What I Really Read on the Beach – Summer Reads

There was quite a bit of uproar on Twitter about the extremely worthy and ever-so-slightly pretentious beach reading promoted by The Guardian. Why can’t people admit that they crave chick lit or the latest Harlan Coben instead? They don’t have to be trashy airport novels (although most recently I’ve noticed a vast improvement in terms of variety being offered at airports), but they have to be able to withstand great heat, sun cream, the odd splash of water, and fried holiday brain. Can your expensive hardback of Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir, written by John Banville, with beautiful photography by Paul Joyce, withstand that? Perhaps one to buy and keep at home as a coffee table book, rather than shlepp to distant beaches…

Of course, I won’t actually be going to any beach this summer, but I hope to get a few nice days of sitting in my deck chair in the garden and worrying about nothing else but reading. And I readily admit that I look forward to a nice dose of escapism to mix in with my literary education. So this is what I would really read if I were on a Greek beach.

Image from olimpia.rs


Michael Stanley: Dying to Live

I’m a great fan of the Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu series, and the Kalahari Desert setting fits in perfectly with the beach. Also, it’s a really intriguing tale about the death of a Bushman, who appears to be very old, but his internal organs are puzzlingly young. Could a witch doctor be involved?

Linwood Barclay: Too Close to Home

Another author that I would rather read on the beach than alone at night in a large house, as his nerve-wracking twists are prone to making me jump. The strapline on this one goes: What’s more frightening than your next-door neighbours being murdered? Finding out the killers went to the wrong house…

Helen Cadbury: Bones in the Nest

Like many other crime readers, I was very saddened to hear about the recent death of Helen Cadbury. I had read her debut novel in the Sean Denton series reviewed and marked her out as a talent to watch in 2014 on Crime Fiction Lover. This is the second in a series set in Doncaster, which unfortunately never had the chance to grow to its full potential.

Sarah Vaughan: Anatomy of a Scandal

The perfect novel for those who can’t quite take a break from politics: this is the story of an MP whose affair is made public, his wife who tries to stand by him in spite of her doubts, and the barrister who believes he has been guilty of rape. A searing look at privilege, hypocrisy and the social justice system.

YA literature

Not my usual kind of reading at all, but I like to keep abreast of what my children are reading.

G.P. Taylor: Mariah Mundi – The Midas Box

Mariah is a young orphan, fresh out of school, who is employed to work as an assistant to a magician living in the luxurious Prince Regent Hotel. But the slimy, dripping basement of the hotel hides a dark secret. I’ve heard of the author’s Shadowmancer series, but never read anything by him. Described as the next Harry Potter, this book promises to take the reader into a world of magic and fun.

Paul Gallico: Jennie

Peter wakes up from a serious accident and finds himself transformed into a cat. Life as a street cat is tough and he struggle to survive, but luckily stumbles across the scrawny but kindly tabby cat Jennie, who helps him out. Together they embark on a bit of an adventure.


This is not only worthy reading, but highly enjoyable into the bargain! Although seeking out translations from some of the countries on the list is not that easy or cheap.

Hungary – Miklos Banffy: They Were Counted (transl. Patrick Thursdfiel and Katalin Banffy-Jelen)

Satisfies any cravings for family saga and historical romance, as well as looking at a part of the world which is very close to me (Transylvania). Plus a society bent on self-destruction – what more could one want?

Romania – Ileana Vulpescu: Arta Compromisului (The Art of Compromise)

This author’s earlier book The Art of Conversation was an amazing bestseller in the early 1980s in Romania, partly because it went against all the expectations of ‘socialist realism’ of the time and was quite critical of socialist politics (of an earlier period, admittedly). This book, published in 2009, continues the story of the main character, but this time set in the period after the fall of Communism in 1989. Critics have called it a bit of a soap opera, but at the same time an excellent snapshot of contemporary society. Sounds like delightful light reading, with a social critique, perfect for reconnecting with my native tongue.

Spain – Javier Marias: The Infatuations (transl. Margaret Jull Costa)

Another story with a murderous aside by an author I’ve only recently discovered and whose baroque sentences mesmerise me… Every day, María Dolz stops for breakfast at the same café. And every day she enjoys watching a handsome couple who follow the same routine. Then one day they aren’t there, and she feels obscurely bereft. She discovers that the man was murdered in the street – and Maria gets entangled in a very odd relationship with the widow.

Women in Translation Month

Another project which has the merit of being both worthy and great fun. I plan to read several of the Keshiki project of Strangers Press – beautifully produced slim translations of Japanese short stories and novellas. There are plenty of women writers represented: Misumi Kubo, Yoko Tawada, Kyoko Yoshida, Aoko Matsuda and the improbably named Nao-Cola Yamazaki. I expect the strange, unsettling, disquieting and sexually heated… Phew!




32 thoughts on “What I Really Read on the Beach – Summer Reads”

  1. I think I might be in the pretentious camp! I’ve never gone for the idea of reading trashy books on holiday. For me a beach holiday is the best time to read challenging books – there’s not much else going on so you can give them your full attention. The page-turners are for midweek at home when I’m squeezing in a few pages before falling asleep…

    1. Mind you, I used to read Freud and Wittgenstein and Dostoevsky on the page when I was younger. I never got far with The Brothers Karamazov though – abandoned it 3 summers in a row. Nowadays, I need a lot more mental repose: I may work my way up to them after a week or two of easier books. NB: I don’t really mean trashy. I never have patience for those, unless I am stuck in a waiting room or toilet and there is nothing at all to read!

  2. I don’t really ‘do’ beach holidays, since my fair skin means I quickly turn into an unattractive lobster clone, but for my city break type of holiday, definitely crime fiction! Preferably the new one from a favourite author so I can be sure I’ll enjoy it, or a re-read. If I was going away this year, I’d take Anthony Horowitz’s new one, The Word is Murder, and maybe one or two of the British Library Crime Classics. And a nice Agatha Christie to listen to on audio while travelling…

  3. Yes, yes, yes!!! I love your sincerity. I love reading, but I need glasses for reading and I need sunglasses at the beach, so it’s a big no no for me. You know what I can read though? Vogue! Cosmopolitan! Apart from at the hairdresser’s it’s the only place (and time) where I can actually enjoy those readings. So be it.

    1. Prescription sunglasses might be the answer? Or have you tried already? They are usually not quite dark enough, are they? My hairdresser has a collection of Vogue going back for years, but you know what? I cannot read them anymore. They are just advertisements for unaffordable stuff on unrealistic people, basically. It just makes me angry.

  4. Paul Gallico? Where did he come from! I enjoyed his novels, especially “Flowers for Mrs. Harris” and “Scruffy,” though I haven’t read one in years. I think I’d take a couple of P.G. Wodehouse to the beach, so that I can laugh while I have a good time on my holiday.

  5. I like your choices for beach reading, Marina Sofia. Like FictionFan, I can’t really spend time at the beach sitting in the sun; my skin would never take it. But for that sort of reading, I do enjoy the likes of Barclay, and I can see why you want to keep au courant with YA, too. And some of it really is excellent. Everyone’s different, but I prefer to save my most challenging reading for when lovely weather doesn’t distract me.

    1. Yes, I just feel too hot and drippy in summer for challenging reading… unless I have an article to write or a course to prepare. Winter concentrates my mind far better.

  6. Anatomy of a Scandal. Perhaps fast paced pageturners are better when possible distractions lurk on the beach.. But whatever people want to read, I say.

    1. Of course! Far be it from me to impose any reading on anyone or judge them. It just occurred to me that perhaps people (when questioned by newspapers or the BBC) might not be 100% honest when it comes to their reading choices for the holidays.

      1. I didn’t think you were a beach book nazi at all–just saying my opinion. IMO, light books make great beach reads but different strokes and all that.

  7. How wonderful to see The Infatuations on your list! It was my first Marias, so it retains a special place in my heart. I love the way he uses a murder to explore a variety of different themes including truth, chance, justice and love. I’ll be fascinated to see what you think of it.

  8. I usually read books that I bought at used bookstores while I’m at the beach or pool. I do this because I don’t mind getting them sandy or wet since they are already a little ruined. The books that seem the most “summer” to me are always romances, though.

    -Jordan @ The Heart of a Book Blogger

  9. Helen Cadbury was a beloved old friend, her going is far too soon. A very special crime writer. However I can reassure you and others that there is a third Sean Denton, to be published soon.

    1. How lucky to know Helen so well. She does sound like a wonderful person, as well as a good writer. I know there’s a third one coming out, and it will be sad, but you can be sure that I will read it.

  10. PS Prescription sun glasses and a wide brimmed hat work for me in the sun. And the paperwhite kindle can be adjusted for strong light.

  11. Helen (dreadful to write: was) an open generous truly honest person, I’m sure this come across in her intelligent writing, her compassion-full detective novels that reflect society. Her life’s experience informed her writing too – actress, teacher in schools, prisons and the community.

  12. Great list.
    I do Beach Reading and I even have a “Beach & Public Transport” category. I have a lot of respect for good beach readings because I think they’re not easy to write.

    At the moment, I have Aller simple by Carlos Salem, sadly not available in English. It’s wacked crime fiction and I love it, I wonder where he finds all these comical ideas. Just like I’d recommend the Charlie Hardie series by Duane Swierczynski,)

    1. I was thinking of your ‘Beach and Public Transport’ category as I was writing this. We all need something like that, and they shouldn’t be at all insulting to our intelligence, merely entertaining!

      1. It’s like films. You can’t always watch depressing movies by the frères Dardenne, no matter how good they are…

  13. The Infatuations was so good!

    I loved your prelude to this post; I often feel guilty, somehow, about turning to the odd crime thriller rather than my erudite books in translation, but surely we can afford some of that escapism. I feel like you gave me permission. xo

    1. I refuse to feel guilty about any of my book choices! I don’t even complain (too much) about my kids’ book choices. Although I do wish they would read something else other than manga.

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