For even the most seasoned of book nerds, a trip to the beach can raise some difficult questions. After all, you don’t want to waste your precious vacation minutes reading something you’ll forget by the time your suntan fades, but a beach towel is also (probably) not the ideal location to tackle Ulysses. With this weekend marking the unofficial start of summer, Flavorwire has you covered with a list of twenty decidedly highbrow but still totally beach-appropriate books, all of which have come out in the months since last summer (or are about to hit shelves). Check out the list after the jump, and add your own favorite highbrow beach-reads in the comments.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Karen Russell
Short stories are perfect for beach reading — you read one story on the towel, take a dip. Come back to a brand new story, then back into the water. No extra scheduling required. Russell’s newest collection is extra-good for this purpose, what with its high concept, often magical stories, as playful as a day on the beach should be, if rather darker.
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, Teddy Wayne
Pop music and superstardom: now these are appropriate topics for beachside reading. Whether you’re a Belieber or a staunch skeptic, you’ll get a kick out of Teddy Wayne’s viciously funny novel of the trials and tribulations of an eleven-year-old pop superstar. It’ll even give you something to talk about with the people reading issue after issue of US Weekly.
Red Moon, Benjamin Percy
A literary werewolf novel set up as a fast-paced political allegory, this book is perfect for those who want a wildly entertaining tome that packs a punch for their beachside reading. It’s almost like a guilty pleasure, except you don’t have to feel guilty.
Night Film, Marisha Pessl
Here’s a sometimes-metafictional, always-addictive literary thriller that will probably make you forget the sun and sand and suck you completely into its dark, twisted little world. If you look up and you have a raging sunburn and it’s midnight, well, you were warned.
Broken Harbor, Tana French
If you’re a fan of the literary thriller, you’ve probably already devoured this book. But even if you balk at the genre, you might want to give this one a shot. You might never make it to the water, but that’s a small price to pay.
Dare Me, Megan Abbott
Hey, what’s more beach-friendly than cheerleaders? Well, maybe a whip-smart literary dissection of the raw rivalries and terrible truths of a certain kind of cheerleader. Yes, that.
This is How You Lose Her, Junot Díaz
For those who need a distraction from all the cute, semi-nude people on the beach, try a dip into Díaz’s most recent collection. His voice is as compelling and distinctive as ever, and you may just be convinced to reconsider talking to that alluring blonde over there (or maybe not).
It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, Patricia Engel
Engel’s first collection, Vida, is a warm, lush living thing that brought her much acclaim — and her forthcoming first novel, the story of an American girl from an immigrant family navigating life in Paris, is likely to be the same.
The Peripatetic Coffin, Ethan Rutherford
Ethan Rutherford knows a thing or two about the water. His own collection is sharp and funny, bathed in mistakes and folly and more humanity than you can shake a pool noodle at.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman
Nothing’s better for summer than a love affair. If you ever wondered what that guy could have possibly been thinking (or been that guy and still found yourself without a clue), you’ll probably laugh, scowl, and hide your eyes in equal measure as you page through this hilarious, smart-as-hell debut. An elegant, half-satirical, half-sweet novel about modern love, New York, gender roles, and muddling through.
Mermaid in Chelsea Creek, Michelle Tea
If you’re looking for a tough, smart YA book to while away the summer hours, look no further. At the very least, you’ll be glad that whatever body of water you’re reclining nearby isn’t Chelsea Creek.
Equilateral, Ken Kalfus
Overpackers, take heart: this weird little novel is slim enough to fit discreetly in the smallest of beach bags. Here’s the premise: a 19th century astronomer, desperate to make contact with Mars, begins work on digging a giant (read: visible from space) equilateral triangle in the Sahara, to be lit on fire as a kind of “hello, let’s be friends.” Based on historical incident (in part), it sounds just crazy enough to work.
The Fun Parts, Sam Lipsyte
Sam Lipsyte is one of the funniest authors writing today. So while there’s nothing particularly beachy about the predicaments his protagonists find themselves in (or Lipsyte’s view of the world), if you like to giggle on your beach towel, this may be the book for you.
The Teleportation Accident, Ned Beauman
A clever, hyper-inventive novel from the newly Granta-anointed Beauman, The Teleportation Accident is noir, it’s sci-fi, it’s romance, it’s comedy. Really, what more could you ask for?
The Other Typist, Suzanne Rindell
A rollicking black comedy of murder, power struggles and intrigue in Prohibition-era Manhattan, this one will keep you twisted up until the bitter end.
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker
Whoever thought that mystical creatures could have such complex inner lives? (Other than Joss Whedon, of course.) In Wecker’s gorgeous, blue-paged book, fantasy and historical fiction run smoothly against each other to tell the story of some pretty unusual immigrants — a Polish golem and a Syrian jinni — trying to make it in turn-of-the-century New York. Philosophical, strange, and seriously engrossing.
Life After Life, Kate Atkinson
One of the biggest books of the spring, everyone around the pool will be talking about Atkinson’s novel, so you might as well get in on the fun. With a fun, unusual premise — a girl lives and dies over and over again — and excellent, sharp execution, this one will stick around your mind longer than expected. You might even say, well, you know.
And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini
Here’s the buzz: And the Mountains Echoed is mega bestseller Khaled Hosseini’s best book yet, and another one that everyone will be talking about wherever they’re serving the pisco sours.
Night Terrors, Ashley Cardiff
For those whose summer vacations are not complete without a new, hilariously irreverent, wickedly funny voice to keep them company, take heart: Ashley Cardiff, whose smart, absurdist book has chapter titles like “How I Got Kicked Out of Catechism” and “The Man Who Forged a Dildo In His Own Image,” is here for you. Prepare for major snickering.
Babayaga, Toby Barlow
Spies, intrigue, and oh yes, witches, in 1950s Paris? Can’t go wrong with that. Especially when the author is Toby Barlow, whose phenomenal Sharp Teeth would make this list a million times over, had it not been published back in 2008. This book is slinking dark magic with a glowing ember at its heart.