The Goodreads Popular Beach Read Books ranking has gone live, and there is only one thing to do with this list: print it out, crumple it in a ball and recycle it. It’s high time we leave “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Gone Girl” and “Confessions of a Shopaholic” at home. Opt for a more practical and classic beach read this summer. These are five timeless books that absolutely must make it into your beach bag.
- “Heart of Darkness,” Joseph Conrad
Whether you’re snoozing on plush sheets and a down pillow or your foldable cot has sand in the sheets from the last beach vacationers, it can be difficult to sleep away from your own bed. Seriously. Science confirms that people don’t sleep as well their first few nights in a bed that isn’t theirs. The right hemisphere of the brain remains slightly active as an evolutionary instinct, in case the vacation spot isn’t so vacationy.
This is where “Heart of Darkness” comes in handy. Crack it open and read about imperialism, colonialism and what happens when “civilized” people leave society. All told through British white men narration and point of view, by the way. I promise you’ll be asleep by page three.
- “The Sun Also Rises,” Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s syntax and sentence structure is simple, unlike your beach vacation, probably. It’s a nice break from reality.
This novel is about really masculine dudes travelling to Spain to watch a bullfight, though when you finish this book, you probably still won’t really know what it’s about. It doesn’t really matter though, because your entertainment needs will be filled. A quarter of the book is about tension between men fighting for certain women, and the rest consists of multiple characters getting drunk with each other and telling their friends to go to hell. The story was published in 1926, but this beach read is timeless.
- “Crime and Punishment,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Step aside, Agatha Christie. Everyone loves a good murder mystery on the shore of the beach, but instead of trying to figure out who murdered who on a remote island, we’re switching it up this year. “Crime and Punishment” cuts the fluff and gets right to the point — the murder goes down on the third page. After that, you spend the remaining 700 pages solving the mystery portion of this book, which is how to pronounce all of the characters’ names — Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov, Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov, Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov, Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin and Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladov, to name a few.
- “Moby Dick,” Herman Melville
Ever gone fishing with your uncle? It’s boring. It’s tiring. And nothing really happens. This novel is the modern day equivalent to your uncle trying, and failing, to catch yellowfin tuna in the ocean. OK, that analogy might be a bit of a stretch, but so is this 600 page book about a guy with a wooden leg hunting for a whale.
As boring as it can be, though, it’s all worth it when you finally come flip the page to chapter 32, entitled “Cetology.” This is a 100-page excerpt — inserted randomly into the book — about the anatomy of the whale. If you happen to spot a whale offshore or maybe just come into contact with one while you’re boogie boarding, you’ll now be able to locate the area where the trachea and small intestine is located. Melville says that “it is some systematised exhibition of the whale in his broad genera, that I would now fain put before you. Yet is it no easy task.” But who doesn’t love a good challenge?
- “Romeo and Juliet,” William Shakespeare
Ah, the sun is setting and the humidity is falling. Your hair is blowing in the ocean’s breeze. It’s the perfect time to pull out a romance novel. Or maybe instead, Shakespeare’s finest work.
Sometimes when you’re vacationing with family, it’s necessary to put things into perspective. Parents can become irritating and overbearing, and significant others become whiny when you want to get an ice cream cone but they want to ride the ferris wheel on the pier.
Shakespeare’s play is an empowering reminder that things could be much worse. Your parents could be so adamant about preventing something from happening that your significant other ultimately ends up drinking poison. Or, your partner could be so ineffective at communicating that you both end up dead. And here’s the best part — no matter how tragic and annoying it feels to be stuffed in a beach house with the extended family during a thunderstorm, you can just think of the end of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Leah Mensch is the opinions editor, and writes mostly about sustainability and mental health. Disagree with Leah’s classic novel picks at firstname.lastname@example.org.