The Austin Chronicle

Summer Fun: The Classic Beach Read

Recommendations for the ideal read when you're camped out on the sand

By Robert Faires, May 16, 2014, Arts

Summer of '75, and there's just one book everyone has to read: Jaws. Not because of Spielberg's movie – which, keep in mind, before its release was supposed to tank – but because Peter Benchley had found the mass market's pulpy pleasure center and jabbed it with a harpoon. Like Mario Puzo and Michael Crichton before him, Benchley had crafted a perfect recipe of drama, suspense, and violence, sprinkled with sex, then kept the literary hoohah to a minimum so that you sped through it like a sailfish chasing a squid. I worked in a used-book store, and the flood of paperbacks with the glossy great white coming in proved that Bantam, which paid $575,000 for the rights, got its money's worth. I consider it a classic beach read: pure escapism, easy on the gray cells, a little cheap, a little cheesy, races along, and you just can't put the damn thing down. Now, we can all use a beach read to make our summer fun, so we polled some literary pals for theirs. The responses may surprise you.

Famous Authors I Have Known, by James Magnuson (W.W. Norton) I'm just saying: I wouldn't want to be the only person at the beach without a copy of James Magnuson's Austin-based novel tucked under her arm. What a funny, smart romp! And if its character based on James Michener tickles your fancy, save room for Michener's own The Drifters, about hippie, ex-pat, draft-dodging drug fiends. If memory serves, it has some alarmingly good sexy bits in it. – Carrie Fountain, author of Burn Lake

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters (Riverhead)

If you like your guilty pleasures well written, this page-turner will please. Waters, a Booker prize finalist, delivers a spooky ghost story which includes lots of entertaining, creepy observations about British society in the day. Stephen King meets Downton Abbey. – Margaret Warner, librarian at St. Edward's University

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black (Little, Brown) I don't spend a lot of time frolicking under the rays of the big, burning thing in the sky, but if I had an ideal day at the beach, it'd be spent wearing a Victorian bathing suit – you think I'm joking, but I do own one – while hiding under a giant, black umbrella, sipping a cool, red drink, and reading Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Holly is one of my favorite writers. Her books are fun, intelligent, and fast reads. Besides, how could you go wrong with that title when it's 102 degrees in the shade? – Stina Leicht, author of And Blue Skies From Pain and Of Blood and Honey

The Years of Lyndon B. Johnson, Vol. IV: The Passage of Power, by Robert A. Caro (Alfred A. Knopf) Even at 600+ pages, this fourth volume of Caro's LBJ biography is compact in its time frame and as thrilling as a dark noir novella, or maybe an opera. Also handy for clubbing sea dragons to death. – Jesse Sublett, author of Grave Digger Blues

Emma, by Jane Austen Published in 1815, this is Austen's most perfect novel and a veritable Tardis to Regency England. An ideal "beach read," even though the comic plot never leaves landlocked Highbury and its heroine, "handsome, clever, and rich" Emma Woodhouse, admits never having seen the sea. So witty, you'll snicker out loud!

– Janine Barchas, author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity

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