Nothing annoys me more than people who associate summer purely with frivolity and, like, simple pleasures. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Summer is about death. It is about recognizing that what you see as being alive has actually already begun the inexorable march to decay and, ultimately, erasure. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun while we’re still here. It’s just that it shouldn’t be experienced without always being aware, even if only in the very back of your mind, that we’re all going to die someday and that life feels meaningless more often that it does not.
And so: beach reads. I feel about most beach read lists the way I do about people who think summer is only about light and laughter; I hate them. The very best beach reads are actually more like anti-beach reads in that they make you feel cold and gray on your insides even as the world is bright blues and yellows on the outside. (Look, was I the the teenager who brought Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism with me on a tropical vacation? Yes, yes, I was. It gave me... a lot to think about.)
The following is a list of books that I think are perfect for your beach reading needs. Are they all happy and cheery in a way that makes you feel good about yourself and the world? No, not exactly. Except sort of they do. Because they are intelligent and provocative and compelling and heart-rending, and what feels better than knowing that art like that exists? And will continue to exist even after we’re all dead and gone. Nothing. Nothing feels better than that.