These days, there's some contention over what exactly constitutes "beach reads." The genre may not be strictly defined, but Vogue editors agree on one thing: a beach read is any book you look forward to reading when you finally have free time. While some of the titles we're reading this year are new—and a handful are even making their summer debuts—many are old favorites we look forward to revisiting year after year.
Joan Didion’s 1996 novel The Last Thing He Wanted, soon to be a Netflix film by the director Dee Rees, isn’t a traditional beach read. It’s too elliptical and ambiguous—stylishly repetitive and elusive in that Didion way. But if you give yourself to it, as I did over a recent lazy spring weekend, this slim novel of arms dealers, assassination attempts and government conspiracies takes hypnotic hold. Elena McMahon is one of those perfect Didion creations, a disaffected political journalist who gets caught up in her father’s criminality, and finds herself stranded on an unnamed Caribbean island as shadowy agents begin to circle. The story telling is prismatic, disorientating and wire taut all at once. - Taylor Antrim, Executive Editor
My preferred way of shaking off the summer's heat will be to read Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest by Hanif Abdurraqib, which I'm guessing will influence my playlist as well. Listening to The Tribe is a habit I don't want to kick. - Laird Borrelli-Persson, Archive Editor
I’ve made the mistake of thinking that I could read Something Serious while sipping on a tropical cocktail. (I once packed Marilynne Robinson’s collection of theological essays on a trip to Mexico and immediately fell asleep under my floppy sun hat.) What’s the opposite of a heady philosophical read? Evvie Drake Starts Over. It is decidedly not challenging—I swear I read 75 pages in 15 minutes—making it a very satisfying beach read. The set up is obvious and fairly low-stakes: A recent widow rents out a vacant apartment in her backyard to an ex-baseball star who has developed a debilitating case of the yips. They’re both wounded in their own ways … they become friends … and you can guess what happens next. Though wildly predictable, Evvie is a sweet story and—perhaps more important—one you can totally finish while continuing your day drinking. - Jessie Heyman, Executive Digital Editor
It took me a shameful five years to finally get to Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, although I must have packed its considerable heft on a couple of dozen journeys since she first graciously inscribed a copy to me. Her book proved the astonishing page-turner that all my besotted friends promised it to be, a punch in the face delivered from every page. I burst into tears in two ubers and one cab, on two transatlantic flights, on the subway, the metro, and the London underground, and three times sitting up in bed at four a.m. Now that this book has wrung me dry I am attempting Hanya's debut novel, The People in the Trees for light summer beach reading.
I am also taking Giovanni's Room. Don't ask why I haven't read it before, but Hilton Als' wonderfully curated exhibition God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin at David Zwirner earlier this year has reaffirmed why I must. -Hamish Bowles, International Editor at Large
I’m reading a book called Stay With Me by a young Nigerian author called Ayobami Adebayo. Not sure it counts as your typical beach read—the storyline thus far is deeply heartbreaking!—but I’m totally enthralled. It follows a young Nigerian couple as they navigate the complex web of family politics and emotions (loyalty, betrayal, love, trust), one that ultimately seems destined to tear their marriage apart. - Chioma Nnadi, Fashion News Director
A book about seemingly ill-matched Presbyterian ministers, spiritually kindred, but strategically divergent doesn’t exactly sound like your typical beach read (you might be sensing a theme in this list), but a book about Presbyterian ministers in 1970s downtown New York … now that sounds like it has a little more swing. Cara Wall’s debut novel (out in August) is in fact a sneakily addictive read, something like what you might get if you moved a book like Gilead to the West Village. It’s a strange, compelling setting, exposing a different side of New York than what we’ve seen in recent works (Just Kids, City on Fire) commemorating the era, and looking at the way that the Village was in fact a community that supported and sustained its inhabitants. You could say the book similarly makes spirituality a strange and enchanting subject—turning it into the kind of material that even this atheist reader gobbled up. - Chloe Schama, Senior Editor
I love this book! It's all parts entertaining and witty with a hint of delicious NYC-minded snark. You'll want to take it with you not just to the beach but everywhere all summer long. - Liana Satenstein, Senior Fashion News Writer
I've been recommending Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife as my favorite beach read for the past 11 years, and I have no plan to stop, maybe ever. (And by 'beach read,' I mean: a book that you might have time to languish with and give your full attention to, which you must do with this one). American Wife is based on Laura Bush's life story, from a modest, midwest upbringing marred by tragedy to her role as FLOTUS. Sittenfeld takes the key moments of Bush's timeline and runs with them, creating such an intimate, engrossing beautifully-written story that is both smart and juicy. It truly has everything: a coming-of-age arc, dramatic family ties, love, heartbreak and Bush dynasty politics! - Michelle Ruiz, Vogue Contributor
I'll admit, I judged this book by it's adorable cover of a double-decker London bus with two people waving at one another. But once I started it, I couldn't put it down! Really … I read it in two days. It follows the lives of Laurie and Jack (the couple), from their love at first sight moment on British public transport (the bus), and Sarah, Laurie's best friend and roommate who ends up dating Jack. The book follows these three characters through ten years, and new jobs, break ups, losses, and life. It is the most realistic romantic novel I've ever read and I'm convinced it will soon be turned into a fabulous movie. A great summer beach read, even though the book begins during a London winter! - Puja Prakash, Social Media Manager.
Summertime always finds me reading music bios of various stripes—it's a varied field with perhaps more misses than hits—but Keep Music Evil, the new book by Jesse Valencia about the legendary Brian Jonestown Massacre, is going in my beach bag for sure. The ever-changing band and its leader, Anton Newcombe, probably best-known from Ondi Timoner's 2004 documentary Dig!, packs more dysfunction into a day, an album, or a gig than any other I've known, but that seems to be the price for the sort of transcendence they're seeking (and, often, achieving). - Corey Seymour, Senior Editor
One of my favorite books in recent times is Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot. It’s just one of those books that demands a second read, and a third, and a fourth. It’s a memoir from a First Nations writer in Canada, who grew up on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia. She manages to tackle trauma (her family went through Canada’s residential school system) and mental health (she had herself committed after a nervous breakdown) in a way that is candid, honest, and sometimes, even strangely comical. I couldn’t put it down! There are so many great indigenous writers on the come-up and she’s for sure one to watch. - Christian Allaire, Vogue Contributor
The bond that exists between sisters is a feral, mysterious, deeply held thing, and it is the subject of two evocative new novels by Alix Ohlin and Michael Parker, both of which trace their characters over long arcs of time and place with equal amounts grace and wit.
Once so close they carried on conversations through blizzards, blanketed together on horseback as they forged across Oklahoma, Lorena and Elise, the sisters at the center of Michael Parker’s latest and novel, Prairie Fever , take wildly divergent paths. The novel is timeless and riveting in its strangeness, as it traces their decades-long rift stemming from a devastating accident and, well, love. Parker’s gift for language transcends its 1900s setting, finds its peak expression in the sisters’ letters, as incisive and deadpan as Charles Portis’ True Grit.
In Alix Ohlin’s Dual Citizens, Lark and Robin, who share an indifferent and temperamental mother, mostly raise themselves in Montreal, where Robin shows virtuoso-like promise on a borrowed piano and Lark finds solace in film and escape to the United States. Over years and borders and cities and small towns and extraordinary sacrifices, they cycle in and out of each others’ lives, diametrically opposite and inextricably linked (tellingly, at one point, Lark is editing reality shows and Robin, among other things, is raising the wolves that roam her Canadian neighborhood). Most revelatory is the way that each fights to find her own life as an artist outside the expectations of others and the demands of a male-dominated world. - Rebecca Bengal, Vogue Contributor
I recently picked up Vogue's sex columnist Karley Sciortino's new book Slutever: Dispatches from a Sexually Autonomous Woman in a Post-Shame World and had a blast. I couldn't help but take pictures of the pages from the book and send around to my best friends. It's an easy, mood-boosting, laugh-out-loud type of a book, perfect for the beach. Black Swans: Stories by Eve Babitz is a collection of nine short stories also great for a long weekend. Short stories are a fun and easy to read under the sun when my attention span is close to non-existent! - Anny Choi, Fashion Editor
I’m tearing through my copy of Bette Howland’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage a newly published collection of stories and a novella that don’t so much explain why Howland (who died in 2017, suffering from multiple sclerosis and dementia) disappeared from the American literary map as make you wonder what America was thinking. The story of the book’s rediscovery is a summer read in itself: Howland had all but stopped writing by 1984, the year she won a so-called Macarthur genius award. But a used copy of W-3—the book she wrote shortly after trying to commit suicide during a stay in the apartment of her friend and literary cheerleader Saul Bellow, who was traveling overseas—found its way to a Housing Works discount bin, where Brigid Hughes, editor of A Public Space (where, full disclosure, I sometimes contribute), got hooked and set about republishing Howland. I just finished “The Golden Age,” a story about watching people growing old in Chicago that I loved in part because, like all Howland’s stories, it doesn’t worry whether it’s fiction or not. It’s just grippingly good—in this case, an insanely sane mix of the hard-to-fight city in the ’70s and the accidental poetry of families stumbling through time. - Robert Sullivan, Vogue Contributor
At the risk of recommending a beach read that could be a touch too self-referential, I just can’t get enough of Montauk, which happens to be Harrison’s debut novel. The story follows the antics of Beatrice Bordeaux, a 1930s society woman by marriage. Preoccupied by the allure of everything her well-to-do financier husband, Harry, disapproves of (see: a career, reading books, talking to anyone whose acquaintance isn’t tangibly advantageous), Beatrice makes the most of a summer relegated to the stuffy Montauk Manor with a cohort of society wives she can’t stand—while Harry chases other interests in Manhattan. A quick glance over the title as it came across my desk turned into 15 minutes, or four chapters worth of delving into Beatrice’s world of yacht club parties, lavish period fashions, and her boredom with it all. Refreshing as an Aperol spritz, Beatrice’s pursuit of autonomy and her own happiness is a welcome addition to some waterside R&R this summer. - Jenna Adrian-Diaz, Features Assistant
Originally Appeared on Vogue