Life & Culture

Five Books to Read on the Beach This Summer

In his latest column, Raven Smith offers up his literary recommendations for your summer getaway

  • TextRaven Smith

I’d planned to write a witty intro about the wonder of reading but honestly, just read this list, buy the books and get your ass on holiday already....

The Destroyers by Christopher Bollen

You can’t have a summer reading list without some globe-trotting, sun-soaked, ridiculously rich people being ridiculously corrupt, usually on a boat. I reckon ‘Rich People Being Corrupt’ should be a genre on Amazon. There’s something dead sexy about rich people lying on a beach plotting how to get their hands each other’s money, usually via marriage or murder. This book is a classic in the making and kind of a contemporary take on the Ripley novels.

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton

A return to form for Crichton: we’re back talking about bones. I’m trying to think of something more summery than “a thrilling adventure set in the Wild West during the golden age of fossil hunting”. I’m very down with cowboys and palaeontology, though I’d never seen them mixed before. The narrative is like a houseparty drink: lots of things that shouldn’t go technically together – like wine, beer, prosecco, gin, coke and milk – but that’s going down a treat anyway. Obviously, I loved Jurassic Park. I don’t want to be annoying, but Jurassic Park isn’t about dinosaurs, it’s about creating life: yes, the resurrection of prehistoric animals from the Jurassic period, but also Sam Neill’s resistance to having kids with Laura Dern. Ultimately, ‘life finds a way’. Wait, what if all great novels are allegories…? *looks directly into camera*

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A fantastically sad novel, sadder than Watership Down or The Bell Jar. I had to watch Love, Actually around 20 times to re-stabilise my mood after reading this, and then Ferris Bueller, and then that film where Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz swap lives at Christmas. The main character Jude has such a relentlessly tough time – chronic abuse, depression, losing his legs (spoiler alert!) – that it’s easy to forget he eventually turns his straight friend gay: the ultimate silver lining.

Jaws by Peter Benchley

Don’t let the killer shark terrorising the beach town fool you, this is a fantastic beach read. I empathise massively with the shark who’s completely misunderstood. She just wants to mind her business and people are judging her. Jaws is kind of the Cruella De Vil of the sea. I don’t want to be annoying, but the book isn’t really about a shark. On a surface level it’s about the lengths a small community will go to protect their community. The bigger allegory, however, is how outsiders impact equilibrium (in this case both in the town and in the actual the sea). Essentially it’s about universal resistance to change. Also, for the film adaptation Spielberg edited out the juicy adulterous sex scenes which I find devastating.

The Dinner Party: and Other Stories by Joshua Ferris

Full disclosure: I haven’t read the Other Stories, but I have read the The Dinner Party in New Yorker and was deeply unsettled by its accurate portrayal of my New York middle-class aspirations. Short stories and essays are the best thing for the beach because you only have to concentrate for a few minutes then you can get back to your beer.

Raven Smith is a London-based creative director and the former commissioning director of Nowness. He is’s columnist, writing about life and culture.