Got a recommendation for a really good beach book? Not one of those flimsy, poorly written novels that you want to toss after the first 20 pages, but a real gripper. Something that will keep you under the beach umbrella while the rest of the family is floundering around in the water. It doesn’t have to be a new release, nor does it have to be fiction. Old and current favorites are what we’re looking for. For starters, here are a few suggestions that (I think) are worth packing into any beach bag:
Straight Man (Richard Russo). A hilarious week in the life of a college academic, who, among other things, threatens on television to kill a duck a day until he gets the budget for his English department.
The World at Night (Alan Furst). The first of several novels taking place in Europe in the early days of WWII. If you love John LeCarre, you’ll love Furst, who writes about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances.
Ahab’s Wife (Sena Jeter Naslund). “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last,” reveals the narrator in the first line of this rip-roaring adventure and love story.
Dancing at the Rascal Fair (Ivan Doig). The settling of Montana as seen through the eyes of a young Scotsman. Friendship, marriage and struggle for survival on the frontier.
Cakewalk (Lee Smith). Short stories by one of the South’s favorite writers.
No Ordinary Time (Doris Kearns Goodwin). Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: the home front in World War II.
Brazzaville Beach (William Boyd). An intellectual thriller in which a primate researcher uncovers a devastating secret in Africa.
Word of Honor (Nelson DeMille). A former Army lieutenant is court-martialed for his part in an alleged massacre 15 years previously in Vietnam.
Waiting for Teddy Williams (Howard Frank Mosher). Eight-year-old Ethan Allen lives and breathes baseball in a Vermont village and dreams of becoming a major-league player. A must for Red Sox fans.
Storming Heaven (Denise Giardina). A powerful political novel told through four voices about the painful unionizing of the coal mines in Kentucky and West Virginia in the early 20th century.
The Plot Against America (Philip Roth). An alternate view of history seen through the eyes of a young Jewish boy in which Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR for the presidency in 1940.
The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver). All hell breaks loose when a misguided missionary drags his wife and four daughters to Africa in the 1950s.
Undaunted Courage (Stephen Ambrose). A brilliant and sweeping reconstruction of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
The Tender Bar (J.R. Moehringer). A memoir and homage to the culture of the local pub by a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist.
Bride of the Wilderness (Charles McCarry). McCarry is known for his excellent spy novels, but this is a satisfying love story and adventure that takes place in the wilds of 18th century America.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott). If you have a book inside you, witty and wise Anne Lamott will help you find it.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Kate Atkinson). A hilarious look at a dysfunctional family in York, England.