Question: What Makes a “Beach Book”? (Plus 44 Suggested Answers)

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Here’s a topic we’ve been chatting about in the back room at Parnassus: What exactly is a “beach read”? Lately we’ve realized that we — booksellers and customers — use the term to mean different things.

For some, beach reading means thumbing through a light paperback with one hand and tipping back a margarita with the other. For others, it means finally having the time to open that big, heavy tome you’ve been waiting all year to dive into. Sometimes we say “beach reading” to mean anything we read when we’ve got a little time off — whether that’s actually at the seaside or not. What makes a “beach book” for you? Tell us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

Meanwhile, here’s our list, including some all-time favorites and plenty of new releases in hardcover and paperback, too.

Brooklyn Cover ImageBrooklyn

I know I’m late to the party on this one, but it’s never too late to love a book. I thought it was moving, beautifully written, and deeply engaging. The next time you feel like reading a book about good people trying their best, read this. – Ann Patchett

The Excellent Lombards Cover ImageThe Excellent Lombards

This is the book Jane Hamilton was born to write, and it is a book that thrilled me to read. The Excellent Lombards is, in fact, magnificent. Take it to the beach! – Ann Patchett

Illustration School: Let's Draw Cute Animals Cover ImageIllustration School: Let’s Draw Cute Animals 

I bought this in a modern art museum in Norway and was thrilled to find out it has an American publisher. I want to give this book to everyone! It actually teaches you how to draw a pig sitting or a bear walking. Adorable summer fun. – Ann Patchett

The Storm Whale Cover ImageThe Storm Whale

A little boy finds a baby whale washed up on the beach and saves its life by dragging it home in a wagon and putting it in the bathtub. The illustrations are magic. This book actually takes place on a beach, making it the ultimate beach read. – Ann Patchett

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany Cover ImageHeat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany

Bill Buford left his job at The New Yorker and talked his way into a kitchen job at Babbo, Mario Batali’s  Italian restaurant in NYC. He then traveled to Italy to learn from the masters of the art of Italian cooking. This book is all about the love of food and craft. It is an absolute joy and escape to read. – Karen Hayes

The Folded Clock: A Diary Cover ImageThe Folded Clock: A Diary

Ostensibly a journal containing the internal musings of a writer as she goes about her daily personal and professional life, it’s really quite a polished collection of mini-essays. You can read one, go for a swim, read another, crack open a beer, and read one more before you build a sandcastle. You’ll be happier and smarter (and maybe tanner, depending on your SPF) by the end of the day. – Mary Laura Philpott

Naked Cover ImageNaked

One day at the beach, I left this book open across my lap as I read, and at the end of the day, my sunscreen had lifted the cover image and printed it on my knees. I went to dinner with what appeared to be an upside-down tattoo of men’s boxers on my legs. I highly recommend this experience. – Mary Laura Philpott

Modern Lovers Cover ImageModern Lovers 

Do you love indie films the likes of Frances Ha and (500) Days of Summer? Wish you could take them to the beach? Well, too bad, you’ll look like a big ol’ loser with sand in your iPad — you’re much better off taking Emma Straub’s charming Modern Lovers instead. – Lindsay Lynch (Meet Straub here on July 12!)

Sweet Lamb of Heaven Cover ImageSweet Lamb of Heaven

I don’t know about you, but I never go anywhere near a beach without at least one book featuring a women who hears voices running from her crazed politician husband. Thankfully, Lydia Millet’s got my back on this one. – Lindsay Lynch

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear Cover ImageBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear 

Sometimes when you are sitting in your darkened living room on a bright, beautiful, summer Saturday bingeing Grey’s Anatomy, you need something to inspire you to get out and do something you can feel proud of. Elizabeth Gilbert, and this book, are that something. – Catherine Bock

Burial Rites Cover ImageBurial Rites

I really enjoy reading books in the summer that are not typical “beach reads,” and this fits the bill. Based on the real story of the last woman Iceland ever executed (in 1829, I might add), Agnes Magnusdottir, this is historical fiction at its finest. – Catherine Bock

Outrun the Moon Cover ImageOutrun the Moon

If you like your beach reads to transport you to another time period, pick up Outrun the Moon. In this historical YA novel, Mercy Wong bribes her way into an exclusive girls’ school on the eve of the great San Francisco earthquake. – Rae Ann Parker

Garden Spells Cover ImageGarden Spells

This book started my addiction to Sarah Addison Allen novels. If you like stories about sisters, small towns, and magical realism, tuck this paperback into your beach bag. – Rae Ann Parker

Sex Object: A Memoir Cover ImageSex Object: A Memoir 

We’re riding the fourth wave of feminism, and Jessica Valenti is a major reason why. Take this to the beach, because it will be what everyone’s talking about when you return. – Tristan Charles

Red Dragon Cover ImageRed Dragon 

The beach is the best place to read a thriller: if what you’re reading is too intense, just look up and let the waves push it out of your mind. Fans of the TV adaptation of Hannibal might be surprised at just how much of the imagery and brilliant dialogue of the show comes straight from Harris’s fingertips. – Tristan Charles

Chu's Day at the Beach Board Book Cover ImageChu’s Day at the Beach Board Book

If you can’t actually get your toes in the sand this summer, Chu’s Day at the Beach is the next best thing. Neil Gaiman fans and young readers alike will delight in the silliness of Chu’s sneezing problem in this beautifully illustrated board book, perfect for reading aloud with lots of room for dramatic performance. – Katherine Klockenkemper

Civilwarland in Bad Decline Cover ImageCivilWarLand in Bad Decline

I love reading short stories at the beach — they’re perfect for picking up and putting down, and leave me feeling like I’ve accomplished a lot of reading in a short amount of time. Now available in paperback, George Saunders’s CivilWarLand in Bad Decline is a perfect addition to your beach bag if you want something dark, hilarious, and unforgettable. – Katherine Klockenkemper

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Cover ImageA Tree Grows in Brooklyn 

“Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York. Especially in the summer of 1912.” The opening lines of my all-time favorite novel never fail to transport me back in time. Betty Smith’s writing creates such a sense of place that it’s almost like taking a trip to the Williamsburg neighborhood. – Jackie Gregory

Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts Cover ImageQuiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts

This is essential summer reading for introverted children and teens, and anyone that works with kids. Take some time while relaxing on the beach to learn why Susan Cain says, “A quiet temperament is a hidden superpower.” – Jackie Gregory

Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God Cover ImageRilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

“I am the dream you are dreaming. / When you want to awaken, I am that wanting: / I grow strong in the beauty you behold. / And with the silence of stars I enfold/your cities made by time.” (Rilke, in a new, unfussy translation) “I’m not dreaming anymore. I’m waking up.”(Jason Isbell) – Margy Roark

Lit Cover ImageLit 

Vacationing with your dysfunctional family this summer and therefore prone to resentment, self-pity, and despair? Take this memoir to the beach, and be happy, joyous, and free. “Nothing we truly love is ever lost.” – Margy Roark

The Book of Speculation Cover ImageThe Book of Speculation

If at all possible, I recommend reading this by the sea. Having the ocean sighing in your ear as you read this gorgeous novel will heighten every haunting revelation and every moment of romance. – Grace Wright

Mongrels Cover ImageMongrels 

You will want to have time to read a few pages and then stare off into the horizon to contemplate this heart wrenching novel. The back cover says werewolves, but Mongrels actually delves into the core of the cursed blessings, damnation, and unbreakable love and loyalty our families pass down to us. – Grace Wright

Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter Cover ImageWhistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter 

This book is like literary peach cobbler: sweet, satisfying, Southern, and you can never get enough of Patton’s one of a kind heroine, LeeLee Satterfield. Reading about a freezing Vermont winter — perfect for a hot beach! – Grace Wright

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II Cover ImageShadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II

I love this book! He sheds light on an aspect of history that I was unaware of. The scuba diving gets intense. This book will make you wonder what else might be hidden in the ocean. – Ginger Nalley

The Opposite of Everyone Cover ImageThe Opposite of Everyone

I like fun, easy-to-read books when I am on vacation.  Joshilyn Jackson is one of my go-to authors for beach reading. – Ginger Nalley

The Marauders Cover ImageThe Marauders

This Parnassus Book Club pick caught my attention and so happy it did. Swamp noir fiction at it’s best! The perfect beach read. Funny, poignant, and captures the crazy, Gulf Coast cast of characters at their very best — and worse. – River Jordan

The Alliance Cover ImageThe Alliance

This surprising novel of a Mennonite society sheltering people after the collapse of technology and society as we know is full of heart and hope. – River Jordan

The Orchardist Cover ImageThe Orchardist

A sweeping epic of a novel, perfectly worthy of summer reading. This is a beautiful, unforgettable work of art. – River Jordan

What Alice Forgot Cover ImageWhat Alice Forgot

If you’re looking for a fun paperback to enjoy while you sip fruity cocktails under an umbrella at the beach, look no further. What Alice Forgot is breezy and fun, and perfect for readers who loved Me Before You or anything by Emily Giffin or Jennifer Weiner. – Niki Coffman

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith Cover ImageUnder the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

Nothing says VACATION quite like a nonfiction exploration of a murder inside the fundamentalist Mormon church. Part In Cold Blood, part Going Clear, I found this gripping narrative un-put-downable. – Niki Coffman

Mrs. Kimble Cover ImageMrs. Kimble 

Why do these 3 women fall for and marry Ken Kimble? Escapist reading, yes, but great writing! – Kathy Schultenover

My Best Friend's Exorcism Cover ImageMy Best Friend’s Exorcism

Charleston, South Carolina, in 1988. If you’re a woman in your 40s, you will find this YA novel hilarious, heartwarming, and scary. Perfect for the beach as it’s only $19.99. – Sissy Gardner

The After Party Cover ImageThe After Party

A gripping story about debutantes, friendship, and choices available to women in the ’50s. Not at all your typical southern novel. Anton wrote another of my favorite books — The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. When I’m lounging at the beach I like dark, exciting reads! – Sissy Gardner

Unbecoming Cover ImageUnbecoming 

If you loved The Goldfinch but thought it was long and too heavy for your beach bag, GET THIS BOOK. Scherm packs a feminine point of view, really fast-paced action, and bad behavior into a super-smart novel. – Sissy Gardner

Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before Cover ImageBlue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before

Pulitzer winner Tony Horowitz takes the reader around the world, retracing the explorations of Captain James Cook. Besides being a fascinating look at exotic locales, it’s an introduction to James Cook the man, where he came from, and what motivated him. Horowitz’ style is both informative and humorous, making this a great book to take on vacation. – Andy Brennan

Paper: Paging Through History Cover ImagePaper: Paging Through History 

With all the talk these days of going paperless, Kurlansky gives a fascinating account of the importance of paper and how it has impacted today’s world. Author of Salt and Cod, Kurlansky challenges the common assumptions about technology and argues that paper is here to stay. Something to think about while you sit in that beach chair. – Andy Brennan

ParnassusNext — June Selection

Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories Cover ImageSummer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories

Edited by Stephanie Perkins

What is it about summer that makes it such a perfect time to fall in love? Is it the long days, free of homework? Is it the smell of chlorine, the tart sweetness of fresh-squeezed lemonade? Whatever the reason, Stephanie Perkins’ delicious new anthology, Summer Days and Summer Nights, will give you twelve excellent roadmaps for summer love, written by some of YA’s brightest shining stars.

A collection of short stories seems particularly suited for summer reading: You can read them in any order between naps on the beach and dips in the water to cool off, or devour all of them in one sitting and make a long car trip go by in a flash. Whether you prefer your romance realistic or fantastical, hopeful or bittersweet, there’s a story in this collection that will resonate with you. Each one is so exquisitely crafted, the characters so expertly constructed, you’ll be left wishing that, like summer itself, the stories would never end. Get ready to fall head over heels for this book.

First Editions Club — June Selection

Larose Cover ImageLaRose

I frequently begin recommendations to friends and customers here at the store by saying, “So here is the plot, but please just ignore my summation and read it. Trust me.” And that is how I will be recommending LaRose, except I’ll add, “And it’s by Louise Erdrich. If you don’t trust me, trust her.”

So, here is the summation that you will promptly disregard before plunging into Erdrich’s unbelievable prose. In the summer of 1999, Landreaux Iron accidentally kills his neighbor’s five-year-old son in a hunting accident. What unfolds in the wake of the heart-wrenching incident incorporates near-forgotten Ojibwe practices, modern reservation life, and the complexity of what makes a family whole.

Erdrich has a remarkable talent for taking what is unfamiliar (to me and my suburban Midwest background, at least) about reservation life and Native American history and effortlessly weaving it throughout her narrative. She also has the even more remarkable talent of starting this book off in an extraordinarily devastating way and making me feel warm and comforted at the end. I hope you feel the same way.

(It doesn’t hurt that she is a fellow indie-bookseller.)

Catherine Bock
Special Sales and Office Manager, Parnassus Books

Parnassus Book Club

FC9780425280744.JPGJune – The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
Monday, June 13 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, June 15 at 6:30pm
Thursday, June 16 at 10am

July – Small Moments by Mary M. Barrow
Join us on Wednesday, July 20, at 6:30pm or Thursday, July 21, at 10am, when Ms. Barrow will lead the discussions! (Note: we will NOT meet on Monday, July 18.)

Classics Club – Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Monday, July 25 at 10am and 6:30pm

Are you a member of our store book club? Would you like to be? Parnassus Book Club meetings are free and open to anyone. Buy the book, read along, and join the discussion!

“It’s All About the Book”

More thoughts on reading from Kathy Schultenover, Parnassus Book Clubs Manager:


1167416_752599198114013_6708198317693396502_o“Pat Conroy at 70” read the banner hanging over an old house / museum as I drove into downtown Beaufort, South Carolina, in March. It was a surreal moment; Pat Conroy had died only the day before. The banner had been up for a few months in conjunction with a literary festival celebrating the famous author in his hometown.

The specific title of the exhibit was, “My wound is geography: Pat Conroy and the Lowcountry.” It highlighted a number of materials from his archive at the University of South Carolina exploring his relationship with his beloved homeland. Beginning with his time as a basketball star at Beaufort High School, and lasting through his four years at The Citadel, his year teaching on Daufuskie Island, and his many years at his last home on Fripp Island, his writings were influenced by the people, traditions, and landscape of South Carolina. Featured were such works as The Water is Wide, The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides, and The Death of Santini, with personal letters, scrapbooks, photographs, and actual handwritten manuscripts on display.

The atmosphere at the museum was quiet, subdued and reverential, everyone freshly aware of the great loss to Beaufort and to the literary world. My husband and I loved Pat Conroy and his books, as did millions of other readers. Personable, down to earth, and full of great stories, he had the gift of making a person feel special when you met him. His novels have an aching quality to them that so many can identify with.

FC9780385533577.JPGMy favorite of his books, however, is not a novel — not even a bestseller. My Reading Life is a series of essays revealing how literature saved his sanity and his life: “I grew up a word-haunted boy,” he writes. In essays about his mother and her favorite book, Gone With the Wind, about the profound and far-reaching influence of his high school English teacher Gene Norris, about his affection for (and fear of) Miss Ellen, the librarian at Beaufort High School, about his love for Thomas Wolfe, and about the work of his teacher James Dickey, he shows in moving and colorful anecdotes how the written word came to be his life’s work and his salvation. My Reading Life would be a wonderful, out-of-the-box choice for a book club. It’s funny, touching, and a window into the soul of Pat Conroy.

— Kathy

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Want more? Check out The Tennessean’s round-up of “Hot Reads for Your Beach Bag (Or Backyard Hammock),” where Musing editor Mary Laura Philpott recommends Camille Perri’s The Assistants, Rumaan Alam’s Rich and Pretty, and Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall — plus a dozen more.

(And while you’re at it, click around to The New York Times’ “12 New Books We’re Reading This Summer (And 6 Not So New)”StyleBlueprint Nashville’s summer reading listAndy’s latest list of spy books; and as always, Nashville Arts Magazine for our monthly Bookmark column!)