Need a list that’s better than beach reads?

I’ve gotcha covered.

This Better than Beach Reads Summer 2017 list is for you if:

  • You’re a person who actually stops at turtle crossings (and sometimes gets out of the car to help them across the road).
  • You think a lazy afternoon is best spent risking a new soufflé recipe, fermenting daikon radishes, or making elderberry syrup.
  • You reread Pride and Prejudice whenever you have the flu and have actually seen the 1940s black-and-white rendition…

…Or if you’re simply tired of people recommending heavy-handed, politically-correct, or academically-intriguing books that fizzle out by page 32.

These aren’t the newest novels; they’re the books I buy whenever I spot ‘em at a used bookstore because I’m constantly giving my copies to some friend who desperately needs the soul medicine within the pages. Pull up a hammock or a beach blanket and enjoy—these really are better than beach reads!

(The numbers are to keep the list organized, not to imply an order of preference.)


The Better than Beach Reads List, Summer 2017


1. Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins

A completely non-linear jaunt about beets, perfume, and immortality. In between the gaffs and the escapades are rich questions about how we live our lives and find our happiness. If your tongue sometimes gets caught in your cheek, this one’s for you. If you’re feeling less snarky, skip to number 2.

2. Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver

This book is rich the way a pine forest is rich after rain—it has scent and texture, you can feel it on your skin and deep in your lungs. Plus Barbara Kingsolver makes science sexy, which is such a gift to those of us who seek to see the world in balance.

3. Sixteen Pleasures, Robert Hellenga

I can’t tell you how many copies of this book have passed through my hands and out into the world. There are two scenes which pull me back, over and over: in the first, a nun shares a square of chocolate. In the second, an antiquarian remarks on the stuff of the world and how to let it flow by you. There’s a little bit of Buddha in both these scenes and they remain vivid in my mind between readings.

4. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austin

Jane Austin always feels to me like the wide-eyed ingénue saying exactly what she ought, until you reread the sentence and realize the depth of her understanding: the push and pull of human nature and the multitude of meanings one sentence can have. Is it odd that I laugh aloud every time I return to this well-worn novel?

5. Howards End, E.M. Forster

I spent 6 months in college tracking through this book, finding references to obscure philosophers and long dead poets. Published almost a century after Pride and Prejudice, Forster reflects Jane Austin’s depth in understanding human nature but ripples the consequences out into the broader world, commenting subtly on the foundational principals of Western society. This book is a bit dense for a beach read but if you’re nestled in a forest hammock, Forster’s enjoiner to “only connect” might strike a chord.

5. Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

This is quite simply one of the best stories ever told. Name of the Wind is one of those books which continues murmuring even when you put it down, encouraging you to stay up ’til 3 am and skip sangria with your sister so you can keep reading. Technically it’s a fantasy novel but please ignore that classification if it’s gonna keep you from picking up this beguiling coming-of-age story.

6. The Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay

History has never been so heart-achingly beautiful. In this evocative novel (again technically “fantasy” but closely mirroring medieval Spain) Kay explores love, divided loyalties, and dogma. Plus there’s a court physician who will win your heart if you follow the flows of “alternative” medicine.

7. Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walker

This book took my breath away and gave me renewed faith in the modern American novel. Beautiful Ruins is a trifecta: it’s got sharp writing, a compelling story line, and character who gets under your skin. Some bits are so beautiful I’m prone to reading aloud.

8. The Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley

I’m a sucker for dramatic coastlines, ruined castles, and history retold in lush detail. The Winter Sea has all of that framed against the modern-day story: a writer writing a book, which always appeals to me. This is a book that feels like Ireland in late autumn (it’s actually Scotland but the damp air and steep cliffs take me back) and I sink into it over and over again.

9. Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen

If you’re a little quirky yourself, you’re gonna love this gem by Sarah Addison Allen. There’s an enchanted apple tree, a caterer whose dishes can bring contentment or jealousy (or any number of other emotions), and of course a solid love story. This one’s totally beachable and yet hidden in the conversational writing style is a modern-day myth with plenty of depth and lessons to share.

10. The School of Essential Ingredients, Erica Bauermeister

This one’s a sleeper, but don’t let the fact that you’ve never heard of it stop you from settling into this luscious story about a chef who, after years of learning how to combine ingredients, realized that food is a pretty good metaphor for people. The characters are vividly written and woven together into exactly the kind of scrumptious melange you want from a beach read.

I’m making my summer reading list now—hopefully there will be some gems I can share with you on next summer’s Better than Beach Reads list!

What will you be reading?


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