There’s a certain state of nirvana that can only be achieved after spending hours reading and swimming, and reading, and swimming, at the beach. This cycle of hot and cold, inaction and action, helps the mind and body slip into a particularly euphoric state of relaxation, and it often results in a prolonged nap. It’s an inactivity that I long for all year.
This summer, instead of compiling a list of my favorite beach reads as I have in the past, I wanted to open it up to a few guests. So I asked some of my most well-read friends and family to suggest their favorites. What are the books they’d take to the beach to help get achieve this relaxation state?
These recommendations come from journalists, farmers, filmmakers, creatives and other generally smart people. They represent a much more diverse set of interests and opinions than I could offer. So go out there, get swimming, get reading and get relaxing.
Thy Neighbor’s Wife by Gay Talese. The controversy over Gay Talese’s The Voyeur’s Motel keeps raging, and if you somehow missed The New Yorker excerpt, you need to go read it. But when you pick your jaw up off the floor, I think you should start with Thy Neighbor’s Wife while lounging on your Fatboy. Talese documents the rise of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy empire, mans the front desk in a New York City massage parlor, takes part in a California free love community, goes for a dip at a nudist camp while his neighbors watch, and narrates the federal government's long, authoritarian fixation with public decency. As with all his best work, he’s not just a reporter, but a participant–even as his reporting puts his marriage on the line. - Paul, editor at Quartz.
When I have a long stretch - a vacation ahead of me of more than a few days, I like nothing better than to grab an Ivan Doig novel - these books are set in the American west - from early settlers to those that were part of the great public works projects of the Roosevelt era. Doig's characters are rich, complex and really get in your head with authentic dialogue and thoughts - that provide the reader with a view into another time and place in American history.
My favorites? This House of Sky and The Sea Runners. Sea Runners is about a deep remote part of history between Canada, the U.S. and Russia in an extreme remote place... Serious survival story. - Kimberly, Osprey Hill Farm Vermont.
The Bed Moved by Rebecca Schiff. This sexy new collection of 23 stories by a first-time Brooklyn writer is subversive and funny, crisply capturing the bizarre intersections of love, lust, death and technology.
- David, reporter at The New York Times.
Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance. He's a real life superhero, and it's an amazing snapshot of an incredible tale unfolding now with huge implications for life on this planet (and also Mars). A biography may sound like homework, but there's drama and intrigue to keep the pages turning.
- Georges, executive director, Crane Institute of Sustainability.
Matt Bai's All the Truth is Out. His story of the week in 2007 of piranha media takedown of Gary Hart is more than a cautionary tale - It's a convincing indictment of how we got the depraved politics we deserve.
-John, editor at Vermont Public Radio.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh. This webcomic-turned-book is eminently quotable, tremendously funny, touching, sad, happy, wacky, wise and many other things I could list, but they say lists are the laziest form of writing and I'd do Ms. Brosh a disservice associating her work with any such thing. Come for the hilarious cartoons, stay for the razor-sharp prose. Read it. Love it.
- Amy, reporter at Reuters.
Down the River by Edward Abbey. I love reading books that have a connection to whatever geographical space I am in so in the summer, when I am spending a lot of time alone in the mountains, I often bring one of Edward Abbey's books of essays along. Two of my favorites are The Journey Home and Down the River. And I always bring a copy of Desert Solitaire when we go to Southern Utah. Abbey puts words to some of the ideas that spin around in my head all day long and inspires new ways to look at the landscape around me in a writing style that never feels dry or yawn-inducing.
- Amelia, Carin Cartography.
The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier
In the early 50’s, two friends travel from Geneva to Pakistan in a tiny Fiat. Whenever I smugly think of my own teenage trip overland to Istanbul, or my year and a half in the middle east and India, I remember that I’ve never rebuilt a carburetor, bivouacked in northern Iran for an entire winter, or been forced to use the handbrake to descend the failed roads of the Khyber Pass.
-Trent, development at St. Paul’s School.
Amnesiascope by Steve Erickson. Anarchic and eroticized rendering of a mid-apocalyptic near-future Los Angeles. Perfect for a languid read in what is shaping up to be yet another hottest summer ever recorded.
-Michelle, director at American Express Global Business Travel.
My book recommendation would be Barbarian Days by William Finnegan, and the Big Money trilogy by John dos Passos, which is from a lessor recognized author in the American cannon, due to his leftist leanings, but he writes well about the heady days of the teens and twenties in America.
- Mac, United Nations.