A friend is jetting off soon to somewhere with palm trees. “What’s a good beach book,” she asks.
Inwardly I cringe, not out of envy of her upcoming tropical trip, although there is, admittedly, a little of that. I pause because “beach book” is a term that, as a reader, I find more than a tad offensive, insulting even. Every year listicles galore tout “Hot Beach Reads,” “Books to Breeze Through This Summer” and the like. “Beach book” has come to mean lite, fast and, in my opinion, shallow. I’ve seen beach book lists broken down into those for Him and those for Her. It’s easy for me to equate the generic “beach book” with the just-as-cringe-worthy “genre” known as “Chick Lit,” but that’s a column for another time.
A good book, one that you’ll want to read for carefree hours at a time while you’re sticking your toes into white sand or luxuriously lounging poolside, is a good book, period. If you’ve got time on your vacation that you wouldn’t ordinarily have to just sit and read, why would you not make the best of it? Vacation is too short to read a crappy book. Skip the slick and select a quality novel (or memoir or nonfiction work) that draws you in, keeps you turning the pages, and, like your vacation, makes you wish it wouldn’t end so soon. Be more enlightened, in some way, for reading it.
Make sure you preview before you pack. Read a few chapters of your vacation selection before you depart. There’s nothing worse than plunking yourself down for an hour of reading to find in the first chapter that you just can’t get into the story. (Although, it is a good excuse, if you even need one, to explore local bookstores at your destination.)
Here are a few recommendations for novels, old and new:
Who doesn’t love a good thriller?
Anything by Michael Connelly will keep you glued to your beach chair. Seriously, any of his more than two dozen novels is an excellent pick. They’re smart, well-written and have great characters, LAPD Detective Harry Bosch being the star, and rightly so.
Deborah Crombie writes British mysteries featuring Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid, a Scotland Yard power couple with real-life family issues to boot. You might want to read these books in order, because while they’re not a series, per se, old crimes do crop up in later books. So start with “A Share in Death.”
Relatively new on the scene is author Neely Tucker, a Washington Post reporter, who knows about the seedier sides of our nation’s capital. His protagonist is Sully Carter, a newspaper reporter “with a drinking and attitude problem,” who takes on some very bad guys in “The Ways of the Dead,” “Murder, D.C.” and “Only the Hunted Run.” Good stuff.
If your vacation is of the family variety, escape the daily drama by reading about someone else’s.
“Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett looks at two families over the five decades since infidelity split them apart and united them. Someone writes a book that contains a lot of their family stories, and their loyalty—at the very least—is tested.
Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Sisterland” is about grown twins who have psychic abilities. Add that to their complicated lives, relationships and history, and you end up with a serious glimpse into loyalty, love and relationships.
Also, check out excellent novels about family life by Liane Moriarty, Elinor Lipman and Maria Semple, which take on some serious issues, but also might cause your afternoon umbrella drink to shoot out of your nose.
With history thrown in
Reading historical fiction on a trip is doubly fun if you can find a book that is set where you’re visiting.
Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles, starting with the first of seven novels, “Only Time Will Tell,” follows the life of one man, Harry Clifton, from 1920-1993, along with the political scene in England. It’s got romance, murder, high-finance, Russian spies and pretty much everything else in a binge-worthy series.
An unrepentant count is sentenced by the Bolsheviks to house arrest at a formerly luxurious hotel in “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. The suave and witty count creates a full and meaningful life for himself despite his confines and among a well-drawn cast of characters.
“Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein takes readers behind the scenes of Nazi-occupied France during WWII. It’s a well-told and surprising story of the fates of two young British women, one a spy and one a pilot. (There’s a prequel scheduled to come out this spring, so read this one first.)
Amy Canfield is an avid reader, managing editor of the American Journal and Lakes Region Weekly, and an editor of My Generation and Maine Women Magazine.