9 Anti-Beach Reads for Summer Goths

Books that will leave you filled with terror, rage, or melancholia

The official start to summer is fast approaching and along with sun-soaked days comes an onslaught of earnest “beach reads recommendations” from publishers, magazines, and even your next-door-neighbor. But what the fuck is a beach read anyway?

In short: a beach read is pleasurable. It’s an escapist experience that draws you in like a receding tide and deposits you right back on shore when you’re done. It could also be that book that you whip out in public so that everyone can see your dazzling wit — no judgement, we all like to show off a fancy cover every now and then.

But what if you don’t want to read a light, fluffy book with a happily-ever-after that leaves you feeling like a mermaid unicorn? From a novel about the violence of the prison-industrial complex to an anthology on rape culture to a short story collection about the ugly side of nature, these 9 anti-beach reads will leave you filled with terror, rage, or melancholia.

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Set in a beautiful beach resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, sisters Margot and Thandi live their days surrounded by white sand and breathtaking ocean views. Sounds like a perfect beach novel, right? Too bad paradise is only surface deep. Margot, a closeted lesbian, sacrifices her body to white tourists so Thandi, the family’s greatest hope, can have a good education and become a doctor, lifting their family out of poverty. Thandi, however, is more interested in becoming beautiful and secretly bleaches her skin. As the community falls apart at the hands of white developers, Margot fights for financial stability, sexual autonomy, and the hopes of a better life.

Innocence Is a Privilege: Black Children Are Not Allowed to Be Innocent in America

Demi-Gods by Eliza Robertson

It is the summer of 1950 in Salt Spring Island, Canada, nine-year-old Willa’s childhood is upended by the arrival of her mom’s new boyfriend and his two sons, Kenneth and Patrick. Her sister Joan and Kenneth immediately form a sweet and tender relationship, while Willa finds herself inexplicably attracted to Patrick despite becoming the victim of his sadomasochistic acts. Spanning decades and countries, Willa struggles to break free from the sinister, hypnotic hold that Patrick has over her until an act of desperation that ends badly for everyone.

The Good Son by You Jeong Jeong

When twenty-six-year-old Yu-jin find his mother’s bloody corpse and a distressing gap in his memory, a combination of denial and horror sets him off on a search for those lost hours. The horror has only just begun. As Yu-jin soon discovers, uncovering one truth has the unfortunate consequence of unearthing countless more. The first of You Jeong Jeong’s novels to be translated into English, this psychological murder mystery subverts the usual cliches of its genre with a relatively early reveal, but this only adds to the tension that carries you through the rest of the story. The intense focus on the psychology of the perpetrator and the unreliability of the narrator bring out a sense of paranoia that leads one distrust their own perceptions.

There There by Tommy Orange

Split between twelve characters, There There crosses multiple generations in a portrait of disorientation and rediscovery. This contemporary epic traces the paths of urban Native Americans, who experience the disconnect between historical representation and collective memory. Interspersed between the twelve characters’ journeys to the Big Oakland Powwow, Orange embeds clippings of a traumatic past — stories of sacrifice, loss, and tradition that can only begin to correct a miswritten record.

Tommy Orange Gives Voice to Urban Native Americans

Florida by Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff’s new short story collection drowns her characters in their own emotional turmoil and tosses them to the mercy of nature. Some stories in this collection follow children, others a single person or an entire family enclosed by woods, but in every case Florida — as a state, as a landscape, as a collection of individuals — provides an uneasy backdrop. Metaphor and reality become difficult to distinguish as the wilderness looms threateningly in the peripheries of every tale.

Lauren Groff on Climate Change and Ugly Feelings

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

Inmate W314159 becomes Romy Hall’s new identity the second a pair of metal shackles enclose her wrists. Life inside a women’s prison bares no resemblance to the life she lived outside in Northern California. Outside she had her son and a childhood in San Francisco. Inside she only experiences violence from other inmates, guards, and the justice system itself. Kushner witnessed life in California women’s prisons first hand, collecting personal histories to better understand and portray the world inside the system. Beautifully written, the novel depicts the painful truth of prison as an ugly, absurd place where even sunlight is a luxury.

Rachel Kushner Thinks Prisons Should Only Exist in Fiction

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay

Not That Bad collects essays and personal accounts from women who refuse to accept the silence that surrounds rape culture. The title itself drips with the indignant sarcasm that serves as a uniting theme for the book. Sad as it is to say, we live in a rape culture, and Not That Bad serves as a vehicle to speak out against that culture. Edited by bestselling author Roxane Gay, the anthology of both new and previously published pieces is tragic, moving, and a necessary read in the #MeToo era.

Spring by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Translated from Norwegian, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiography is framed as an attempt to explain to his newborn daughter why her mother is not around. The entirety of the book takes place over a single day. He wakes up, feeds his daughter, attends to his other three children, and suffers the quiet breakdown of his own spirit, all the while tiptoeing around the absence of his wife. Saturated with paternal affection and bitter introspection, Spring — following in the wake of Autumn, Winter, and My Struggle — borders on prose poetry as it wades into the depression that plagues a family.

Karl Ove Knausgaard On Writing Habits, Conversation, and Why They’re Both Kind of Dumb

The Boatbuilder by Daniel Gumbiner

Berg was hardworking guy until a concussion left him with brain injury and an addiction to painkillers. He breaks into strangers’ houses to raid their medicine cabinets for opiates. On a downward spiral to rock bottom, Berg Berg’s path crosses with a reclusive master boatbuilder who presents him an opportunity to move forward with his life. Fear, addiction, and resilience war with one another in this small town in Northern California.

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