Who decided that “beach reads” were fluffy, surface-skimming novels? If you ask me, there is no better place than the beach to breathe through intense emotions and turn over big ideas. As Leandra explained below, about her thought-provoking choice: “The next time I sat down with it, I wanted to make sure that when I lifted my head, I saw ocean, not smog.” Sounds like most of us agreed: barring one very fantastical choice (which might make you laugh), a disproportionate number of our team’s summer reading picks this time are in the personal/non-fiction realm. Read on to see ours (plus what we’d recommend you drink while reading it) and then tell us yours. All genres welcome! (Even the fluffy kind.)
by Anne Helen Petersen
Recommended by: Edith!
Genre: Cultural criticism
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: Each chapter of the book is dedicated to one unruly woman — Kim Kardashian, Serena Williams, Lena Dunham among them — and gives the historical context for each woman’s rise to fame. The book really zeroes in on the ways the subjects have challenged societal norms for how women should conduct themselves in the public eye. You’re gonna like it!
Why it’s good to read on a beach: I’ve been hooked on Petersen’s writing since I listened to her Longform podcast where she spoke about making her academic background in Hollywood history (she has Ph.D. from the University of Texas where she studied the trajectory of the gossip industry!) accessible to a non-academic readership, without sacrificing quality or depth.
Beverage you’d sip while reading: The unruliest Pimm’s Cup money can buy.
Published by DUNES Press, words by Bennett Bistline
Recommended by: Emily!
Genre: Photo book
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: This book is a visual feast for the eyes. I’ve never been to California (someday…right?), so for now I will vicariously live through this book, which transports you to the desert-y oasis of Palm Springs. Take a dip into the interiors of glam women, beautifully curated still-lives and thrifted tchotchke collections of your dreams.
Why it’s good to read on a beach: This book encapsulates summer.
Beverage you’d sip while reading: Aperol spritz, duh.
by Samantha Irby
Recommended by: Patty, who first heard about it from Roxane Gay on Another Round.
Genre: Personal essays
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: Irby is a blogger and comedian, and the book is filled with her personal stories. I laughed out loud more during the first 10 pages than I have with any book ever.
Why it’s good to read on a beach: Essays are great to read on a beach because you can use them as an excuse to be anti-social but not for too long.
Beverage you’d sip while reading: Something non-carbonated so it doesn’t hurt your nostrils so much if you sip and laugh simultaneously. Maybe a marg. Non-spicy.
by Sarah Prager
Recommended by: Matt!
Genre: Non-Fiction / Herstory
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: Part history book, part LGBTQ primer, all fascinating. This digestible beach read tells the story of 23 inspiring individuals who revolutionized the queer community (and pop culture) as we know it.
Why it’s good to read on a beach: Reading it feels slightly more enriching than my usual trash picks, and because it’s a series of short stories it’s conducive to lots of swim breaks. (Pausing to people watch also won’t throw off your flow).
Beverage you’d sip while reading: La Croix or an Appletini.
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Recommended by: Leandra! via my friend Claire Distenfeld
Genre: I’m not sure — Self-Help? Can I create a new genre called Character Building?
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: Elizabeth Gilbert thinks that ideas are living organisms that spend their “lives” in pursuit of the perfect human collaborator.
Why it’s good to read on a beach: I read the first 100 pages while seated at a bus stop and did not realize that time was getting past me. The next time I sat down with it, I wanted to make sure that when I lifted my head, I saw ocean, not smog.
Beverage you’d sip while reading: Arnold Palmer because WUHT’S BETTER than the magical portmanteau of iced tea and lemonade?
by Roxane Gay
Recommended by: Harling!
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: Gay candidly lays out her own psychological struggles with trauma, food and size — tracing back the history of her body to a devastating act of violence in her childhood, exploring our cultural anxiety with weight and illuminating the hard truth that the bigger you are, the less visible you become.
Why it’s good to read on a beach: This is the perfect book to read on a beach, because beaches are emotionally wrought places to be a woman with a body (a.k.a. any woman), and Gay’s searingly honest account of her body’s journey through the world will give you both perspective and self-compassion.
Beverage you’d sip while reading: A frozen Southside with fresh mint.
by Gabrielle Hamilton
Recommended by: Haley!
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: Hamilton tells the story of how she came to be a chef, starting from her very early childhood. Her story is the kind that would be hard to make up. So many twists and turns! That’s what makes it so fun and compelling to read.
Why it’s good to read on a beach: It’s a success story — but not in the way you think. The way she sort of stumbles into who she is feels relatable and refreshing. You’ll walk away with a renewed trust in “the journey.” And just kind of letting life happen. To me, that’s as relaxing as a beach.
Beverage you’d sip while reading: Wine, of any kind.
by J.K. Rowling
Recommended by: Ariel! By way of Patty and the entire Man Repeller office
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: Apparently I am one of the last people walking this earth who hasn’t read the Harry Potter series, so I won’t dare explain the synopsis. But JUST IN CASE YOU HAVEN’T READ IT, join me! I finally picked up the first book and I am beginning to understand the hype.
Why it’s good to read on a beach: Because it transports you to a fantastical world of wizards and magic. You’ll get so caught up in the storytelling that you won’t put it down until you are ready to pick up the second book. If it seems like a big commitment, you’re right, but I’ll be there with you!
Beverage you’d sip while reading: Unicorn Blood.
by Sarah Manguso
Recommended by: Patty, via my aunt Antonia.
Genre: Essays…in three sentences or less.
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: “Sometimes a single sentence can be enough to fill the imagination completely.” That’s one of the essays. In its entirety. Sorry for the spoiler.
Why it’s good to read on a beach: It’s a good puzzle one minute, then a penetrating truth the next. And reading it while traveling/relaxing is nice because it’s a quick read, but you’ll want to sit with it.
Beverage you’d sip while reading: Four Roses bourbon and a never-melting ice cube.
by Emma Rathbone
Recommended by: Leslie!
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: A woman in her twenties whose life seems completely stalled goes to live with her aunt in North Carolina for a summer. Said aunt is an artist and would be described by some as “an old maid.” The protagonist is determined to lose her virginity, and proceeds to pursue this task with a dogged, self-centered, endangering focus (as only a 26-year-old could). There are awkward familial confrontations and revelations along the way.
Why it’s good to read on a beach: It’s the right length for a short trip/long weekend (a little over 200 pages), and the plot twists and turns will keep you coming back between ocean dips.
Beverage you’d sip while reading: Very cold, sparkling rosé — glass after glass — to muffle the secondhand embarrassment.
Check out what else Team MR is reading here!
Photos by Edith Young.