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Unlikely Beach Reads

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An 800-page biography doesn’t immediately spring to mind as the perfect beach read… unless you’re Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The playwright and musician read Ron Chernow’s epic portrait of Alexander Hamilton during a Mexican vacation and turned it into a smash-hit musical a few years later.

So, as our thoughts turn to beach reads, we’re thinking about some non-traditional choices. We asked our NYPL experts: “What’s your recommendation for a long, dense, serious beach book?”

Page-turners

Shadow Wind

Just finished Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind, and though I read it in places like the subway and my couch, it strikes me as being a great serious beach read. Fast-moving and surprising, it will keep you reading despite beach distractions, yet is smart and mind engaging as well. A Barcelona boy seeks information on an author and is lead into a world of lost loves, crime, and madness. And since it takes place in the underworld of the Barcelona booksellers community, this is a book for book lovers. —Danita Nichols, Inwood

 

 

 

 

Little Life

I am loving A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s the story of four college roommates—young, broke, and full of ambition—who move to New York City.  Each young man has his own path full of triumphs and tragedies, but one of them has a mysterious, painful past and a particularly rough row to hoe. The coming-of-age element reminds me of what I loved about The Goldfinch. —Rebecca Dash Donsky, 67th Street Branch

 

 

 

 

 

Possession

Possession by A.S. Byatt is a gorgeous, dense literary mystery that also offers a pair of satisfying love stories as two modern scholars uncover the hidden relationship between two Victorian poets. It’s a perfect bookish beach read. (The movie doesn’t even begin to do it justice.) I’m also a fan of fat 19th-century novels, especially Dickens, as vacation reading. —Elizabeth Waters, Mid-Manhattan

 

 

 

 

 

Pillars

Try Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence. Two words: sun and sand. Plenty of both, and there’s also an occasional glimpse of the sea. Throw in Middle Eastern conflicts that still resonate today, guerrilla warfare, diplomatic intrigues, vivid descriptions of exotic peoples and places, explosions, camels, and in the middle of it all, the charismatic and enigmatic Englishman famed as “Lawrence of Arabia,” who here tells his own story in his own inimitable (if perhaps not entirely reliable) fashion. —Kathie Coblentz, Rare Materials

 

 

 

 

True Stories

Hotel

Jill Lepore’s piece in the current New Yorker reminded me that I have always wanted to read Up In the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell, who is known for his portraits of eccentric characters living in New York City. Up In the Old Hotel is a compilation of four books and other published and unpublished work by Mitchell. ​NYPL recently acquired his papers, so the quest for Joe Gould’s secret will continue here. ​—Lynn Lobash, Readers Services

 

 

 

 

 

Falcon

Rebecca West has an opinion on everything, and she’s not shy about sharing it. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia is an account of a trip she made with her husband in 1936 in the years just before WWII as Hitler’s power was growing. It’s a fascinating mix of travel, politics, and history—a great way to learn more about a complex region through West’s compelling (and opinionated) voice. Think of it as a thousand-page love letter. —Lois Moore, Mid-Manhattan

 

 

 

 

Story of Art

Generally, when I’m on the beach, my attention span is a whole lot shorter than anywhere else, so I always choose something that goes well with beach naps, swimming breaks, and the requisite sticky ice cream snack time. Plus, I’m usually with friends or family, so it’s always nice to read something with little fun facts to share with the group. Hence I usually take a good piece of nonfiction with me. Recently, I’ve gotten into E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art and Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans—fascinating episodic histories of visual art and ballet, respectively. It’s worth noting that I finally finished Zinn’s mammoth A People’s History of the United States on the beach, too! —Nancy Aravecz, Mid-Manhattan

 

 

Epics

IQ84

“The taxi’s radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janáček’s Sinfonietta—probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didn’t seem to be listening very closely, either. With his mouth clamped shut, he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents. Aomame settled into the broad back seat, closed her eyes, and listened to the music.” Readers of Murakami’s melancholic, mesmerizing, and fantastical epic 1Q84 will be utterly transported. —Miriam Tuliao, Selection Team

 

 

Fall of Giants

If you’re looking for a sprawling, historical epic to take to the beach, look no further than Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants. Clocking in at nearly 1000 pages, this novel follows several families across Europe, Russia and America from 1911 to 1924 as they face the world-changing juggernaut that is WWI. It’s a heavy, thick tome, but Follett is a natural-born storyteller and the interweaving storylines stay gripping right to the end and has you asking for more. And when you’re done reading for the day, you can lie down in the sand and use the book as a pillow. It’ll elevate the head perfectly. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street

 

 

 

For the Visually Inclined

Pickwick

I’m planning to finish Death and Mr. Pickwick, a novel by Stephen Jarvis, while I’m on vacation. It’s a fascinating read about the life and times of the brilliant and unconventional graphic artist Robert Seymour (1798-1836), who captured life on the streets of London and prefigured many of the characters and the antics of many of the “types” that ended up immortalized in the novels of Charles Dickens. I’m actually a third of the way through the book, but because of its weight and the recent heat wave I gave up toting it around. It’s already packed in my holiday book bag. —Virginia Bartow, Rare Books

 

 

 

One Summer

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki. This Caldecott-winning graphic novel is an evocative coming-of-age tale that perfectly captures the innocence of feeling small when experience reveals that the world is a much larger and darker place than the familiarity of summer suggests. Exceptional for its insight, but even more so for the artist’s masterful use of line work, panels and perspectives. This is the type of story that leaves you both wanting and changed. —Daniel Norton, Mid-Manhattan

 

 

 

 

Otherworldly Tales

Rothfuss

Can’t get any longer or more dense than fantasy doorstoppers. Check out The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s so heavy even the mass-market edition feels like bricks, but it’s sure to press all the boredom out of a beach vacation. A picaresque fantasy related by Kvothe, it ranges from a magic academy to remote villages plagued by dragons to tavern music to nighttime skulks. Kvothe is an engaging tale-teller and Rothfuss has some of the most lyrical prose I’ve read in modern fantasy. —Joshua Soule, Spuyten Duyvil

 

 

 

 

Uglies

There is a world where turning 16 means you get to finally have the surgery that will make you look beautiful and perfect. You will attend endless parties, dress in the most amazing clothes, and eat whatever you want and stay thin—but there is a cost, and some people are running away to avoid perfection. Westerfeld tackles society’s obsession with beauty in his amazing and adventurous four part YA series: Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras. —Karen Ginman, Selection Team

 

 

 

 

Grace of Kings

For those waiting for The Winds of Winter (George R.R. Martin’s next installment), Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings should tide you over. A hated dynasty in turmoil, a 12-year-old king, warrior Mata Zyndu, and charismatic Kuni Garu. Who will rule the kingdoms of Dara? An epic fantasy filled with political intrigue, unwavering Han traditions, and magical realism. —Susen Shi, Seward Park

 

 

 

 

 

Bone Clocks

David Mitchell’s latest artful novel, The Bone Clocks, interweaves time from the 1980s in England, to the Australian bush, makes a pass out of the known world, and leaves us in a computer-free future. It is a voyage full of clairvoyance, with an eclectic cast of characters: some charming, others loathsome, all struggling with personal battles and interlinked in a mystical war. You will be flipping pages to figure out the bigger picture, while reconsidering all those psychic moments you’ve had. —Jessica Cline, Mid-Manhattan

 

 

 

 

Classics

Wayward Bus

Anything by John Steinbeck makes a great beach read. My recommendation would be The Wayward Bus—which, coming in at just over 300 pages, is one of Steinbeck’s shorter, though equally serious, novels. It was the first Steinbeck I read, and it opened my eyes to his deep understanding and love of both the Central California Valley and everyman characters who ceaselessly come up against incidences of fate and justice. —Lauren Restivo, 115th Street

 

 

 

 

 

Musketeers

Last summer I read  The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas for my book club. Those of us who actually finished it really enjoyed it. This summer, I’ll be hauling Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo to the beach at the end of this month. At more than 1,200 pages, I may need to extend my vacation to finish it! —Maura Muller, Volunteer Office

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lovecraft

Although my usual beach read choices are light and fluffy, when I want to read something literary, I tend to choose books that are dark and dreadful. I’ve found that reading any collections of HP Lovecraft stories while sunbathing will serve two different purposes. The first is that you’ll find yourself oh-so-gradually slipping into a world of mind-expanding horror. The second is that if anyone comes up to you and uses that old pickup line “So... what are you reading?” you’ll have an answer that will make them decide to turn around and go the other way, and then you can finish your book in peace. —Andrea Lipinski, Kingsbridge

 

 

Moby Dick

I would recommend Moby Dick by Herman Melville. You know you’ve always wanted to read the whole book, and this summer is the perfect time. Look up from your book every now and then and marvel at the power and mystery of the ocean. And if you happen to be on the beach at Nantucket, be sure to stop by the whaling museum. You will feel connected to American history in ways you could not expect. —Gregory Holch, Mulberry Street

 

 

 

 

 

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your picks! Leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend.

Comments

Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Death and Mr Pickwick

I am delighted to see that Virginia Bartow is reading my novel Death and Mr Pickwick - especially as I did some research for the novel at NYPL. You might like to take a look at the novel's facebook page, www.facebook.com/deathandmrpickwick where I post every day, and where there is a real sense of a 'fan community' starting up. Best wishes Stephen Jarvis

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