10 Highbrow Books to Read on the Beach (and What Each Says About You)

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Did you know you could easily change the lyrics to Martha and the Vandellas “Dancing in the Streets” so the song goes, “Summer’s here and the time is right or reading on the beach”? Whether you’re comfortable messing around with a classic summer anthem or not, those words are worth repeating to yourself as a mantra for the upcoming months — when, hopefully, you will find a little bit of time to sit on the sand, listen to the waves, and read a great book or two.

But what does your 2014 beach read say about the kind of person you are? Surely you, in the bathing suit you purchased on sale in January and your cool shades, have wonderful taste. You are no doubt a smart person who takes the utmost pleasure in both the written word and a chance to relax — but maybe it’s worth taking a second to ponder what message your beach book of choice sends to the sunbathers around you.

Capital, Thomas Piketty

What this beach read says about you: You’re reading Capital on the beach? You are truly a party animal on the same level as Spuds MacKenzie.

My Life in Middlemarch, Rebecca Mead

What this beach read says about you: Not only are you a person with exquisite taste in 19th-century British novels, but your idea of escapist literature is a book about one writer’s obsession with one of the great books of the 1800s.

Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life, Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings

What this book says about you: You lugged this 600-plus-page hardcover biography of one of the 20th century’s most celebrated critics and philosophers to the beach, so that means you either went to grad school (and won’t let anyone forget about it) or are still in the middle of finishing your thesis.

My Struggle: Book Three, Karl Ove Knausgaard

What this beach read says about you: You’ve read the other two My Struggle books. And, probably, this week’s New York magazine.

Utopia or Bust, Benjamin Kunkel

What this beach read says about you: You probably went to a very good college. You think you might be close friends with one of the characters from The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

Bark, Lorrie Moore

What this beach read says about you: You might not own a beach house, but you probably end up staying in one at least twice every summer.

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay

What this beach read says about you: You are awesome… and, if you’ve already got a copy to read on the beach, you either work in the literary world or know somebody who does, since this highly anticipated essay collection doesn’t come out until August.

The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig

What this beach read says about you: You just saw Grand Budapest Hotel. A suggestion, though: this is a beautiful, 750-page book. Unless you’re willing to replace it, you should be reading it with care in the comfort of your home.

The Essential Ellen Willis

What this beach read says about you: You are amazing, and you shouldn’t change one thing about yourself. Just keep reading radical feminist theory on the beach, and changing the world.

The Trial, Franz Kafka

What this beach read says about you: What are you, a goth teenager? No? Then come on. Don’t read Kafka on the beach.