18 Fiction Books to Read at the Beach, As Chosen by Authors

This week, Vulture is providing Summer Selections: picks for the best beach-worthy books, comics, music, and podcasts of the past 18 months (and a few older ones for good measure, too), as chosen by creators of that entertainment. Today we’re highlighting fiction books; here’s our panel:

Matthew Gallaway is the author of #gods and The Metropolis Case.

Dana Schwartz is the author of young-adult novel And We’re Off. She lives in New York City.

Matt Bell is the author most recently of the novel Scrapper and the story collection A Tree or a Person or a Wall. His previous novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, was a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award. A native of Michigan, he now teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

Lesley Nneka Arimah is the author of the story collection What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. Her work has received grants and awards from Commonwealth Writers, AWP, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and others. She currently lives in Minneapolis.


Before Everything by Victoria Redel
Victoria Redel has always been a fantastic prose writer, someone whose books I go to as much for the sentences as for her excellent stories. Her newest novel Before Everything is not just beautifully written but also intensely moving, telling the interweaved stories of a group of five lifelong friends as one of them enters hospice care after treatment for cancer. —Bell

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Vacations are a time for escapism, and that’s where you should turn to Rainbow Rowell’s story within a story, Carry On. Carry On originally appeared in Fangirl, as the protagonist Cather’s increasingly popular fanfiction, Carry On, Simon Snow. Now, we, the readers, get to experience the full Simon Snow story — a story about magic and teenagers in love with as much humor and sweetness as you’d expect in anything Rowell writes. —Schwartz

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dudley
In 1958, Elaine Dudley wrote a story of an American abroad in Paris that feels as uncomfortably relatable as an episode of Girls. Sally Jay Gorce dyes her hair pastel pink and navigates landlords and lovers with a self-awareness that makes you wish you were half as funny as she is. The first scene, in which Sally deals with a mansplaining old crush of hers over drinks, could be a transcript of every single Bumble date that has ever happened in Manhattan. —Schwartz

The Evening Road by Laird Hunt
The three loosely related novels Laird Hunt has published since 2012 — Kind One, Neverhome, and The Evening Road — are perhaps my favorite recent body of work by an American author. The Evening Road is difficult subject matter — its story revolves around a historical lynching in Indiana — but its two women narrators are both intensely memorable characters, and through them Hunt deftly explores both the present evils and the possible grace of humanity. —Bell

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
My favorite of Hamid’s novels since his debut Moth Smoke, Exit West is a brilliant depiction of a marriage forged by a refugee crisis and then threatened by the same experience. Its intelligently deployed surreal elements are also the best examples I’ve seen lately of how the nonrealistic is sometimes the best way to depict how an experience feels, as opposed to just the facts of what it is. Bell

Hole in the Middle by Kendra Fortmeyer
Fortmeyer is the author of one of my favorite short stories (“Mermaids at the End of the Universe”) and I’ve been dying to see what she’d do with a novel-length book as her playground. As with her stories, the novel hangs on a fabulist premise: a girl born with a literal hole in her middle. —Arimah

Made for Love by Alissa Nutting
A confession: This is my own next summer read, which means I haven’t finished it yet — but I saw Nutting read an early chapter from it several years ago in Michigan — a surprisingly tender and funny chapter about protagonist Hazel’s geriatric father and his lifelike sex doll — and I’ve been waiting to read the book ever since. Her previous novel Tampa is one of the smartest and bravest (and most challenging) books of the past ten years. I’m hoping Made for Love is even better. —Bell

Maiden Voyage by Denton Welch
First published in 1943, Maiden Voyage is the autobiographical story of an upper-class 16-year-old English schoolboy who gets kicked out of boarding school and takes a luxury liner to Shanghai. Witty, precocious, and filled with hot gay sailors, Denton Welch’s presciently timeless writing makes you appreciate all the sweetness life has to offer. —Gallaway

Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
The haunting, vivid poems of Ocean Vuong are a good way to take a break from the onslaught of words so many of us face in our daily lives. Read a page or two of this short book and put it back in your tote. Stare at the waves. Remember that language can be beautiful and mythological. As with any good vacation, you won’t want this book to end. —Gallaway

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Consider Outlander to be your no-shame bodice ripper. It’s available in every Hudson News in the world (usually beside its equally thick sequels) and thanks to a Starz adaptation and its historical 1745 setting — focused on the Scottish Jacobite risings — you get to read about sexy, muscled Scottish men and horseback riding, and still feel like you’re getting your fiber in with the sugared cereal. —Schwartz

Paper Girls, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan
My literary diet includes a steady stream of graphic novels and comics and this one flew under my radar until recently. At the outset, it’s reminiscent of (but predates) Stranger Things in setting and tone, following four girls dealing with time-traveling gone awry. The first couple of issues are a shaky start, but the series found its legs and I’m all in. —Arimah

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
The Queen of the Night, by Alexander Chee, is a twisted 19th-century French drama about a courtesan turned famed soprano, Lilliet Berne, who journeys from orphaned Midwesterner to circus performer to socialite. The prose is luminous as candlelight, and the massive novel achieves the ultimate vacation criteria: thick enough to occupy you for an entire trip, and brilliant enough to make sure you don’t need to bother with a second, just-in-case book. —Schwartz

September Girls by Bennett Madison
What better place than the beach to read about sassy, teenage mermaids? Bennett Madison’s September Girls perfectly embodies the dreamy adoration that novelists have felt for these otherworldly creatures going all the way back to Marcel Proust’s obsession with Albertine and her impish friends on the boardwalk à la plage. —Gallaway

Speedboat by Renata Adler
Did Renata Adler invent social media? Maybe not literally, but spiritually for sure. Written by a NYC-based newspaper reporter in the 1970s, the episodic, blog-like narrative of Speedboat doesn’t have much a traditional plot, but the narration — strangely, familiarly addictive — reverberates with a kind of urban contingency that makes the most sense when viewed from afar. —Gallaway

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
A portrait of a marriage burdened by deceptions, interfering in-laws and childlessness. A stunner of a book. Adebayo captures the Zeitgeist of a modern Nigerian woman confronted with tradition. At turns hilarious and heartbreaking. —Arimah

The Visitors by Simon Sylvester
It’s a love story, a mystery, and something of an anthropological study of a tiny Scottish island. Sylvester shares a Neil Gaiman–style reverence for mythology — the island of Bancree is shadowed with magic and uncertainty. If mermaids have become too basic in recent years, reading The Visitors is a good way to get onboard with the “selkie” trend. —Schwartz

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Han Kang’s The Vegetarian is a terrifying and moving book, with Kang often reading like a contemporary heir to Kafka’s most discomfiting modes. No other book disturbed me more this year, and Kang’s depiction of her narrator’s defiant assertion of her own agency to no longer eat meat (and the constant attempts of her family members to take everything from her) will both thrill and enrage readers. —Bell

The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic by Nick Joaquin
The stories of Nick Joaquin — considered by many the greatest English-language Filipino writer of the 20th century — are magical, political, violent, and subversive. Like a week at the beach, this newly released collection reminds us that there’s an entire world beyond the daily grind of New York City, much of it more fantastic than our own. —Gallaway

18 Fiction Books to Read at the Beach, As Chosen by Authors