Beach reads from Tracy Mumford

beach reads
See which books Tracy Mumford recommends for great summer reading. (Aftab Uzzaman, Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0])

Forget stand-up paddleboards and suntan lotion, it's BEACH READIN' SEASON. I'm gonna put on my SPF 200 and settle in with some books. A lot of books.

What books am I excited about this summer? I whittled it down to just ten. (Whittling's a thing you do at summer camp, right? I'm on theme here.)


Worth the hype:

"The Girls" by Emma Cline

Every season, there's a debut darling, and this summer, it's Emma Cline. Her book has been everywhere, and with good reason. It's a twisty and twisted take on the Manson family (though they're never called out by name). It follows a teenage girl in northern California in the 60s who gets swept up in a murderous cult. The book also catches up with her later in life, as she looks back at the havoc she wreaked.

"Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi's debut novel has been at the top of my summer must-read list since January. It's the story of two sisters in Ghana in the 18th century, and how fate divides them: One is sold into slavery in America, the other stays in Africa. The book follows the sisters' descendants generation after generation for 300 years.

For fans of horror movies and thrillers and crime sprees:

"Security" by Gina Wohlsdorf

This is like "Halloween" meets "The Shining" meets the surveillance cameras at the mall. The staff of a swanky new hotel gets attacked by a masked assailant during their dry-run, before the hotel opens. The entire book is narrated by someone watching the security cameras -- which are in every room. Be prepared for blood.

"The Heavenly Table" by Donald Ray Pollock

The Publishers Weekly endorsement got me on this one: "Was Deliverance a little too mellow for you? Give this a try. It's Pollock's third book, a psychotic terror ride through an early 20th century hillbilly hellscape that puts the family of a swindled, good-hearted farmer on a collision course with three brothers on a crime spree." Sold.

"Before the Fall" by Noah Hawley

What's that? The guy who created the television show "Fargo" is also a successful novelist? Of course he is. Hawley's book opens with a plane crash, and then, as the title suggests, loops backward to investigate the passengers and their stories. (No, it's not "Lost.") The New York Times called it one of the year's best suspense novels. Agree.

For fans of big books:

"The Mirror Thief" by Martin Seay

This time-hopping, world-bending, mind-blowing book takes place in three different Venices: 16th century Venice, Italy, where craftsmen are perfecting the invention of the mirror; Venice Beach, Calif., in 1958; and the Venice casino in modern day Las Vegas. It's a big, complicated and strange book, in the best ways possible.

For everyone with a soul:

"Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany

28 and not ashamed to have Harry Potter on my summer reading list. This one's technically a play, not a book, anyway. It picks up 19 years after the "Deathly Hallows."

And because I'm bad at keeping book lists short: Dave Eggers has a new novel coming out, "Heroes of the Frontier," about a woman on the run in Alaska in an RV with her kids; if you're in "Downton Abbey" withdrawal, the show's creator Julian Fellowes has a new book about a chauncey neighborhood of London, "Belgravia"; Stephanie Danler's "Sweetbitter" is like a snarky novelized version of Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential"; and if you're still on a Swedish crime bent, "The Crow Girl" will keep you busy for quite a while at 700 pages.

AND WAIT: That was just fiction. On to the true stuff.


"What If We're Wrong" by Chuck Klosterman

Klosterman's back with another philosophical and cultural romp that questions everything. He looks at the present as if it's the past, and asks: How sure are we? How sure are we about how gravity works? How sure are we that rock music will last? He interviewed a bunch of brilliant people for this, like Junot Diaz and Neil Degrasse Tyson and George Saunders, so you get access to their brains too.

"Midnight Assassin" by Skip Hollandsworth

Quick: Name the country's first serial killer. If you know the answer, I'm only a little weirded out. Hollandsworth's book looks at a killing spree that struck Austin, Tex., in 1885, and may even have ties to Jack the Ripper. A good read for anyone who loved "Devil in the White City." (Realizing I have a lot of death and murder on my sunny beach read list. Whoops.)

"Shrill" by Lindy West

Lindy West writes her mind. Her first collection of essays tackles everything from romantic relationships to internet trolls, with her trademark humor and no-apologies style.

"I'm Just a Person" by Tig Notaro

Tig's story has been everywhere by now. In one traumatic year, the comedian was hospitalized with a life-threatening infection, she broke up with her longterm partner and her mother died. And then she got cancer. She channeled it all into her stand-up routine, which caught the world's attention. Her book looks back at that horrible year, and how it launched her out of the darkness.

And there's lots more memoirs: Amy Schumer's "Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo" comes out in August; Eddie Huang follows "Fresh Off the Boat" up with "Double Cup Love"; Roxane Gay gets candid about her relationship to food in "Hunger"; and comedian Jessi Klein presents her painfully funny coming of age stories in "You'll Grow Out Of It."

So that was 11, or 19, depending on how you count. Stop reading this. Go read a book.

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