21 Best Beach Reads of All Time You Need for Summer

It’s summer, y’all! Time to slather on that SPF and head to some sandy shore for the ultimate in summer relaxation: beach sittin’. But before you lug your lounge chair down the edge of the surf, you’ve gotta pack your bag. And you know what absolutely must be in that bag, right? Beach reads! At least one — definitely more if your beach day is more of a beach weekend (or work gods willing, a whole week!).

This means you’ll have to make room among the sunscreen, snacks, water bottles, towels, toys and everything else we tend to load ourselves down with like pack mules for a day of R&R by the sea. Still, even though space in your overstuffed tote is at a premium, it’s well worth your time to make sure you have a riveting book or two to while away in. Admittedly, we look forward to burying our toes in the sand and our nose in a good book all summer long.

Since you’re probably busy packing your beach bag already, we saved you some Google-time by pulling together a list of some of the best beach reads ever — books that transport you, books you can’t put down and, naturally, a few guilty pleasures, too. Enjoy!

‘The Beach House’ by Mary Alice Monroe (2006)

This is one of those classic stories about a woman who leaves the sleepy Southern town in which she was raised for a bigger, faster life somewhere else… somewhere without so much family drama. Only, that family beckons twenty years later, and the events that unfold at a beach house in the Lowcountry of South Carolina will draw you in and warm your soul. Plus, you can always feel good about reading Monroe’s books at the beach — the author is a major conservationist who is known for her tireless wildlife and marine ecosystem advocacy.

‘Beautiful Ruins’ by Jess Walter (2012)

Been dreaming of a trip to Italy but can’t justify splurging on the airfare? Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins will transport you to the sun-drenched Italian coastline, not to mention modern-day Hollywood. There is a robust cast of characters in this book (including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton), so you’re not likely to get bored. And it doesn’t hurt that the love story at the center of the book is constantly pushing and pulling, like the tide.

‘Big Little Lies’ by Liane Moriarty (2014)

Turned into a massive pop culture phenomenon of a TV series for HBO, Big Little Lies follows a group of women in Monterey, California, as the dark undercurrents of their seemingly frothy lives are explored. Moms, be forewarned; the characters — pot-stirrer Madeline, single mom Jane, picture-perfect Celeste — are wholly relatable and believable (albeit living with more privilege than most).

‘Circling the Sun’ by Paula McLain (2015)

In full disclosure, this is one of my personal favorites — if you crave escapism from a beach read, Circling the Sun has you covered. Beryl Markham, a real-life aviator given the historical fiction treatment, was born in England and brought to Kenya as a child. There, her mother abandons her and she is raised by her dad and a native tribe, becoming a wildly independent woman. Romance, travel, intrigue… it’s all there. If you’re feeling really adventurous, I recommend pairing this with Beryl Markham’s memoir, West with the Night.

‘The Da Vinci Code’ by Dan Brown (2006)

It’s been well over a decade since Dan Brown first introduced the world to Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (aka Tom Hanks, for those who’ve seen the film franchise), but The Da Vinci Code never gets old. The frenetic pace as Langdon scrambles through Europe to solve a cryptic spiritual mystery will keep your pulse pumping. Not to mention, this is the kind of book where little details seem to reveal themselves to you anew with every read.

‘The Devil Wears Prada’ by Lauren Weisberger (2006)

We couldn’t very well create a list of must-have beach reads without including this one. If you’ve seen the 2006 film starring Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep, you already have faces in mind for the main characters in this story of a small town girl who moves to New York City to be a journalist — only to become proverbially shackled to the desk of the most terrifying magazine editor in town. If you haven’t seen the movie, well, now you’ve got a mental picture; dive in!

‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)

If you watched the Julia Roberts film by the same name but never actually read Elizabeth Gilbert’s charismatic memoir, it’s time to remedy that. Over the years, it’s developed a reputation for being a love-it-or-hate-it kind of book. But if you believe in or need more radical self-love in your life (and some dreamy travel inspo, to boot), Eat, Pray, Love will captivate you.

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles (2019)

Yes, this book was just published and we are 100 percent declaring it one of the best beach reads of all time. Because, you guys, it’s fantastic. The titular gentleman is Count Alexander Rostov, an entitled aristocrat who has been sentenced to a lifetime of exile in a luxury hotel. Author Amor Towles paints such a vivid picture with every scene that you almost feel as though you are there in Russia with Rostov. And, really, what more could you ask for in a beach read?

‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn (2012)

If your idea of the best beach read possible is one that will have you setting up camp on the shores just to finish another 50 pages, toss Gone Girl in your bag. ICYMI, it was made into a little movie starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and, well, the book is even better than the critically acclaimed film. See also: Anything by Gillian Flynn is a solid choice.  

‘Good in Bed’ by Jennifer Weiner (2001)

Any proper lover of chick-lit knows that Jennifer Weiner’s books are the best kind of literary indulgence: witty, light and fun while still touching on relevant themes for the modern woman. Good in Bed centers on plus-sized Cannie Shapiro, a pop culture reporter who re-writes her own story after a bad breakup. If your go-to beach read genre is romance, you’ll breeze right through this one.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen (1813)

I mean, right? You cannot get more classic than the tale of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. It’s witty, it’s flirty, it’s romantic, it’s lovely — it’s everything. And since there is no such thing as having read it too many times, you can just carve out a permanent space for Pride and Prejudice in your beach bag.

‘Jaws’ by Peter Benchley (1973)

Feel like living on the edge? This classic book by Peter Benchley turned movie series by Steven Spielberg will still send a chill up your spine. Sure, you may not be brave enough to actually venture into the ocean during your beach trip, but that’s why you brought a book along. Catch up on your reading (while keeping a watchful eye on your loved ones and, you know, anyone on one of those banana boat float things).

‘The Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan (1989)

Having read this during a beach trip when I was a teen, I felt I’d be remiss not to include such a sentimental classic in the mix. This bestselling, intergenerational tale holds mothers and daughters at its heart. It follows four Chinese women who, after immigrating to San Francisco, start a tradition of playing mahjong while sharing their lives with each other. An enlightening study of the immigrant experience, The Joy Luck Club is also about the intersection of the older generation and the younger generation (not to mention the shared female experience).

‘Little Fires Everywhere’ by Celeste Ng (2017)

Another newer tome to make the cut, Little Fires Everywhere has created the kind of buzz that makes it a no-brainer. In keeping with the title, know going in that this is a bit of a slow burn as Ng sharply draws each character in the placid Ohio suburb in which the story takes place. But, suffice it to say that once the story of intersecting mothers and secrets and identity politics heats up, you won’t be able to put it down. Read it now before the TV version starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington hits Hulu next year.

‘The Penelopiad’ by Margaret Atwood (2005)

Are you as obsessed with The Handmaid’s Tale as we are? If so, you understand how brilliant Margaret Atwood is at creating a world that you don’t necessarily want to inhabit, but you absolutely want to visit through prose. The Penelopiad is a great alternative to some of Atwood’s darker, dystopian fare. It’s a fictionalized retelling of The Odyssey by Homer through the eyes of his wife Penelope that feels surprisingly current… which, you know, is kind of Atwood’s thing. 

‘The Secret Life of Bees’ by Sue Monk Kidd (2001)

Set in the ‘60s when the civil rights movement was just starting to take hold, The Secret Life of Bees is a coming of age tale about a young girl named Lily Owens. At least, that’s what it’s about on the surface, along with spirituality, the divine female power, race relations and forgiveness. Like so many of Sue Monk Kidd’s books, though, The Secret Life of Bees celebrates mothers in all their forms.

‘Sullivan’s Island’ by Dorothea Benton Frank (1999)

The first book in Dorothea (aka “Dottie”) Benton Frank’s Lowcountry Tales series is set on an idyllic sea island just off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. The main character? The delightfully Southern and unapologetically sassy Susan Hayes, who returns to her childhood beach home when life gets complicated. Frank paints such a detailed picture of the area and its inhabitants (she’s a local, so she speaks from her own truth) that you’ll want to map out a visit immediately. And if your summer travels do bring you to the beaches of Charleston, try to catch Frank at a speaking engagement — she’s even funnier in person than you picture she would be while reading her witty words.

‘Summer Sisters’ by Judy Blume (2006)

To be clear, Summer Sisters isn’t on the list because it’s the most intellectual or thought-provoking. It’s a nostalgic choice — the kind of book that reminds you of lazy, hazy days of your own youth hanging out with your BFF. If you grew up reading Judy Blume, you’ll undoubtedly file this under an every-summer-at-least-once beach pick. It’s a quick and easy read too, making it the ideal way to kickstart your summer reading.

‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion (2013)

Did you love The Big Bang Theory? Are you sad the series ended? Well, we’ve got just the thing to comfort you: Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project. The protagonist, Don, is smart and quirky in equal measure, much like TBBT’s Sheldon. And, much like Sheldon, Don is socially awkward (he doesn’t realize it, but he has Asperger’s syndrome). The book focuses on what happens when a neighbor suggests Don should be married, so he very methodically creates a questionnaire to help himself find a wife. 

‘The Rules of Magic’ by Alice Hoffman (2017)

It goes without saying that Practical Magic should be something you’ve read so many times you’ve internalized it. No need to bring it to the beach since it lives inside of you. Now, having said that, you must pick up a copy of The Rules of Magic to stow in your beach bag. Alice Hoffman’s long-awaited follow-up to that first beloved book revisits the Owens family, finding them in New York City during the ‘60s. As in, yes, you get to see the world through the eyes of young Franny and Jet, as well as their lesser-known brother Vincent.

‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens (2018)

Honest to goodness, we wouldn’t care if this was published yesterday; it would still make the list. It’s that good. Set against the stunning backdrop of a quiet town on the North Carolina coast, Where the Crawdads Sing weaves an irresistible story about a wild young woman known as the Marsh Girl and what happens when she opens herself up to the world — and all the good and bad that comes with it. Did we mention there’s a murder mystery in there, too? Wrap all of that up in an almost lyrical writing style. We’re hooked!

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