Best Books For The Beach

November 7, 2010 2:02 PM

(credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Remember when you were a kid and summer meant you could stop reading books for a few months? Isn’t it funny that as we move into adulthood we find ourselves looking forward to those summer months as our excuse to sink into a good book?Well, we’re about to hit the calendar’s primo beach reading real estate, and the promise of lounging on the sand, catching a few rays and pigging out on brain candy is all but irresistible.

In that spirit, why don’t you try sampling one of our 10 picks for some of the best books to bring to the beach with you this summer? Because summer reading shouldn’t be about heavy lifting, we broke our picks down into 10 separate categories, so you can find exactly what you want.

Note: We always offer these “10 of the Best” lists with the disclaimer that there are other bests out there. An obvious caveat perhaps, but one that seems especially true in this case with literally millions of books available in Twin Cities public library systems. Happy reading!

stieg larsson Best Books For The Beach

(credit: CBS)

The “Hot Book Series” Pick

The “Millennium” trilogy, Stieg Larsson
Knopf | $27.95

Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s bestselling trilogy — which spins a tale of crime, retribution and revenge surrounding the punkish protagonist Lisabeth Salander — began with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and culminated with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, which was just released in the U.S. in May. All three have been turned into movies, the first of which was recently released at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis. Not a bad run for a guy who died before the first book was even published. (Larsson had written them for amusement and only began to pursue publishing immediately before his 2004 death.)

nelson demille Best Books For The Beach

(credit: CBS)

The “Whodunit” Pick

“The Lion,” Nelson DeMille
Grand Central Publishing | $27.99

OK, Nelson DeMille’s novels don’t exactly qualify as “whodunits” in the strictly traditional, Agatha Christie sense. You don’t get a small ensemble of characters and the cheap thrill of trying to guess correctly which of the five or six disgruntled butlers planted the gun in Mrs. Thornberry’s potted begonia. Instead if Miss Marple, you get John Corey, a wisecracking alpha male who would spit English tea out while keeping his pinky down. In DeMille’s latest mystery-thriller, Corey plunges headlong into the political morass of post-9/11 intelligence. It ain’t pretty.

mary roach Best Books For The Beach


The “Stranger Than Fiction” Pick

“Bonk” or “Stiff,” Mary Roach
W. W. Norton & Company | $14.95/$13.95

The nonfiction slot could be filled by any number of historical recounts or personal memoirs. I’d be more than happy to recommend Simon Winchester’s “A Crack in the Edge of the World” (a tense account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake) or Joan Didion’s harrowing “The Year of Magical Thinking” (in which one of the writing world’s “coolest customers” tries to cope with her husband’s death and her only daughter lapsing into a coma). Instead, I’ll recommend this pair of oddball jaunts into the wacky, weird side of science. Her debut “Stiff” pulls the veil back on what happens to your body after you die, and her recent “Bonk” slips, um, between the sheets. Sex and death — what more do you need in your beach reading? With Roach as a fearless tour guide, there’s no such thing as “TMI.”

emily giffin Best Books For The Beach


The “Chick Lit” Pick

“Heart of the Matter,” Emily Giffin
St. Martin’s Press | $26.99

OK, I’m not going to front on this one. I’m not caught up on my hopelessly log-jammed list of “chick lit” reading list. I yield this pick to WCCO.COM executive editor Toby Collodora, who has this to say about Emily Giffin’s latest: “Beach reading at its finest.  There’s no complicated plot, no big words and no analysis — just a simple, tug at the heartstrings read that’s perfect for sneaking in between those five minutes between when the kiddos need their towels or in-the-water supervision.”

stephen king Best Books For The Beach


The “Two-Week Vacation” Pick

“Under the Dome,” Stephen King
Scribner | $35

Most of the books on this list can be consumed within a few lazy afternoons on the beach. However, if you’re lucky enough to have more than just a long weekend with nothing to do but enjoy some quality reading time, why not tackle “Under the Dome,” superstar novelist Stephen King’s longest chunk of text since the uncut version of “The Stand?” Clocking in at nearly 1,100 pages, King’s return to his cracked brand of small town American shows what happens when a little burg gets isolated inside a terrarium dome. (Sort of like if “The Simpsons Movie” plunged into “The Twilight Zone.”) Its claustrophobia is sure to give you a welcome respite from your extended time reclining on the beach. (Not that I’m jealous.)

chuck klosterman Best Books For The Beach

(credit: Simon & Schuster)

The “Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit” Pick

“Eating the Dinosaur,” Chuck Klosterman
Scribner | $25

Let’s face it. Some of us aren’t cut out for reading by the lake. The sunny skies, the cool shade, the din of nature’s critters. It can be a distraction or, worse, an invitation to nap. Some of us need a book we can dip in and out of in the space of a few minutes. Look no further than Minnesota native Chuck Klosterman’s latest collection of humorous, pop culture-savvy essays. In “Eating the Dinosaur,” Klosterman ranges widely, from delving into the self-fulfilling prophecy of Alfred Hitchcock’s voyeuristic “Rear Window” and mining the world of football for its political subtext, to offering a postmortem on Garth Brooks’ Chris Gaines alter ego. It’s free-associative in the breeziest sense.

android karenina Best Books For The Beach

(credit: CBS)

The “Brainy Beach Bum” Pick

“Android Karenina,” Ben H. Winters
Quirk Books | $12.95

I’m sure you’ve seen the Quirk Classics series in bookstores and gift shops. Lately, these snarky, clever mash-ups which irreverently infest great works of literature with monsters straight out of last year’s Halloween costume ball have been popping up like, well, the undead lately. The trend started out with “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” and now reaches a new apex with “Android Karenina,” a science fiction-splattered whatsit which deconstructs what many would call one the greatest novels ever written and retools it for the “Blade Runner” set.

william shatner Best Books For The Beach

(credit: Erik Oginski)

The “Twitter Withdrawal” Pick

“Sh*t My Dad Says,” Justin Halpern
It Books | $15.99

No seriously, put the smartphone away. You’re on vacation. You don’t need to check your e-mail. There will be time for apps later. No, give me that. I’m going to hold onto it for you. I’m serious. I’m not giving you your phone back. You want to catch up on tweets? Fine, read this. It’s got all of the best one-liners from Justin Halpern’s psychotically funny Twitter account “S**t My Dad Says” (1.4 million followers and counting). That should tide you over until I give you your phone back (and maybe even long enough for the fall debut of the CBS sitcom starring William Shatner as the dad who says some sh*t).

disco ball Best Books For The Beach

(credit: Jupiter Images)

The “Politics With A Beat” Pick

“Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco,” Peter Shapiro
Faber and Faber

I know what you’re thinking. How can a book about disco be a better political book than, say, something by the late Howard Zinn? Well, it’s not, but this is beach reading and it should be a little bit fun, right? Peter Shapiro’s book isn’t just a celebration of one of pop history’s most denigrated forms of music. It’s also a rare examination of the rich confluence of movements that gave birth to an underground phenomenon. This fiercely intelligent book is also about the ruins of 1970s New York City, the rise of black and gay subcultures, and the powers that be co-opting a good thing for their own personal gain. It’s a universal story, so listen to the Universal Robot Band while perusing.

bonnie and clyde Best Books For The Beach

(credit: Warner Bros.)

The “Movie Star Sunglasses” Pick

“Pictures at a Revolution,” Mark Harris
Penguin | $17

Finally, a movie about Hollywood’s (other) Golden Age that’s won’t just appeal to the card-carrying film geeks. Author Mark Harris, who writes some of the only articles in Entertainment Weekly worth reading twice, pulls off a miraculous sleight of hand with his “Pictures at a Revolution.” He presents a vibrant, totally compelling portrait of Hollywood in a state of crisis, with the old guard stars standing their ground against the surging youth brigade. And he does so by limiting his focus on the five 1967 movies nominated for best picture Oscars — with the hip “Bonnie & Clyde” and “The Graduate” facing the retrograde “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” and “Doctor Doolittle,” with “In the Heat of the Night” representing the common ground. It’s absolutely fascinating, and offers some of the finest portraits I’ve ever read of Sidney Poitier, Katherine Hepburn and Warren Beatty.

julie kramer Best Books For The Beach

(credit: Julie Kramer Books)

Honorable Mention

“Silencing Sam,” Julie Kramer
Atria | $23.99

Full disclosure and the primary reason this selection wasn’t included in the master list of 10: Julie Kramer used to work at WCCO-TV as a producer. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying her latest crime thriller, her third novel. In “Silencing Sam,” TV reporter Riley Spartz investigates the shooting death of a much-loathed gossip columnist. Who’s a suspect? More to the point, who isn’t? Those of us who worked with Kramer may be biased when we say Kramer’s books are compulsively readable, but even laymen who never watch the news will have fun spotting Twin Cities references.

Eric Henderson is a web producer for WCCO.COM.

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