10 Highbrow Books to Read on the Beach


This weekend marks the official start of summer, which brings us visions of lying on sandy beaches, an umbrella-topped drink in one hand, and of course, a book in the other. Now, picking beach reading can be difficult — at least if you’re a book geek in your non-bathing suit clad hours. You don’t want to waste your time on something trashy, but you also don’t want to tackle Ulysses in the midst of all that sun and surf. Well, not to worry — we’ve got you covered like SPF 80 with some great books that will transition perfectly from desk to pool and back again. Last summer, we gave you a rundown of a few of our favorite highbrow beach reads from years past, so this year we’re focusing on new books (or to be precise, books that have come out since last summer) that will captivate you on the beach and still make you look smart when you get back to the city. Click through to check out our list of new highbrow books that are still beach-appropriate, and if we’ve missed your own favorite, be sure to add to our list in the comments!

I Am An Executioner: Love Stories , Rajesh Parameswaran

Parameswaran’s stories drip with heat, so you’ll feel right at home reading out in the sunshine as a veritable menagerie of characters dance by, each in love, each captivating. Plus, several of the tales are guaranteed to get your blood pumping, something you might just need after a few hours on a deck chair.

The Sisters Brothers , Patrick DeWitt

This rip-roaring and often dryly hilarious Western picaresque is a page-turner guaranteed to draw your attention away from any number of scantily-clad beach goers in your peripheral vision. It was also short-listed for the Booker Prize and praised from here to Thursday, so you should probably read it even if you aren’t taking a beach vacation this season.

Pulphead , John Jeremiah Sullivan

All the critics (including us) went wild over this book of essays this year — and with good reason. With this collection, Sullivan has cemented his place as one of the best contemporary essayists, writing with a captivating voice about a wide range of topics that manage to seem very specific and universal all at once. But he’s also funny, and many of the essays are high brow investigations of lowbrow pop culture in themselves. If nothing else, we think your friends will appreciate it when you pipe up with factoids gleaned from Sullivan’s essays on the current state of ex-Real World stars, the acquisition of Peyton’s house in One Tree Hill, Michael Jackson’s formative years and Axl Rose.

You Deserve Nothing , Alexander Maksik

Enjoy gossipy novels about torrid affairs and bad behavior? This is the book for you — a classic teacher/student affair story set in a Parisian prep school, blessed with a little more edge and quite a bit more thoughtfulness than you might expect. You’ll be titillated and challenged all at once, not to mention entertained for long afternoons. Which is basically what high school is about, right?

This is How , Augusten Burroughs

Though we will admit that this book isn’t the most highbrow read we could have added to this list, Augusten Burroughs is no slouch, and he’s more than a mere comedian — he’s one of the best comic essayists working toady. Plus, there’s nothing better than comedy on the beach, and mix that in with dubious life advice? You’ll be giggling and re-evaluating your life all at once, both from the safety of your beach umbrella.

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door , Etgar Keret

The newest collection from Etgar Keret is consistently surreal and twisted, full of both laugh-out-loud humor and the kind that percolates for hours before revealing itself. Best of all, almost no attention span is required — perfect for frequent dips into the ocean and literary breaks between sandcastles.

Enchantments , Kathryn Harrison

The beach might not seem like the right place to read a novel about the imagined life of Rasputin’s daughter during the fall of the Romanovs, but we assure you it is. After all, you’re going to need some heat to burn off all that Russian cold, and the lives of historical royalty have always been our go-to highbrow replacement for soap operas. Plus, given how meticulously researched the novel is, you might even learn something.

Arcadia , Lauren Groff

We don’t know what it is about hippies that makes us think they bloom in the spring and hibernate given the first cold fronts of fall (the association with daisy chains and threadbare maxi skirts, perhaps?), but summer seems to perfect time to us to gobble up Lauren Groff’s newest novel, a story of a group of idealists hoping to build an insular utopia in upstate New York.

The Art of Fielding , Chad Harbach

If you haven’t read this novel yet, believe the hype. We haven’t been so compelled to keep reading something (under the table, at bars, until we really really have to go to bed) in a long time, so we think staying focused on the beach will be a snap. Plus, summer is baseball season, and if you’re not going to follow the games, you might as well do a little literary indulging in the grand American pastime.

Hemingway’s Boat , Paul Hendrickson

For true literary nerds who also happen to have boats to read books about Hemingway and his boat in. Take us with you? We’ll read aloud.