Great Cultural Books for the Beach... and Anywhere Else

shelved under Beach Reads

Lolling away time at the beach on a summer day is definitely on my list of favorite things, and a book is an essential accompaniment. But not just any book will do; summer reading at its best is captivating but not cloying, thought-provoking but not ponderous. That’s why the books on this list — each a wonderful mélange of culture and memorable characters — fit perfectly.



by Colm Toibin

Deceptively simple in its 1950s plot, this novel — a winner of multiple awards — unfolds in Ireland and continues in Brooklyn, New York as Ellis immigrates alone, at her family's behest, and slowly creates a new life. This book's ending left me wondering if, perhaps, things were not as they had originally seemed.


The Samurai's Garden

by Gail Tsukiyama

As peaceful as a Japanese garden, The Samurai's Garden slowly and softly weaves a tale of love and family loyalties, against the backdrop of distant war, as Japan invades China in the late 1930s. Beautifully drawn characters coupled with deft portrayal of emotion, make this book a standout.


The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

by Alexander McCall Smith

Overlook the insipid title and you'll be richly rewarded by the depth of this delightful novel set in Botswana. (Yes, Botswana!) Suffused with its culture and evocative of its searing climate, a marvelously adroit combination of detective cases and interpersonal relationships makes this book a great read.


Casting Off

by Nicole R. Dickson

Journeying to Ireland to research a book, an American woman undergoes an unintended emotional journey as well, finally laying to rest a difficult past that has haunted her for years. The juxtaposition of Irish culture and American sensibilities becomes almost a subplot, and it resonates.


Twenty Wishes

by Debbie Macomber

Much more than the typical example of summer fluff it initially portends, Twenty Wishes appeals to the very American idea that dreams can come true. As the main characters embark on a quest to attain the twenty items on their individual dream lists — from the whimsical to the profound — readers are drawn into contemplating what might comprise their own lists. A fun read that will keep you thinking long past its end.