summer selections 2016

19 Engrossing Nonfiction Books to Read at the Beach This Summer

This week, Vulture is providing Summer Selections: picks for the best beach-worthy books, comics, music, and podcasts of the past 18 months, as chosen by creators of that entertainment. Today we’re highlighting nonfiction books; here’s our panel:

Colin Dickey is the author of three books of nonfiction, including the forthcoming Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places.

Sarah Knight is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have With People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do.

Shea Serrano is a writer who wrote The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed. He’s six-foot-four and has a lot of muscles. More muscles than you’re expecting.


Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution by Jonathan Abrams
The title is super-long and academic-sounding, which is usually intimidating to me. But, man, Abrams is such a fantastic writer that you’re reading these very engaging stories and by the end of it, you’re like, “Oh fuck, I just learned so much stuff.” That’s really one of my favorite ways to feel about a book when I’m done with it. —Serrano

But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman
It’s a book about how, maybe, the stuff we think we know for certain isn’t all the way correct (or even a little bit of the way correct). I’ll buy every Chuck Klosterman book that ever comes out. My favorite thing to do is read a chapter in his book, then steal all of his thoughts and ideas and pretend I just came up with them spontaneously in conversation with my family members at get-togethers. —Serrano

The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon
In this lively romp through 70 years of Batmania — from Gotham detective to camp sensation to raspy Dark Knight — NPR book critic and Pop Culture Happy Hour panelist Weldon explores what makes the iconic character tic, and what it all says about us, the fans. A perfect literary accompaniment to summer blockbuster season. —Knight

The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper
This is a tricky suggestion to make because part of me doesn’t want to tell anyone about it out of pettiness. I remember reading this book when it came out, like, “Shit, man, Hopper is so much smarter than me.” I like when writers make me feel like that, but I also don’t like it, you know what I’m saying? —Serrano

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Recommending this book feels a lot like recommending that people try breathing or drinking water, in that when you’re recommending something to someone it probably shouldn’t be something that everyone has already heard of. But still, I never saw Hamilton and will likely never see Hamilton since I live 1,400 miles away, so this has to be good enough, I suppose. (Sidebar: I had no idea how big of a star Lin-Manuel was until recently. Him and I would trade DMs on Twitter about hoodrat shit, so I was just like, “Oh, this is just one of my Latino homies.” Then I saw him with the president.) —Serrano

I Know What I’m Doing — and Other Lies I Tell Myself: Dispatches From a Life Under Construction by Jen Kirkman
As in her stand-up, Kirkman displays and deconstructs her own neuroses, whether it’s finding her first gray pubic hair or Facebook-stalking the 20-year-old drummer with whom she just had a one-night stand. She muses about life after divorce, turning 40, and living life on her own terms, even when those terms are weird AF. —Knight

I, Little Asylum by Emmanuelle Guattari, translated by E.C. Belli
Daughter of the famous French psychoanalyst Félix Guattari (well, he’s famous in France, anyway), Emmanuelle Guattari grew up on the grounds of the mental institution where her father worked. This book is less a coming-of-age memoir and more a series of sketches, impressions of childhood, and perfectly tuned insights. A fantastic choice for a warm Saturday afternoon in the park. —Dickey

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
Sometimes you want to buck the trend of light-and-breezy summer reading and spend your long days immersed in something hefty and thought-provoking. Andrea Wulf has got you covered. After all, the natural world is bursting with life all around us. Don’t you want to learn about the guy who was responsible for so much of our thinking about nature? —Dickey

Live Fast Die Hot by Jenny Mollen
Mollen is the voice behind @jennyandteets, which is chock-full of potty humor, sexual innuendo, and bad behavior. If you like this kind of thing — which I do — you’ll inhale her memoir like an illegal substance (which the author has also likely inhaled at one time or another). Sharp, saucy, and mildly disturbing, she reminds me of a young, psychotic Nora Ephron. —Knight

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
When I went to buy this book at the Strand in NYC, the booksellers told me it could be found on the “Beach Reads” table. Apparently, the beach is where you go when you want to be alone, when you want to read about loneliness, and when you want to get lost in Laing’s gorgeous, heartbreaking prose. This book is a reminder that you’re never truly alone when you’re lonely, and that being lonely can also be wonderful. —Dickey

Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea by Teffi, translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler
Teffi’s memoir of her 1918 flight from the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution is not just a gripping page-turner. It’s also a chronicle of watching things go sideways and the speed at which everything can fall apart. At the start of the book, the situation doesn’t seem that bad; by the end, she’s writing after the apocalypse, and it’s not at all clear where the turning point was. For a summer when we seem to be on the verge of so much apocalypse ourselves, this should be required reading. —Dickey

My Voice: A Memoir by Angie Martinez
I’m looking forward to reading Angie Martinez’s memoir. She’s great on the radio and has been in the hustle forever, so I imagine she has some stories in there that you can’t find anywhere else. Plus, I always enjoy the come-up story. They make me happy. —Serrano

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller
I bought this book hoping that the new kind of baseball team Lindbergh and Miller were building was a basketball team because I don’t know anything about baseball and probably don’t like baseball. Turned out, it was not. Still fun to read. —Serrano

Real Artists Have Day Jobs (and Other Awesome Things They Don’t Teach You in School) by Sara Benincasa
With chapters such as “Life Is Too Short for Shitty Friends” and “When You Don’t Know What to Do, Ask a Successful Woman,” Benincasa’s hilarious self-help manifesto is full of wide-ranging advice based on all the times she’s messed up and a few times when she got it right. She’s like a crash-test dummy for aspiring artists, with the mouth of a sailor, a heart of gold, and three tramp stamps. —Knight

The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial by Maggie Nelson
Every bit as gripping as a true-crime book, but infinitely more complex and rewarding. Nelson’s aunt was murdered before she was born, and the crime had long been thought to be the work of a serial killer convicted of a different murder. But in 2004, her family was informed that a DNA match had turned up a new suspect. Nelson, who’d already written of her aunt’s death in a book of poetry, chronicles the trial and its aftermath, raising questions of truth, justice, and memory. —Dickey

Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West
What can I say? I’m a sucker for a loud woman, and this book is as advertised. Shrill is one of my favorite reads of the year so far. It made me think, cry, and belly-laugh — a triple threat. As far as I’m concerned, Lindy West is a national treasure in red lipstick and a platinum topknot. —Knight

The Surrender by Scott Esposito
Esposito’s book, a “collection of facts” chronicling his desire to become a woman, is as lovely as it is thoughtful, a serious inquiry into gender and identity that still manages a light touch. Weaving memoir with film reviews, philosophy, and literary criticism, Esposito takes you on his journey and in the process leaves you with a much better understanding of yourself. —Dickey

The Wonder Trail: True Stories From Los Angeles to the End of the World by Steve Hely
Hely collects colorful anecdotes like black pants collect cat hair. Sort of a genteel Anthony Bourdain or a goofy Robert Louis Stevenson, he has a knack for short-form humor. Each story in this zany travelogue can be easily finished between margaritas at the pool or serves on the beach-volleyball court, which are excellent qualities in a summer read. —Knight

Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life by Steven Hyden
I enjoyed this book a bunch because Hyden doesn’t spend a great deal of energy deciding who won particular pop-music rivalries. He just talks about them and explains what they might mean or might not mean and why that might be important or might not be important. It’s real fun to read. —Serrano

19 Great Nonfiction Books to Read This Summer