Traditionally, summer reading is all about gossipy celeb tell-alls and pulpy thrillers. But just because you're on the beach doesn't mean you're limited to disposable trash. Here are four compulsively readable, vacation-perfect books that won't insult your intelligence, plus reading tips from the authors themselves.
- Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter,
Why it's great: It's set both in 1960s Italy, where a young hotelier falls for an American movie star, and in present-day Hollywood, where the same man—now elderly and comically out of place—searches for his lost paramour.
Walter recommends: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. "Fountain finds all the absurdity of Catch-22 in the Iraq war."
- Capital by John Lanchester,
Why it's great: This Franzen-esque epic exploits hot-button issues (terrorism, real estate) by chronicling the lives of a financier and his wife, a family of Pakistani shop owners, and a Senegalese soccer star.
Lanchester recommends: Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. "The closest there's ever been to a War and Peace about the Second World War."
- How Should a Person Be? by Sheila
Heti, Henry Holt, $25
Why it's great: It's tough to tell where confession ends and fiction begins in this tale of a playwright named Sheila and a group of artists based on real-life figures.
Heti recommends: Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles. "The only novel by this brilliant American writer who was married to Paul Bowles while living as a lesbian."
- A Million Heavens by John Brandon,
Why it's great: This quirky saga about a boy's coma mixes ensemble storytelling (from the perspective of more than a dozen characters) and magical realism (one of them might be a supernatural animal).
Brandon recommends: God's Country by Percival Everett. "It's funny on nearly every page, yet has as much plot as any non-comic Western."
—Timothy Hodler, research director at Details