The phrase summer reading list might make you think of homework. But trust us: You'll want to lug these hardcovers to the beach. From a shocking debut novel about a drug-dealing ingenue to a deliciously twisty thriller to a renowned chef's unsettling realizations about the way we eat—all the books that will have you hooked are here.

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The Skinny on the Next Big Food Book
Chef Dan Barber's new book, The Third Plate (Penguin, $30; out May 20), is a polarizing exposé of the shortcomings of the farm-to-table movement and upends what we think we know about food. It's also over 400 pages. We give you the CliffsNotes in case you can't stomach reading it all.

What the hell is the "third plate"?
A new paradigm for cooking. An ideal meal, Barber writes, highlights vegetables and grains and de-emphasizes the traditional idea of a meat with sides (what he calls the "first plate").

Ah, another piece of self-congratulatory locavore lit.
Hardly. Barber also has his knives out for the "second plate," meals assembled with a farm-to-table mentality. It "may sound right," he says, "but really the farmer ends up servicing the table, not the other way around."

Wait, I thought farm-to-table was a good thing?
Barber calls B.S. because it hasn't changed how we eat: Farm-to-table "celebrates a kind of cherry-picking of ingredients that are often ecologically demanding and expensive to grow."

But wasn't barber one of the first farm-to-table chefs?
The term was coined in 2000 to describe his Blue Hill restaurant in New York City. He says it needs to go beyond just knowing the name of the chicken you're devouring, though.

So we're screwed.
Well, Barber offers a five-course (plus dessert) menu that includes a risotto made of rye, barley, and millet (instead of rice) and a parsnip steak as big as a T-bone. The only problem? It won't be commercially viable until 2050.

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The Best British Novelist You've Never Heard Of
Remember the third season of The Wire, when everyone realized they'd been missing a major cultural event and promptly prostrated themselves before the altar of David Simon? Prepare to do the same for author Edward St. Aubyn. The 54-year-old is already beloved in his native England—earning fans like Zadie Smith—thanks to his five addictive Patrick Melrose novels, in which he mines his own abuse-ridden aristocratic past with gracefully dark wit. Now St. Aubyn departs from the series with Lost for Words (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26; out May 20), a scalpel-sharp send-up of the literary elite. Depicting the corrupt judging process behind a major literary award that's clearly based on the Man Booker (St. Aubyn was short-listed for the prize in 2006), it delivers a profusion of writer-world absurdities, including an imitation Irvine Welsh junkie novel called wot u starin at? and a French cultural critic who babbles on about "the soap opera of global capitalism." That's only a taste of St. Aubyn's satirical charm—good thing there's plenty more to binge on.

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The Scandalous Debut That You Need to Take Seriously
The protagonist of Young God (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24; out May 6) is Nikki, a drug-dealing, sexually reckless 13-year-old. The novel's author is Appalachia-born Katherine Faw Morris, who has a Columbia M.F.A. and a penchant for fishnets and furs. Here, the 30-year-old talks about mining her own life for material and busting stereotypes.

DETAILS: Did you have to research the world Nikki operates in?
Morris: Almost all the drug stuff is from experience—cocaine was easily my favorite. My mother had a book by Keith Richards' drug dealer, and I probably read it 500 times from the time I was 8.

DETAILS: Do you have an inherent desire to provoke people?
Morris: Probably! People have certain ideas about what it means to be a serious writer. Writers are expected to be shlubby and not care about their appearance, while other artists are allowed to think about this stuff. I've always been innately interested in poking people.

DETAILS: You're married to The Source magazine's creative director, Don Morris. Are you a rap fan?
Morris: We saw 2 Chainz, and I realized that I know all of his songs! I really like Young Thug—I want him to do a Young God–Young Thug party.

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The Season's Least Likely Beach Read
Forget your dusty copy of Ulysses. Instead, inhale literary historian Kevin Birmingham's The Most Dangerous Book (out June 12), a thrilling account of how James Joyce's seminal work came to be (carousing with Hemingway! Syphilis!) and its controversial aftermath.

A Writer's Reading List, Geoff Dyer & Subscription Apps →