Chill Out With the Best Books to Read in a Hammock

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Leah Rachel von Essen

Senior Contributor

Leah Rachel von Essen reviews genre-bending fiction for Booklist, and writes regularly as a senior contributor at Book Riot. Her blog While Reading and Walking has over 10,000 dedicated followers over several social media outlets, including Instagram. She writes passionately about books in translation, chronic illness and bias in healthcare, queer books, twisty SFF, and magical realism and folklore. She was one of a select few bookstagrammers named to NewCity’s Chicago Lit50 in 2022. She is an avid traveler, a passionate fan of women’s basketball and soccer, and a lifelong learner. Twitter: @reading_while

What are the best books to read in a hammock? As someone who once loved doing exactly that, I put a lot of consideration into the matter. For one, they can’t be too chunky, or your hand will get tired and you might drop the book on your face. But hammock books can’t be too short, or you’ll finish them and then be stuck with the option of going through all the effort of going to get another book, or just taking a hammock nap.

They have to be engaging enough to keep you awake but lowkey enough to read that if you do doze, you can find your place and pick up the narrative again with ease. And certainly, they have to be relatively cozy, relatively sunny, or at least not emotionally devastating, to match the mood. In other words, they have to be a fun time.

With all that in mind, I’ve picked nine books here that I think are the perfect books to read in a hammock, while swaying in the wind and enjoying the weather.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

It’s 1989, and the Danvers field hockey team is tired of losing. So (naturally), they pledge their loyalty to the Devil and start casting spells. And when the team starts winning big, they’re determined to keep their spells going, at any cost. I loved this novel: it is ’80s dark teen comedy at its finest, Heathers-like in tone, teenage girls flourishing in each other’s company and being bold, dangerous, absurd, honest, and funny. These girls stand together, as a team, stand by one another even as they have their own lives and worlds, and the magic that links them together is powerful. It’s a fun, witchy ride from start to finish, tied into one solid narrative by their squad’s emotional core.

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

Most of Jasmine Guillory’s fantastic romance novels could potentially fit on this list, but there’s a reason The Proposal felt like the appropriate pick. It begins at a baseball game, the sun hot, when Nikole’s actor boyfriend thinks it’s a good idea to surprise-propose to her on the big screen. She says no, and that part is easy — but the disappointed response from the stadium is harder to cope with. A kind stranger, doctor Carlos, rushes in to save her from mortification — but unfortunately, it all goes viral. Nik and Carlos are thrown into an accidental attraction that they insist will stay casual…but we romance readers know better than that. Guillory’s novel is sharp, witty, and fun, and it’s all imbued with that hot L.A. sun and a summery, easy romance feel.

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

This young adult novel is sweet and intensely readable, a fantastic book about a young questioning teen. Ramona is a responsible young woman who wants to help her struggling family, giving up her secret dreams of being a swimmer. When her summer love leaves town, she sinks her time into a friendship with childhood friend Freddie — but is confused when she finds herself having feelings. She’s always identified as a lesbian — but is that label the right one for her? I found this book by the author of Dumplin’ a refreshing book about family and friendship, about Ramona and her journey towards trusting her body, her emotions, and herself, and her slow quest to feeling like she can be free in who she is.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This book is a Hollywood glamor–filled rush of a drama. A young journalist named Monique interviews celebrity icon Evelyn Hugo about her seven husbands — and the big reveal, AKA who was the real love of her life. Evelyn carries an aura of stardom with her throughout, continuously feeling almost unreal, but the people around her begin to feel familiar and grounded — Celia St. James, the airy young starlet, and Harry Cameron. The bisexual representation sold me on this book, but it’s also a great book about celebrity and the pressures of it, about the ways it asks people to hide parts of themselves away, and about the kinds of love that matter. It has its sad twists, certainly, but overall is a wild read about a Hollywood actress whose story is not what you expected.

American Hippo cover

American Hippo by Sarah Gailey

In the early 1900s, the U.S. government considered bringing hippo ranching to the south so that the creatures could eat up an invasive species and be a reliable source of meat. No, really. That happened. In this novella series, Gailey imagines what westerns might look like if the cowboys rode hippos, if the South was centered in its marshland. Their quick, witty writing makes for an exciting, diverse cast of characters and fast-paced, exciting narratives with all of the adventurous wild plotting of the classic westerns — all trickery and triumph, all cheeky dialogue and classic tropes, from the slow step of the villain to the unexpected snake. Just, again, with hippos instead of horses. This book combines the two novellas Gailey wrote within their world: River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

On one hand, this book sounds like a breezy romance — but it’s so much more. Evvie Drake is about to leave her husband when he dies, leaving her in a confused widowhood. Then her platonic soulmate and best friend Andy asks her to take in a tenant: Dean, a baseball pitcher who got the “yips.” I started this novel thinking it would simply be a romance, but it ends up being about Evvie’s strength and her ability to grow through pain, a story about a woman who spent years waiting for the good part, and who finally learns to get help and pursue her own happiness. It’s a fast read with an emotional core, and it’s all set in a cozy seaside town up in Maine.

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Tina is the human-raised clone of the most famous alien commander and defender of the galaxy, and when her beacon finally lights up, she’s ready to conquer the universe with best friend Rachel at her side and find her place in it. Or at least…she thought she would be. This new novel from Anders is inventive and fun, an epic space romp about a crew of the brightest young scholars from earth who all sign on with the Royal Fleet to fight the Compassion, a radical evil organization led by Marrant, a villain with a terrifying dark weapon. This fun, twisty space tale features a diverse cast, explicit consent, alternative family and romantic structures, and all characters share their pronouns up front. It’s a very fast-paced action movie of a story, and the characters will keep you invested from the first page to the last.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This swirling fantasy brings 1920s Mexican aesthetics together with Mayan mythology to tell a fun, enchanting tale. Casiopea Tun has always wanted an adventure, and she gets it when she accidentally frees and must journey with the Mayan god of death, helping him to get the throne of Xibalba back from his brother. Her fate is now tied to the god’s, and so if he doesn’t succeed, she’ll die — and more than anything, Casiopea wants to live, to dance, to be completely and utterly free. And so they hurry through the landscapes of Mexico, dodging her cruel cousin Martín, slipping through tricks and traps, and finally facing a quest through a maze of ash and darkness. Moreno-Garcia’s novel is fun and thrilling, and is a fast and transporting read.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

I know some people don’t trust essays to be all that hammock-y in nature. But trust me: these are. Samantha Irby’s essays are hilariously funny — I spent an embarrassing amount of time giggling and laughing at loud over them on public transit the first time I read them. Irby can make any subject funny. She writes about adopting the cat named Helen Keller who hates her; she writes an application to the Bachelorette; she writes about attending a Civil War reenactment, about love and relationships, about living in Chicago, about anxiety and her fear of death. I once told someone that I’d recommend this book to “anyone who enjoys laughter,” and I stand by that. The best thing is that you can take naps between essays. And if that doesn’t make a book perfect for reading in a hammock, I don’t know what does.