The sign of a true nerd: He or she doesn’t remember a beach trip based on bitchin’ waves or a hot summer fling. Nerds get nostalgic over beach reads.
Here are the top ten favorite books I’ve read at the beach (in no particular order).
The Scar by China Mieville
This was my first—and still my favorite—Mieville novel. The Scar is an autonomous novel set in the ‘New Crobuzon’ universe. Actually, it takes place on a floating city of ships connected together into Venetian-style neighborhoods. The book is teeming with Mieville’s typically brain-bending fantasy, and his eye-crossingly dense (and fascinating) prose. But don’t let bulk of the craft discourage you. At its heart, The Scar, is a rollicking-good adventure yarn. Kick off your flip-flops and prepare to have your buckles swashed!
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
Some people might say that this book isn’t conducive to beach reading, what with its painstaking and painful recreations of what it’s like to drown. I say it’s never a bad time to dust off this classic narrative nonfiction account of a fishing vessel that, in 1991, disappeared in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime convergence of lethal storms.
Gyo by Junji Ito
Or, as it’s subtitled: ‘The Death-Stench Creeps.’ Okay, at this point you’re probably questioning my taste in beach books. This Japanese comic is told from the POV of a boy who finds out his girlfriend is haunted by a horrible fishy odor. (Umm. Whuh?) That’s pretty creepy in and of itself, but then her island home is overrun by chimeric sea-creature zombies.
Ito writes weird, truly disturbing, stuff, and illustrates it beautiful. If you’ve never heard of it, do yourself a favor and Google one of his other classic series, the Uzumaki Manga.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
A young-adult book that I read recently on a trip to Jekyll Island. It follows the teen progeny of a wealth New England family who own a private island estate. A very clean, lyrical writing style that builds to a surprising and haunting end.
Killer Elite by Ranulph Fiennes
Here’s me when I read this book: “Whoa! I can’t believe this stuff really happened!” Well, it seems that this novel, ‘based on true events,’ is too good to be true. The story is sparked by a modern Arab royal who is pressured into fulfilling an ancient tradition of vengeance on the specific British soldiers who may or may not have killed his sons during a military engagement. He reluctantly hires an all-star team of hitmen, who carry out the vendetta to vary degrees of success. Their final target was is the author himself. (Umm. Double Whuh?) Their appears to be a mire of controversy surrounding this book, and I had a difficult time parsing through all of it. It seems that most of the assassins’ targets are real British veterans who died of seemingly accidental ways, and the many Britons are upset that Fiennes would conjecture that foul play was involved.
Horns by Joe Hill
Maybe my favorite straight-up horror read (of the last few years anyway). Ig is wholeheartedly devoted to his girlfriend. He’s devastated when she’s killed, and more devastated when most people in his hometown (including his own parents) believe he is the murderer. Ig’s despair turns blasphemous, and he finds himself cursed with horns growing out of his forehead—and strangely blessed with inhibition-negating superpowers which might help him find the true killer. Joe Hill covers a lot of ground, flipping between time-frames and POVs including a switch from the bedeviled protagonist to a whole section of the book that follows a creepily realistic (and narcissistic) villain.
Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden
Like The Perfect Storm, this is another famously riveting example of narrative nonfiction. Bowden ‘un-splinters’ the stories of dozens of U.S. Army Rangers caught in a chaotic firefight that covers a full day and a few city blocks in the Somalian port city of Mogadishu. You’ll often have to refer to the index of names at the end of this book, but cross-referencing has never been so exhilarating.
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
What nerdy book-list would be complete without a little George R.R. Martin? This was the second book in the epic series, featuring the Battle of the Blackwater, which was a scene I read while in watching container ships pass by in Hilton Head.
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
A sci-fi story that is uniquely character-driven and earthbound. Our planet is trapped in a gigantic bubble, glued in time, while the rest of the universe whizzes by, millions of years per day. This book, written in 2010, finds some fascinating ways to play with the passage of time. One of the most serious dilemmas facing the young main characters: At this rate, the sun will die of old age before they do.
Beach edited by Gideon Bosker and Lena Lencek
A collection of stories about (you guessed it) beaches. There are some great classics in here: Salinger, John Cheever, J.G. Ballard, Rachel Carson, John Updike, and John Steinbeck. If you’re a fan of short stories, or the Golden Age of ‘Modern’ literature (1930-1970), you can’t go wrong with this one.