Every year, lifestyle magazines and websites release their list of beach reads for the summer—easy, page-turner novels that usually fall under the romance genre. While there is some appeal in escapist books about surfer bad boys and intriguing older men, I’ve never been a fan of books whose female protagonists spend at least twenty pages describing their sexual encounters with cringy metaphors. This isn’t to say that I only read books on the English comps list. A book doesn’t have to be a complex allegory about communism to be worth reading, after all. Often, it’s nice to pick up a novel that’s just plain fun to read, and it’s even better when that book has an interesting message or creates complex characters that stay with you long after the final page. So in the spirit of summer, here are eight beach reads that even literature snobs will enjoy:
1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Crass, heartbreaking, hilarious and thoughtful, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was certainly the best book I read last semester. The novel follows the exploits of Oscar, a teenage boy of Dominican descent who wants nothing more than to fall madly in love and to play Dungeons and Dragons until the sun goes down. It also traces the lives of his family members, spanning many generations and locations, from his mother’s life in Santo Domingo to his own in Paterson, New Jersey. Junot Diaz incorporates references to Lord of the Rings, Spanglish and beautiful metaphors to create a heartwarming narrative about the perils of growing up and the way we navigate love. Definitely better than any Nicholas Sparks.
2. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
As evidenced by my Instagram username (@kurtvahnigut), I have a great love for this author and Cat’s Cradle is one of the many reasons why. The novel’s protagonist, John, becomes involved in a story of intrigue and eccentric characters when he follows the children of a man who worked on the atomic bomb to the fictional island of San Lorenzo in the Caribbean. There he falls in love and discovers the existence of a secret substance that has the power to alter life as we know it. The book is broken up into short chapters, so it’s a great summer read, and while it is absurd, it is also profound.
3. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Jennifer Egan is one of my biggest writing idols. Her stories are often dark, but they are rarely depressing. A Visit From the Goon Squad contains multiple stories about different characters that all relate to each other in some way, even if it’s not direct. From cleptomaniacs to models, teenage girls to dictators, Egan crafts characters that are nuanced and endlessly exciting to read about. Even if you’re not traveling anywhere this summer, Egan’s writing will transport you around the globe as you dive headfirst into her characters’ lives.
4. Bossypants by Tina Fey
This is a must-read for fans of 30 Rock, SNL, Mean Girls and any other project Fey has put her genius into. In this autobiography, Fey talks about everything from motherhood to working as a woman in comedy, giving a humorous and in-depth look at one of the funniest women on the screen. This is the perfect thing to read after a long day at your summer job or just for when you’re lounging around your house pondering the enigma of comedy.
6. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
After battling a heroin addiction and trying to recover from the emotional strain of her mother’s death, Cheryl Strayed decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a beautiful and sometimes treacherous trail that snakes across the West Coast. This memoir not only details her (mis)adventures in the Californian terrain but Strayed also discusses loss and how to redefine one’s identity after the death of a loved one. Wild will not only tug at your heartstrings but maybe inspire a future hiking expedition.
7. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
It is perfectly natural to feel burned out after the school year, and you may find yourself repulsed by anything that remotely resembles that Nabokov novel you had to write an analytical essay on. But don’t despair! Graphic novels, like Hyperbole and a Half, are the perfect antidote to English Class Burnout. Allie Brosh’s debut novel had me laughing so hard that I couldn’t read on Ascension third floor anymore. Her drawings alone are hilarious, and her storytelling is even more so. This book also includes a chapter in which Brosh discusses what it’s like to live with depression in a way that is accurate and not glorifying mental illness.
8. This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki
Yep, it’s another graphic novel! And it’s even about the beach! Wow! This One Summer is a story about a girl named Rose whose family always goes to the same beach town each summer with her friend Windy. While the summer is usually a time of relaxation and fun, their vacation takes a tragic turn as Rose’s parents won’t stop fighting and the two girls get caught in the midst of their own tragedy. The book is a refreshing take on the classic teenage, summer novel as it follows Rose and Windy’s coming of age. Plus, the illustrations are straight up gorgeous.
Armed with this list of easy, enjoyable and thoughtful reads, go forth into the summer sun! You are now equipped to handle long plane rides, work breaks, pool time and the endless hours of unconstructed time at your disposal. If you’ve read any of the books above or have your own unconventional beach reads, let us know in the comments.