5 Books That Must Go On Your Beach Vacation Reading List

We're getting into the heart of summer beach read season, but we still have one question: What is a beach read, anyway?

The idea of beach reads actually entered the mainstream during the "turn of the 19th century," per The New Yorker. This happened when summer was rebranded as a time to "escape the sweaty, overcrowded city and reconnect with nature" and reading became an "acceptable form of pleasure." Today's idea of a beach read still has that same "this is for pleasure" mood, but with a twist. Judith Clain, editor-in-chief at Little, Brown, and Company, explained to Vulture that these "titles FedExed to critics in woven bags are generally thought to have mass appeal" and are considered the books that are "meant to fly off the shelves in outlets like Target."

Edan Lepucki, author of "Woman No. 17," told Electric Literature that beach reads were books that had, "the power to engage a reader who is sitting before an enormous, stunning body of water, and still decides to look down at a piece of paper with a bunch of words." These are the "Gone Girl" breakout books, she explained, the one novel a year people actually take the time to read.

Beach reads are also "meant to be shared, not hoarded — left on the beach-house shelf for next week's renters, or spread contagiously via word of mouth," writes Vulture. To honor this "noble tradition," we're passing along these five books you need to bring with you on your next trip to the beach.

Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley

If you're itching for a fresh, feminine take on the "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" idea in book form, throw "Cult Classic" by Sloane Crosley into your beach bag. On nine summer reading lists according to Literary Hub, "Cult Classic" is what Nylon calls a "Trojan horse of a novel." You might "come for the thrilling plot," they say, but you'll end up staying, "for the examination of her past relationships, which hinge on Crosley's trademark humor of exasperation and observation."

Lola, the main character of "Cult Classic," is engaged but not necessarily sold on settling down, a feeling that's magnified when she begins running into her exes all over New York City. This is no coincidence either, as Nylon explains: Lola's former boss, a magazine editor-turned-guru, is trying to bottle and sell relationship closure and Lola is at the center of the experiment.

The author told Lauren Oyler at Interview Magazine that Lola reliving her past relationships was part of what makes the book so relatable. "I think the danger, both for her and for anyone in real life," she said, "is that when you're consistently watching your own relationship from a hot air balloon, you're manipulating the narrative of the relationship. You're not giving yourself a chance to actually be with that person."

"Cult Classic" is both a nightmare come to life and a rom-com with depth — it's a cautionary tale about how romanticizing your past can be more dangerous than daydreaming about your future.

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li

A good beach read feels like a piece of candy, writes Electric Literature, and that's exactly what Grace D. Li's "Portrait of a Thief" is: A delicious treat.

Will Chen and four fellow Chinese American college students embark on a whirlwind, "Oceans 11"-inspired art heist, Kirkus Reviews writes. The outlet added that the crew is after "five bronze fountainheads" that had been taken from Beijing's Old Summer Palace in 1860, "during the Second Opium War." With their plan being bankrolled by the youngest billionaire in China, each thief is guaranteed millions, and what Kirkus Reviews calls a "release from the pressures [the students] associate with Chinese diaspora identity: Achieving financial success and making a name for themselves."

Called an "enticing and stimulating escape" by Book Page, "Portrait of a Thief" has a more substantive side to it, one that Kirkus Reviews says Li was "spot-on" in writing. "Portrait of a Thief" is a "meditation on the loss and hybridity of" cultural identity. Li's characters never feel like they're fully Chinese or fully American — they're forever stuck in the liminal space where identities lack the pieces necessary to become fully one thing or another.

While some critics point to suspending disbelief a little too much while reading, Li told Entertainment Weekly that was the point. "As a Chinese American and someone who always loves heist stories, I wondered what the heists would look like if the [thieves] weren't expert criminals, but Chinese Americans like me," she said.

Vacationland by Meg Mitchell Moore

There's a certain type of book a lot of people think of when they hear "beach read." Usually, it's a family drama starring a badass woman, set in an old family vacation spot where everyone has a summer of change. The teenagers come of age while the adults figure out whether they can keep going with their lives as-is. With Meg Michell Moore's "Vacationland," that's exactly what you'll get: A "Lifetime movie on the page," (per the Associated Press).

Mitchell Moore's particular brand of beach book follows Louisa, a New York University professor, who spends a summer with her kids at her father's home in Rockland, Maine (via Kirkus Reviews). As the summer begins, there's already strain between Louisa and her husband, who chooses to stay behind to chase "his dream of selling his podcast company." Once she's in Maine, though, Louisa not only learns about her mother's financial trouble — which could force the sale of the family's vacation home — but she also learns that her father, Martin — a former judge with Alzheimer's — has a second, secret daughter (per Kirkus Reviews).

This other daughter, Kristy Turner, also turns up in Rockland that summer, intent on meeting Martin, according to Publisher's Weekly. Louisa and Kristy — who is struggling with financial problems of her own — are "forced to examine their assumptions about privilege and family," over the course of the summer, as Shelf Awareness explains. Publisher's Weekly promises readers are "in for a treat" when they pick up "Vacationland."

A Novel Obsession by Caitlin Barasch

What does your Instagram feed say about you? For unemployed writer Naomi, her boyfriend's ex-girlfriend's feed shows his ex is everything Naomi isn't: A successful editor working for a major publishing house, living in Brooklyn. What starts out as innocent anxiety becomes an infatuation in Caitlin Barasch's debut, "A Novel Obsession."

"Naomi, as a character, is electric;" Kirkus Review writes, adding that, "her sinister fixation ("I've turned into a more dangerous — but more purposeful — version of myself,") is as unsettling as it is contagious." Much like in Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl," Book Reporter explains that "A Novel Obsession" is "an unflinching exploration of how we narrate the stories of our lives." 

"A Novel Obsession" also reminds Book List of Caroline Kepnes' "You" series, which Netflix made an adaptation of. Not only is the book a "suspenseful puzzle-box," but Naomi is both "utterly compelling" and "deeply damaged." She's a car wreck of a character — one that will have readers rubbernecking at the scene of the accident, unable to look away.

This nesting doll of a novel explores what happens when you blend "friendship, love, jealousy, and obsession," per the Associated Press. They added that Barasch's "Splendidly rich descriptions" and the "unexplored queer undertones" in "A Novel Obsession" creates unrequited anticipation throughout the novel. This is one of those beach reads that Edan Lepucki described — it's one that will have you ignoring the ocean and, instead, immersing yourself in the depths and dangers of Naomi's insecurity-fueled obsession.

The Last Housewife by Ashley Winstead

This last recommendation is not for the faint of heart. Called a "disturbing psychological thriller" by Publisher's Weekly, and a "truly terrifying novel" by Cosmopolitan, Ashley Winstead's "The Last Housewife" is equal measures dark and gripping.

"The Last Housewife," coming out just in time for Labor Day weekend, follows the ripple effect of one woman's supposed suicide on a college campus. The death reminds true crime podcaster Jamie Knight of the suicide of Clem Jones, who had been the woman's roommate in college. Now, Shay Deroy is the only surviving member of a trio that had been lured into a sex cult by their friend Rachel and her "charismatic" father (via Library Journal). When she and Jamie team up to investigate the supposed suicide, Jamie has no idea about the truth of Shay's past.

Shay, already having been lured into a "dark world of sex clubs and abusive manipulation" once, as Library Journal explains in their starred review, has to fight against the impulse to submit again so she can finally destroy the cult.

Publisher's Weekly promises you'll find "insight into the masochistic psychology that can set up vulnerable women to be recruited into cults" from this "ripped from the headlines" thriller. However, "The Last Housewife" is a beach read that comes with trigger warnings for self-harm, suicide, rape, and misogyny. Think: "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Publisher's Weekly added that this "dark suspense novel ... may be too grim for some," so be sure to read with caution.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.