Swell Author Jill Eisenstadt Shares Her Picks for Essential Summer Reading

Jill Eisenstadt’s debut, From Rockaway, was bound by the nihilistic routines of a trio of lifeguards who spend their summers surveying New York’s Rockaway Beach. Though still young, their lives already seem decided, split between watching the waves and working blue-collar jobs in the cold months. Her latest, Swell, returns to the shore thirty years later, in the story of a family with some serious baggage, moving into a Rockaway house that’s haunted in more ways than one. An unwanted houseguest and the return of a character who first appeared in From Rockaway round out this darkly funny, sympathetic tale.

Both books make for perfect beach reading, set seaside but far from candy-colored. Here’s Eisenstadt to share a list of more ideal waterfront reads, for your summer enjoyment.

What makes a good beach read? For me, it’s mainly about practicality. Leave the heavy tome at home. Avoid the minuscule print (though that’s advice for everywhere). Don’t bother with anything you’d care about getting stained with sunscreen or sandwich drippings. Wind, wet, sand, salt—such conditions require a book you can wrangle. Break the spine, throw the sopping towel over it accidentally, or fold down pages when your bookmark vanishes. Other than that, it’s a matter of your current mood. So have a good assortment handy—old and new, serious, light, something in between. Content-wise, I tend to go for sweltering settings or themes, but that’s personal. There can be no bad beach books because, thank Poseidon, books don’t need charging or batteries. Here are some picks for summer 2017.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, with an Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld, chaser
Like beaches, Jane Austen is a place to escape from the news. Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern take is pure fun, an inside joke for the outdoors.

Men Without Women, by Haruki Murakami
Short stories work well on the beach, particularly ones that tend toward the spare and philosophical. Between stories you can take a swim or stare out to sea wondering why Murakami used a Hemingway title, whether the men in the book could be weirder, and ultimately what it all means.

The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery
If you haven’t heard, octopuses are in. And no, it’s not octopi, as you’ll learn if you read this. Includes many other fascinating insights into these intelligent, emotional beings.

The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers
“It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old. This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. Frankie had become an unjoined person who hung around in doorways, and she was afraid.”

Endless Love, by Scott Spencer
I haven’t looked at this novel in decades but nor have I forgotten it. And I just recounted to verify….yes, the sex scene is 36 pages long! Definitely high time to revisit.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith
Psychological thrillers do not get better than this. Exciting and intelligent and set in fabulous sometimes beachy locales (the Ligurian coast). Never will you find yourself more fervently rooting for a sociopath.

Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed
Lie on the sand on a big soft towel and listen to your daughters (or friends) take turns reading advice aloud. This book, culled from columns originally run in the Rumpus, written by the once anonymous and shockingly wise Cheryl Strayed, is a guaranteed conversation starter. When and if you gather the will to finally take a walk, there’s also a handy spinoff podcast with the wonderful Steve Almond.

Sea Grapes, by Derek Walcott
Poetry on the beach is essential. Because, as Walcott himself writes in the title poem of his most famous collection, “The classics can console. But not enough.”

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