Four Summer Novels Everyone Will Be Talking About

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.

  1. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, Harper, $26
    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."
  2. Capital by John Lanchester, Norton, $27
    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."
  3. 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."
  4. A Million Heavens by John Brandon, McSweeney's, $24
    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

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Photographs, from left: Courtesy of Harper Collins; Courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company; Courtesy of Henry Holt; Courtesy of McSweeney's Publishing.
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