Pools are great because they mostly exist as a place where it’s acceptable to read a book and not do work. Also, they have water. And it’s hot outside so you may want to be in the water.
The following is BYT’s picks for what to read at the pool this summer. All of the books have been released in the last 12 months. Some are fiction. Some are nonfiction. Some are better on Kindle. All are worth your time.
For those who think that if Haruki Murakami was scarier, he would be their favorite writer. Also: people who think parenthood is terrifying.
LaValle is a prolific horror writer, and this genre bending urban fairy tale only seals his position as one of the most terrifying and capable writers out there. The premise is seemingly simple: A father who loses his wife and child in an act of horror must hunt them into metaphorical hell to get them back again, but the execution is anything but. There are mysterious boxes of books, parallel universes, New York City as you never dared to imagine it, and more. To share too much is to do LaValle’s special kind of narrative savvy a disservice, so we’ll leave you with just this word of warning: if you are pregnant or have had a child recently (or ever), and don’t have nerves of steel-maybe skip this one. -Svetlana Legetic
For the reader who’s into Sherlock but over Cumberbatch
Why do we need another take on Sherlock Holmes? Because when you make “Sherlock” into “Charlotte” and make the brilliant detective a social outcast, you suddenly have a different kind of story. Sure, there’s a mystery – and a good one – but just as interesting is the examination of the kinds of limitations that Ms. Holmes has to navigate just because she’s female. One warning on this one: there are a lot of characters to keep track of, so either make a few notes or read it before you’re too many margaritas in. -Trisha Brown
For the murder mystery fan that misses Blockbuster
I thoroughly enjoyed John Darnielle’s 2014 book Wolf in White Van because I knew nothing about it before I read it. This year’s Universal Harvester also benefited from a lack of context. What I can tell you that will not distract from the story is VHS tapes play a prominent role. So does a video rental store. Darnielle uses both video cassettes and video rental stores in ways that advance the narrative without leaning on nostalgia. -Brandon Wetherbee
For those wishing there was a new Mr. Ripley thriller every summer
Gorgeous people in gorgeous places doing decidedly on gorgeous things to each other has always been a delicious proposition, especially in summer and Bollen’s story of two best friends, one broke and humiliated, the other rich and on top of his game fits the bill perfectly. Set in the sunny isles of Greece, with yachts, ex-girlfriends, and sun-soaked atmosphere, it is everything that would make Patricia Highsmith proud and then some. -Svetlana Legetic
For the reader who wants to reclaim the “beach/summer/poolside read” label
The idea that some books can be read near water and others can’t is silly, but some people will never let it go. Some people will also never believe that books about women and the relationships we have with each other can be insightful, funny, well-written and complex, but whatever. That’s their loss. On Second Thought is about two sisters – half-sisters, actually – who are both navigating grief and trying to manage their relationships with friends and family. It’s a little soapy and a little trope-y, and it also has a wry humor and charm. This is exactly the kind of book you’ll get lost in while at the pool, so set an alarm to remind yourself to reapply your sunscreen. -Trisha Brown
For the person still listening to Is This It?
If you haven’t heard about Meet Me in the Bathroom, congrats on avoiding every music website and pop culture podcast for the past three months. Lizzy Goodman’s oral history of New York City’s rock scene from 2001 to 2011 is fucking everywhere. Most of its pages are dedicated to The Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and DFA Records / LCD Soundsystem. If you like these bands, this is essential reading. This book tells their origin stories and how they fit into the context of the city’s history, the rise of the internet, and the death of the record industry as we knew it. There is also a ton of space dedicated to stories about getting hammered, doing drugs, and acting a fool. To wit, there is an entire page about Albert Hammond Jr.’s proclivity towards revealing his balls in public. In fact, my minor quibble with the book is that too much of it is dedicated to documenting rock stars’ fratty shenanigans and to the Strokes, in general. (I like the guys, but they’ve made about an hour of great music in their whole career. Don’t @ me.) Also, there’s far too much space spent on journalist’s own personal experiences, as if it means anything to me. All of that being said, Meet Me in the Bathoom is still an incredibly fun and addictive read. When you’re at the pool, what else are you looking for? It’s half class, half trash. And because it’s an oral history, it’s pretty easy to start and stop at any point for a requisite dip. -Phil
For the reader looking for a speed date with some of the best authors writing right now
An anthology created in partnership with We Need Diverse Books, Flying Lessons features ten authors who among them have won just about every award and popped up on just about every bestseller list that exists in American literature. The short stories in the collection are aimed at middle-schoolers, but so were the early Harry Potter books, and god knows that didn’t stop adults from diving right in. Besides, short stories might be the perfect poolside medium. You can read one or two, pop in the water to cool off, read again, take a catnap, and then repeat again tomorrow. And at the end of it, you’ll have read Jacqueline Woodson and Kwame Alexander. Relaxing AND productive. -Trisha Brown
For those looking for the next The Handmaid’s Tale
The Answers begins with Mary, a 30-year-old Ivy League graduate adrift in NY City applyingfor a unique “income generating experience” where her specific, completely void-of-pop-culture past comes in handy (she was homeschooled in an off-the-grid home until an Aunt rescued her from her parents, though she still has seen no movie or listened to a record in full). The income generating experience involves her serving as one of the relationship prototype surrogates to Kurt Sky, a James Franco like actor/director/artist as part of his Girlfriend Experiment. The purpose? Seemingly to assess the relationship dynamics for the brave (cowardly?) new world we’re all living in, but also maybe there’s more. As Mary and the other GX participants get slowly adjusted to their specific pockets of expertise (the roster includes: Emotional, Maternal, Sexual, Fighting and even Mundane Girlfriends), more is revealed about their employer, and through it, about our society as well. Lacey is a smart, funny, brittle writer and the themes feel almost painfully real. The present time setting adds to the sting. Perfect for all female book clubs who are looking for something to both band about and argue about. -Svetlana Legetic
For the political optimist
I read this after listening to a very good interview with Mastromonaco on Fresh Air. I’m glad I did. Mastromonaco does not have any Ivy League degree, struggled with money throughout her 20s, and writes like a friend. Not many political memoirs connect to the reader. Because it’s not a book on policy or ‘big ideas’ or future stump speech, there’s actually valuable insight to gain regardless of your political party. It doesn’t matter who you support when you’re reading actually valuable tips on packing a suitcase. -Brandon Wetherbee
For the reader who needs confirmation that they were right to avoid national parks this summer
Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak
I actually read this book by a pool last summer, and thank god for that. Nothing like a D.C. August day to keep my brain focused on the fact that I definitely wasn’t about to get murdered in the remote wilderness in Alaska. Her Darkest Nightmare is about a psychiatrist who decides to bring all of the worst psychopaths she can find to one place – a special prison in rural Alaska – so that she can study them and try to figure out why they do what they do and how to stop them. What could possibly go wrong? Well, it turns out a lot of stuff. Let’s just say you’ll be very happy to be reading this book in a place that feels nothing Alaska in the winter. -Trisha Brown
For the weird/sad summer person
I have diagnosed myself as a sufferer of RSAD, or “reverse seasonal affective disorder”, and summertime makes me feel very, very weird and depressed! This means you will rarely find me outdoors. That’s not to say I don’t love swimming pools (mostly the kind that every single human has in LA, and which are taken for granted by everyone except occasional tourists like me), but as a pale, heat intolerant person, I rarely find myself out of the house before dark, like a true loser vampire. If I were to frequent the pool on a hot summer day, though, then I would just take the same books I spend the long hours indoors reading in front of the fan. Due to the aforementioned RSAD situation, what tends to be my go-to literature is anything that has to do with quantum physics – there is something very comforting about getting lost in how insane the universe when you are feeling weird and sad! Carlo Rovelli’s Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey To Quantum Gravity (which came out in January) is a good one – I by no means have a science or math-inclined brain, but he takes complex concepts and makes them very accessible, so you’re left free to have as many HOLY SHIT THAT’S MAD COOL! moments as you want. You will feel awestruck, and you’ll also feel a little poolside-productive because KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. -Megan Burns
For the reader not afraid of the water
Since Into the Water was just released at the beginning of the summer (late May), it’s basically begging to be read by a pool this summer. Like the absolute baby I am, I read this book in my apartment during the day because suspenseful mysteries after dark and I do not get along well. However, if you are brave unlike me and are cool with reading a book about small town river deaths, what better place to read about water-related deaths than next to the pool? Your heart probably will not stop racing until you finish this book, and perhaps not even after that. One of the purest page turning mysteries I have read in a while. -Allison Desy
For those looking for a true crime fix, but put an emphasis on literary pleasure, not just the thrills
Marzano-Lesnevich wrote a beautifully wrought, deeply human book about a man on death row for murdering (and likely abusing) a 6-year-old neighborhood boy, and a young intern lawyer (herself) who faced some hard truths about both her belief system and her own upbringing while working for the firm trying to get his death sentence reduced to life. The story unfolds in parallel chapters as both Ricky Langley’s and her own stories and mysteries are resolved, and each page breaks your heart a little more than the next, while you brain finds itself questioning some of those set standards and moral codes we never wanted to question. Saying anything more is probably saying too much, but this IS the thriller of the summer, no matter what the Best Seller lists are trying to persuade you about. -Svetlana Legetic
For the reader who likes a fairy tale with a few different twists
Sure, Thaw is a romance between a librarian and a supermodel, which seems like the foundation for a picture perfect love story. But both women are hiding some things – Abby, the librarian, is about to lose her job, plus she’s asexual and unsure of what that means for her dating life. Gabrielle, the supermodel, has some complicated career and life entanglements she’s keeping secret, which is keeping a distance between her and Abby. It’s all VERY stressful, and Thaw is certainly dramatic, but never in a way that feels false or manipulative. Springer does a fantastic job of making her characters sympathetic and real. I read Thaw in one sitting, and it wasn’t even in a poolside lounge chair. -Trisha Brown
For the sadist
I have not finished Shattered. It took far too long to finish the first chapter. It is not a difficult book to understand. It’s a difficult book to digest. It may take until the midterms to wrap up this book. Do not bring it to the pool unless you want conversation and dirty looks. Kindles exist for books like this. -Brandon Wetherbee