-downer in you, I recommend “The Wedding,” if only for the wonderful line “The sun was an imposition, an imposition.”
7. Blue Eyes, Black Hair, Marguerite Duras (1986, published in English 1987)
The strange, haunting story of a woman and man in a small beach-side town who share their misery over the unrequited love of the same person with blue eyes and black hair. There is a lot of weeping, but Duras’ sparse style is so arresting that it is well worth the sentiment. Robert Steiner for the LA Times describes it as “sex and death at a seascape” where “sexual obsessions are poetry and longing becomes mordant philosophy.” This one is best read indoors when you can hear the sea but cannot see it.
Well, there you have it. Happy summer reading! We’d love to hear all about your favorite beach-side books in the comments below.