Don’t Call it a Beach Book: The Best Summer Reads of 2017

There’s the sort of reading one does by the fireplace, fully slippered and sipping snifters of cinnamon Goldschläger, and then there are the books that are made for beer rings and potato chip stains. For cracked spines, dog-eared covers, and page-turning chapters so engrossing, they end up turning that carefully monitored tan into a roaring, hammock-cursing sunburn. The more lowish-browed among us might deem them “beach books,” but we’re going to take our cue from old Mrs. Finkelmeyer’s 4th grade English class, and refer to them simply as “Summer Reading.”

But rather than stick to the same old predictable standbys every one of these lists seems to throw your way (how many times can Esquire have us read The Wind in the Willows, damnit!), we’re going to mix it up a little, and suggest a few grown-up titles that even old Mrs. Finkelmeyer, in all her wisdom and laudatory gold stars, never could have imagined. So hunker down, get those beers on ice, and for the love of God, use at least SPF 30. You’re going to need it. There’s a book in here for every kind of guy. Well, almost.

For the armchair philosopher with a taste for gin:

Spurious, by Lars Iyer.

No, don’t be fooled by all the Kierkegaard references—this book is funny as sh*t. And far from delving too far into the vagaries of philosophy, it’s mostly the story of two failed academics who get out of their gourds on Plymouth gin and insult one another to great effect. Sly British wit with a nice side of existential crisis. You’ll laugh your ass off.

For the reader who thinks Fitzgerald isn’t contemporary literature:

I’d Die for You, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The good folks at Scribner got together some of Fitzgerald’s unpublished, undiscovered stories and released them this spring as a collection. Think of it as listening to a Mozart concerto lost for centuries in a library, viewing a Van Gogh found in the back of an attic, or stumbling upon a 1987 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue with Elle Macpherson at top form. This is it—minus Elle Macpherson, of course.

For the aspiring (erotic) alpinist:

Solo Faces, by James Salter.

Now, most of these lists always throw in A Sport and a Pastime, which is very good—not to mention, shall we say, a little on the PG-13 side. But Solo Faces is another James Salter classic, and it deals mostly with mountain climbing . . . with some “adult situations” on the side. Some have said this is the best novel ever written about mountaineering, and while we’ve admittedly never climbed Everest, we’re inclined to agree.

For the FBI applicant who took too many controlled substances:

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy, by Nicholas Reynolds.

Yes, we all know Hemingway was a real “man’s man,” who drove bulls and fought ambulances and beat Fidel Castro in a slam-dunk contest . . . or something like that. But this non-fiction book uncovers some previously unknown intel on the legendary scribe: he was also a spy, working for multiple intelligence agencies. A must-read for Hemingway fans and espionage aficionados alike, not to mention every one of us who could have been a damn-good secret agent if it hadn’t been for Freshman year.

For the guy who merely took too many controlled substances:

Jesus’ Son, by Denis Johnson.

In light of the author’s recent passing, and the fact that it’s just one incredible book, we felt we had to include this one on the list. If you haven’t read it, you should. And if you have, read it again. These simple, haunting stories show the human side of the grittier parts of American life.

For the reluctant banker who’d rather be in the South Pacific with a French girl:

Castle of Water, by Dane Huckelbridge.

Forget Robinson Crusoe—this modern day castaway story has twists and turns a-plenty, and a French accent that’s sure to please even the most rabid Francophile. Set alternately in the 10th arrondissement of Paris and a forgotten island just south of the equator, it’s literary fiction that’s actually fast-paced enough for the beach. And if it doesn’t make you want to quit your job, buy a set of oil paints, and set off in search of Paul Gauguin’s final resting place in Polynesia, nothing will.

For the erstwhile bohemian who longs for 1960s Greenwich Village:

Another Country, by James Baldwin.

This book is important for more than a few reasons, although one of its more pleasurable aspects is the window it provides onto the unseen, underground world of New York’s Greenwich Village in its prime. Artists, hipsters, beatniks, poets, all doing things that these days you’d have to go out to Bed-Stuy or Red Hook to be able to afford.

For the “Magnum P.I.” fan who wants to up his game:

Missing Person, by Patrick Modiano.

Although he’s a literary stand-out in Europe, Modiano is not as well known here in America—which is our loss. But his work is available in translation, and it’s definitely worth the read. In Missing Person, he puts a unique spin on the classic detective novel, with a character suffering from amnesia who is actually searching for his own identity. Great for dark, stormy, summer nights.

For the dude who’s already read Blood Meridian like six times:

Child of God, by Cormac McCarthy.

We won’t mince words—this one is creepy. But with Cormac McCarthy, creepy is good. Summer loves a horror story, and this one set in the wilds of Appalachia is about as horrific as it gets. But make no mistake: this is great literature. And since you’ve already read Blood Meridian, why not try one of his lesser-known works?

For a flat-out literary thriller that’s actually well-written:

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, by Hannah Tinti.

Twelve bullet scars mark the father of this book’s protagonist, and that alone is a dozen good reasons to read it. Fast-paced, well-researched, and page-turning to the end, this is a father-daughter story with plenty of felonies thrown in for good measure. The sort of book you can enjoy, much like that half-drunk old bottle of Cutty Sark under the beach house sink, in just a few sittings.

For the science fiction fanatic who wants to see where it all began:

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury.

There is a lot of bad science fiction out there, but some of it truly stands out not just as fiction, but as literature of the finest order. When this book was translated into Spanish, Jorge Luis Borges wrote the introduction—that’s how good it is. From Star Wars to Alien, almost all of our most beloved films and books of the genre owe something to this seminal work.

So, is that enough reading to keep you out of trouble this summer? Good. Now, if they only still had BOOK IT! for that personal pan pizza…