10 Books to Read on the Beach This Summer (or Next to an AC)

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.)

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman

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.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life

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.

Queer, There, and Everywhere

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.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

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!
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
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.

Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

by Gabrielle Hamilton

Recommended by: Haley!
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
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.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

by J.K. Rowling

Recommended by: Ariel! By way of Patty and the entire Man Repeller office
Genre: Fantasy
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.

300 Arguments

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.

Losing It

by Emma Rathbone

Recommended by: Leslie!
Genre: Fiction
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.

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  • Adrianna

    I’ve been meaning to read Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir after watching her season on Mind of a Chef. (available on netflix, highly recommended)

    I recently read and enjoyed Valley of the Dolls and Peyton Place. Would love to hear more recommendations from the MR community.

  • “Beverage you’d sip while reading: Unicorn Blood.”

    No beach day is worth “a half life, a cursed life”…..

  • I loved Big Magic too! Can’t wait to tackle my summer TBR pile properly. There’s nothing better than to read a book with a cold beverage on a warm day. Great recommendations and happy reading! 🙂 xx

    Helen | Helen’s Fashion, Beauty & Lifestyle Blog

  • Laura

    And even if you’re not a first-time Harry Potter reader, it’s so good you should you just read it again (and cry in all the spots you know are coming).

  • Bee

    Love these recommendations and the drink pairings!

  • Chloe

    Reading on the beach is such a nice feeling, reading anywhere that’s hot and you can just chill out is always a huge bonus – It’s just the most relaxing feeling ever 🙂 All of these books sound amazing and they all sound like complete opposites which definitely makes it more interesting – I’m going to have to pick some of them up.

    Have a great week 🙂

    Chloe @ https://girllgonerogue.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Mun

    There are so many tittles here that I’m itching to buy!

  • kforkarli

    Highly recommend reading Harry Potter as an adult. I poo poo-ed it for my entire childhood and only read the first one to prove a point…and then kept reading even while on a secluded beach in Vanuatu. Perfect escapism.

  • Trịnh Thanh

    I really love the angle that you took with this post

    bộ nồi inox

  • Carrieanne Luicadi

    Every holiday i revisit ‘The lord of the flies’ it always takes me back to my childhood but still contains lessons and messages that are still so current.
    Definitely going to have a look at the Unruly Woman book.

  • Alba

    I LOVE posts like these! I have my pile for the summer already (and a blog post on it myself), but I’m definitely adding The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman to my Amazon cart as well as The Sorcerer’s Stone. I’m someone who, like you, has not yet read any of the Harry Potter books. Growing up I found that the smartest kids read them! I wasn’t into reading as a youngin’ as much as I am today. I really do want to give the series a shot! Also, Big Magic is already sitting on my shelf waiting for its turn. I’ve heard so many good things about that one!

    My summer reads with a focus on writing, creativity, and parenting: http://www.voirgrace.com/2017/06/books-im-reading-this-summer.html


  • Eliza

    Have to recommend my ultimate summer read: The Garden of Eden by Hemingway (please hold all internal groans and hear me out).

    It’s basically a montage of tanning, swimming, eating, and sex in the French Riviera and Spain. Page after page about their food, their haircuts, their canvas shirts and linen pants…it’s essentially an ode to summer. The characters struggle with gender identity, sexual compatibility, and some seriously poor communication skills. The writing isn’t the best, and the characters aren’t exactly easy to like, but the experience is comparable to watching a movie simply because everything looks dreamy and beautiful.

    I read it every summer, and every summer I emerge bronzed, toned, and filled to the brim with salade niçoise.

    • Camila Restrepo

      Ooo I’m going on a two week solo trip to France and spending some days in the Riviera…..this sounds like something that I need to read during that time!

    • Nikelle

      This seems like it would also be good to read in the middle of January, to escape winter when hopping on a plane doesn’t work out.

  • Camila Restrepo

    I am currently obessed with the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo. I put one down and immediately pick the next one. Currently reading “The Leopard”. I haven’t been this into a series since Harry Potter when I was in middle school/high school. Like I’ve started having thoughts of “what am I going to do when there is no more Harry Hole to read?….what will I read?” haha It’s like saying goodbye to a studyabroad friend. You’ve spend almost every day of the past 5 months with them but you know it will be time to say goodbye eventually.

  • Kirby

    Haley! Thank you so much for your recommendation! I just finished reading it, and I have to say I think it’s the best book I’ve read in over a year. One that really made me take a second to reflect after reading it (as well as every time I reluctantly out it down).