The Anti–Beach Read Book List

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Matt Grant

Staff Writer

Matt Grant is a Brooklyn-based writer, reader, and pop culture enthusiast. In addition to BookRiot, he is a staff writer at LitHub, where he writes about book news. Matt's work has appeared in Longreads, The Brooklyn Rail,, Huffpost, and more. You can follow him online at or on Twitter: @mattgrantwriter

It’s FINALLY summer, and that means one thing: summer reading! I think Sir Patrick Stewart speaks for all of us here:


If that’s the case, Book Riot has you covered: we’ve got your 2019 Best Beach Reads list right here.

I’m not really sure where the term “beach read” came from, but I’m guessing the Hollywood summer blockbuster attitude has something to do with it. But technically, can’t a beach read be any book that you read on the beach?

Personally, when it comes to summer reading, I’m with fellow Rioter Kathleen Keenan. For the past few summers, I’ve intentionally picked longer, denser novels to work my way through. I’m talking the kind of novels that I’ve needed to set a daily page goal for just to make sure I make it through on any kind of schedule.

Maybe it’s because the offerings in the cineplex and on TV are typically “lighter,” and I’ve desired more challenging fare in my reading to offset that. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I tend to spend more time outside in the summer AWAY from the cineplex and TV, which means more time for reading. But whatever it is, I always look forward to summers for diving into a long, complicated, dense book.

So, in that spirit, here are ten books to protect your mind from turning to slush during the hot summer months.

The Brothers Karamazov By Fyodor Dostoevsky

From the book jacket: “The Brothers Karamasov is a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and an exploration of erotic rivalry in a series of triangular love affairs involving the ‘wicked and sentimental’ Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three sons…Through the gripping events of their story, Dostoevsky portrays the whole of Russian life, its social and spiritual striving, in what was both the golden age and a tragic turning point in Russian culture.” Fun!

Black Leopard, Red Wolf By Marlon James

The first part in the Dark Star trilogy, this fantasy epic is 640 pages long, super dense, and has a sprawling prose style that many have said is difficult getting into. Perfect for those little moments between naps on your sandy towel.

The Neapolitan Novels By Elena Ferrante

Originally published between 2012 and 2015, Ferrante considers her four-volume Neapolitan novels (My Brilliant Friend—2012, The Story of a New Name—2013, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay—2014, and The Story of the Lost Child—2015) to be one singular novel. A bildungsroman of massive size and scope, the book follows two young Italian women as they grow up in the midst of violence and turmoil in Naples.

The Goldfinch By Donna Tartt

Read it before it the movie adaptation becomes an award-season juggernaut this September! This 775-page coming-of-age novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2014. It’s just the kind of novel that screams “rainy day” rather than “fun in the sun.”

A Little Life By Hanya Yanagihara

Yanagihara’s novel about four college friends who move to New York together to pursue success together is not one that anyone would classify as a fun read. The New Yorker‘s Jon Michaud wrote in his review, “the graphic depictions of abuse and physical suffering that one finds in ‘A Little Life’ are rare in mainstream literary fiction.”

Ulysses by James JoyceUlysses By James Joyce

Perhaps the ultimate anti-beach read, Ulysses is…well, Ulysses. It’s really hard to follow and each chapter takes on a completely different literary style. I can speak from experience that if you bring this one out at the beach, you’re going to get some crazy looks from other people.

Beloved By Toni Morrison

A love story and a ghost story all in one, Beloved is a haunting and lyrical depiction of the horrors of slavery and the fierceness of the human spirit. Sethe, the novel’s protagonist, is a former slave escaped to freedom who is unable to outrun the horrors enacted upon her and her dead child, buried under a tombstone simply marked “Beloved.”

Rebecca By Daphne Du Maurier

An unnamed narrator is whisked off of her feet by a 42-year old widower. But when she arrives at his country estate, it soon becomes evident that the specter of his dead wife will threaten their new lives together much more than she feared.

Gravity’s Rainbow By Thomas Pynchon

This postmodern epic has divided readers over its merits since it won the National Book Award in 1973. As the Amazon review puts it, “It’s pretty much impossible to follow a standard plot; one must have faith that each manic episode is connected with the great plot to blow up the world with the ultimate rocket. There is not one story, but a proliferation of characters…and events that tantalize the reader with suggestions of vast patterns only just past our comprehension.”

1Q84 By Haruki Murakami

Murakami’s own dystopian vision of 1984 clocks in at over 900 pages, so it’s sure to keep you reading over the course of many beach days. Set in an alternate version of our reality, the novel follows two strangers over the course of one year as their lives mysteriously intertwine. This one is for pure Murakami fans.


What novels or books do you have lined up this summer? Any other anti-beach reads that should be added to this list?