Beach Books

I recently spent a weekend by a friend’s pool and later this week, we head off to Tahoe. The only trouble is, I don’t know what to read.

This dilemma is pretty rare for me since I worked in bookstores for years before I went corporate. Perhaps because of my time in bookstores, the typical books marketed as beach-worthy don’t appeal to me. I have no interest in legal dramas and I’d rather read US Weekly than a trite romance. I have a total and complete weakness for trashy celebrity gossip mags, and yet I don’t want a beachside literature class either. I’m not looking for, say, War & Peace or Moby Dick. (I did re-read The Great Gatsby recently and was surprised to find it a very good read).

I also require a selection of books since I’ve had the misfortune of bringing one book and finding it a complete struggle, or the equally irritating experience of bringing one terrific book and reading it obsessively so that the book is finished before the vacation.

For others looking for a good read this summer, I have a few recommendations:

It may be strange to toss a tragedy or two in your beach bag, but that’s exactly what I’m suggesting you do. Both of the following books are rooted in tragedy – the Sudan and the aftermath of 9/11 — but the stories are hopeful and compelling, and the characters are among the very best companions you could ask for.


This is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

I didn’t expect to love it. When I received this book, I sighed and thought, “I don’t want to read about Africa.” And I put it on the shelf assuming I would never actually read it because who ever wants to read about Africa? Then I opened it and was totally enthralled. I bought two more copies even before I’d finished the book and gave one to my mom and one to my sister. My mom called me shortly after because she was having the same experience I did: she couldn’t believe the pull of this book, the skill of the writing and the humanity and the humility of the narrator, Valentino Achak Deng. That the book is based on the true story of just makes it that much more meaningful.

If you read one book this summer – if you read one book this year — let it be this one.



I have a serious weakness for child narrators (To Kill A Mockingbird, anyone?) and Oskar, the protagonist of Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close is particularly endearing. (I’ve considered adopting his use of “Shiitake!” as an alternative to saying shit). He’s a precocious kid trying to cope with losing his dad. Running parallel to Oskar’s story is the story of Oskar’s grandmother and her loss that stretches back to World War II. Despite the grief inherent in the story, this isn’t a depressing book because you’re with Oskar.

All book images from


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