I have nothing against the beach or reading at the beach, but when people ask me for good “beach reads,” I wonder: What does that mean, exactly? What’s a “beach read”? Books about the beach? Books about reading at the beach? Books about summer and romance—or perhaps just summer romances? Maybe it’s books with sand castles or seashells. I’m not sure, but from what I’ve gathered, a “beach read” is a term used to describe novels that are easy to read, fun and accessible.

The problem with asking a person like me to recommend beach-reads is that I tend to select books that aren’t well-suited for nice, relaxing strolls down sandy seashores. I appreciate all genres equally, but when I see books with sunshine on the cover, I reach over them to pick up books like this.

Certainly there are others like me out there. So for those people, I have compiled a list of easy-to-read, accessible books that are dark, unsettling and perfectly capable of whisking you away from your sunny vacation and into a world where things just ain’t right. I’m hereby entitling this The List of Five Good Beach Reads for People on the Beach Who Don’t Want a Beach Read. In other words: A little something for people who prefer the other side of the umbrella.


The Lifeboat

This book was so accessible and easy to read that I finished it in two helpings. Part of the reason was because I didn’t want to stop reading it. This wonderfully woven tale by Charlotte Rogan is about a group of survivors who seek refuge aboard a lifeboat after their ocean liner sinks in 1914. But don’t expect a Titanic-esque love story with fancy hats and romantic sacrifices. This book is dirty. The complex narrator is wonderfully unlikable and the events that occur aboard the lifeboat are anything but sunny. The book just doesn’t tell a story, it provides undercurrents dealing with sexism, gender expectations and societal obligations. But you don’t need to delight in all its social underpinnings to escape into the story. Just reading it is fun enough.

The Graveyard Book

This book by master-crafter Neil Gaiman tells the story of a young boy who wanders into a graveyard after his parents are mysteriously murdered. He is subsequently raised by ghosts. The Graveyard Book is creepy. It’s easy to read. It’s weirdly discomforting. It’s Neil Gaiman.

The Underneath

This is one of my favorite books and I can’t say enough about it. It’s the haunting tale of a mother cat, her kittens, an abused dog named Ranger and an evil woods-dweller named Gar Face. There’s so much more to the story than that, though. And don’t let the animal characters fool you. This isn’t Charlotte’s Web or Babe. Like I said, it’s haunting. Capable of giving you nightmares. You’ll never think of the bayou in the same way again.

The Girl with Glass Feet

This book is weird—but in a good way. Set on a fictional archipelago in the Arctic, a disturbed photographer named Midas encounters a strange and reclusive woman named Ida, whose feet are carefully concealed. Midas soon learns that her body is slowly turning to glass, starting with those wrapped feet. He falls in love with Ida (of course) and sets off on a journey to save her.

The Land of Decoration

Ten-year-old Judith McPherson is being raised by her emotionally distant father in a fanatically religious household that anxiously awaits the Second Coming. A lonely girl who is ostracized from school, she creates her own world out of scraps of trash and calls it the Land of Decoration. When a bully threatens to kill her, she wishes for a snow day then makes it “snow” in her play-land. When it snows outside the next day and she’s kept home from school, she starts to wonder if she’s some sort of God—and if so, what she can do to make her life better (or make lives for others worse).

Got any other good book recommendations for people who enjoy the darker side of the umbrella? Let me know.

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