6 Unlikely Beach Reads

American InnovationsSaying you love a good beach read is a little like affirming your belief in ghosts or magic: most of us secretly like that kind of thing, but prefer not to talk about it outside of the proper settings. A “beach read” isn’t just a guilty pleasure, it’s a guilty pleasure living in an indulgent location, akin to bringing an entire chocolate cake with you into the Jacuzzi. But what if what the books we indulged in on the beach weren’t a guilty pleasure? What if they were simply something not only highly readable, but thoughtful, too? Here are six recent releases that aren’t guilty at all, but that do share some things in common with beach reads—they’re welcoming, relatable, and fun. Happy summer reading:

American Innovationsby Rivka Galchen
In this snappy new collection of tightly crafted, sometimes unsettling short stories (time travel! walking furniture!), the tales often read more like overheard conversations, which is part of their charm. My favorite story here is “Sticker Shock,” all about a woman and her mom, and the ultimate family questions of who owes who and for what. The stories in this book are playful, but that’s a cool deception: they’re much, much deeper. It’s been a while since I’ve read stories that made me sigh from recognition this much.

Troikaby Adam Pelzman
An affair is perpetrated in Pezlman’s debut, not in the style of a meandering literary novel, but instead with a multi-voiced, almost episodic zeal. These characters may be ready-made for television drama, but that’s what makes this book so refreshingly juicy. Demonstrating a considerable amount of restraint, the three first-person narrators don’t deliver a he said/she said account of various events, but instead focus on the varied emotional impacts of those events. Pelzman balances the plotting of a high-end drama with sprinkles of literary class to produce something effortlessly real and emotionally formidable at the same time.

The Last Illusionby Porochista Khakpour
Revisiting a Y2K New York City, Khakpour’s sophomore novel focuses on a boy who sort of believed he was a bird. We all construct different coping mechanisms for the terrible things in our lives, but in The Last Illusion, Khakpour has created one such mechanism that is both a little sad, but randomly funny, too. It also doesn’t hurt that the writing is super-smooth, and above all, extremely consuming. If you’re looking to be taken away, but with an anchor to the familiar, this is your summer novel.

What’s Important is Feeling, by Adam Wilson
One of the driest wits in literature, Wilson doesn’t really crack any jokes himself, instead letting his ridiculous characters do it for him. From hermit crabs, to failed garage bands, to unexpected blowjobs, What’s Important is Feeling is never raunchy, but will make you snort—either because you know these people, or because you can’t believe you’ve just (finally) met them on the page. Cadence and rhythm are often what’s important in an unexpected page-turner, and when it comes to those mystical powers of timing, Adam Wilson makes it all seem easy.

Mastermind, by Maria Konnikova
In this nonfiction, Gladwellian approach to Sherlock Holmes, smarty-pants Konnikova owns the conversation on how the most famous fictional detective of all time is so psychologically important. Part literary exploration, part how-to manual, this is one you’ll fly through even if you have just a passing interest in Sherlock, Elementary, or the Robert Downey, Jr., incarnations of Holmes. What Douglas Coupland did for Marshall McLuhan with You Know Nothing of My Work!, Konnikova has done for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (And though this book came out new in paperback at the end of 2013, it’s still recent enough to warrant a look!)

My Beloved Brontosaurs, by Brian Switek
Not a book for science geeks, Switek’s collection of essays reads more like dispatches from a superfan living firmly in the world of dinos. From discussions of whether or not they had feathers, to how they made other baby dinosaurs, Switek has the charm and knowledge to make what you thought you learned in 4th grade totally awesome again.

What books are you taking to the beach?