My Favorite Beach Book
What Scott Turow, Joyce Carol Oates, and Michael Connelly read on vacation.
With beach season upon us, Slate asked novelists, journalists, and critics an urgent question: What's your favorite beach book? Confessions were encouraged, and, in some cases, offered—Joan Acocella: "I actually recommend The Da Vinci Code." Other writers were perhaps less brutally honest, but the array is intriguing. From Anthony Trollope to Elmore Leonard to Graham Greene, the answers are below.
Scott Turow, author, Ordinary Heroes Let me recommend two writers I love to relax with. Greg Iles and Ridley Pearson. Iles' books— Black Cross and 24 Hours are among my favorites—gallop along but remain psychologically incisive. Pearson writes some of the tightest thriller fiction around. In the deftness of his conceptions, the care with details, and the quality of writing, he's fully worthy of comparison to Michael Connelly. I loved his last novel, Cut and Run, and his series about the Seattle cops Lou Boldt and Daphne Matthews.
Michael Chabon, author, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
I don't change what I read when I go to the beach or on a vacation. I just read more.
Ian Rankin, author, Blood Hunt I was lucky enough recently to meet up with Elmore Leonard in London. Though a huge fan of his crime fiction, I'd not come across his cowboy stories before, and so I picked up his Complete Western Stories. My dad was a great reader of Westerns, and we both enjoyed Wild West films, so I'm looking forward to reading some "Western fiction" for the first time. A bit of a change from a recent vacation—a big-game safari in Kenya. I took War and Peace with me and, sweltering in the tent at night, would read the winter scenes aloud to my wife by flashlight—as near to air conditioning as we could get!
Ruth Reichl, author, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise The most deliciously pleasurable book I've read lately is Hilma Wolitzer's The Doctor's Daughter. I read it in one great gulp as I flew across the country, and I wish I hadn't so I could take it down to the beach and read it for the first time.
Rick Moody, author, The Diviners
The Dirt : Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band by Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx, and Neil Strauss. While I do not spend my summer months reading degrading and poorly written fiction by Anna Wintour's former assistants, I have one blind spot in the world of books, and that is bad rock 'n' roll autobiography. Personally, I think Mötley Crüe never recorded a single decent song, but this is one of the best and trashiest books about the rock 'n' roll life that I have read. It's both depressing and hilarious, and when you finish reading Proust in August, I suggest you take a couple of hours to read this.
Geraldine Brooks, author, March Just as one longs for a Popsicle when on the beach, I like to read icy books there. Andrea Barrett's The Voyage of the Narwhal was the novel that put me at greatest risk of sunburn. You're lying on warm sand, kissed by buttery sunlight, transported by her completely convincing account of snowblind explorers falling to their deaths through cracking ice shelves. The effect is as cooling as a broad-brimmed hat and a fan. Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air is another transfixing beach read full of freezing imagery as the Everest expedition turns deadly. The only sweat you break is from the unbearable tension of his narrative.
Michael Connelly, author, Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers As soon as summer comes and I have some extra time, I will probably pick up Manhunt by James L. Swanson first. I am fascinated by what is billed as a highly detailed, moment-by-moment account of the investigation of Abraham Lincoln's assassination. I also will need my annual George Pelecanos fix and the early buzz on The Night Gardener is, as usual, quite good. This time Pelecanos takes his readers inside the police department and for me that is a pitch right over the plate. Sometime this summer James Lee Burke will come out with Pegasus Descending, and I will be at the bookstore the first day, just like every summer.
Joan Acocella, critic, The New Yorker
I actually recommend The Da Vinci Code. I stayed up till 3 in the morning to make sure that the demented, knife-wielding albino monk lurking in the bushes outside the chateau didn't kill Sophie. Or, if the beach is a nice one, take Ian McEwan's Amsterdam or Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. The latter is supposedly for "young adults," but it's hair-raising and also quite serious. You get to visit hell.
Michael Kinsley, founding editor, Slate
As a pathetic Anglophile, when I want something mindless to read, I reread Evelyn Waugh. (His novels aren't mindless, but they don't tend to reveal even more hidden subtleties after the fifth or sixth reading, so rereading them for the eighth time is pretty mindless.) If I have more time and a bit more mind, it's Trollope —the most mindless of the big, fat (the books, that is, not the authors) 19th-century Brits. If you're looking for something really good to read and current, but as gripping as any beach reading, try March, by (occasional Slate contributor) Geraldine Brooks, not to be confused with E.L. Doctorow's The March, also about the Civil War and also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize this year. Geraldine won. I also recommend Walter Kirn's hilarious Mission to America, which was recommended to me by Slate's editor.
Illustration by Charlie Powell.