Great books for a day at the beach

Perfect beach reads, even if you never get to the beach.

click to enlarge George Saunders - Caitlin Saunders
Caitlin Saunders
George Saunders

The Interestings In the summer of 1974, six teenagers at a Massachusetts summer camp for the arts meet up for the first time, in what appears to be the beginning of a lifetime friendship. Meg Wolitzer’s novel then follows these characters throughout adulthood as their fortunes and expectations change. That’s the basic plot of this just-published novel, and I eagerly look forward to drinking it all in. —Mitch Perry

Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page Take a stroll through rock history with Led Zeppelin guitarist/mastermind Jimmy Page, as interviewed by Guitar World magazine editor Brad Tolinski. Light & Shade reads like a really long outtake from one of Guitar World’s print pieces on Page, but with some additional perspective added by friends or famous fans (Jeff Beck and Jack White both appear). Longtime Page fans will find nothing new here, but there is real enjoyment in reliving the old Zeppelin stories (and getting yet another take on the late-1960s music scene) from someone who was there and survived. —Joe Bardi

Ovenman That last sip of hot dirty beer at the bottom of a can is called the dregs, and those are just the kind of characters Jeff Parker captures so well in Ovenman. Set in a “medium shitty town” in Florida, it’s the story of When Thinfinger, a skateboarder/punk/dirty kitchen bad boy who writes himself Post-It notes when he gets too drunk to remember anything. As a former service industry employee, I enjoyed the descriptions of monotonous restaurant tasks. (I used to roll silverware for hours.) In Thinfinger’s case, anyone can clean a floor; only some people take pride in it. This is a book to be read during the thickest parts of the Florida summer scorch, accompanied by cheap beer and lowbrow mind-altering substances. —Arielle Stevenson

The Sex Lives of Cannibals/ Getting Stoned with Savages Irreverent travel writing that affirms your choice of an all-inclusive resort over “exploring” the authentic sides of a tropical paradise. In both books, J. Maarten Troost moves to remote Pacific Islands that capture the bizarre collision between the Western world and island life, as when disposable diapers keep washing ashore and native mothers keep casting them back into the ocean to keep them out of the hands of fecal sorcerers. —Shawn Alff

Tenth of December There’s nothing like a good book of short stories to dip into between dips, and few collections of recent years have been lavished with as much praise as George Saunders’ latest, called “The Best Book You’ll Read This Year” in a Jan. 3, 2013 New York Times Magazine cover story. Choosing the best book of the year when the year is only a few days old might sound a little premature, but just about every other reviewer has loved the book, too. If it’s anything like Saunders’ previous phantasmagoric, funny and sharp-eyed literary inventions, so will I.

And a note on the aforementioned Jeff Parker: As the head of UT’s innovative low-residency MFA program in creative writing, Parker organized the twice-annual Lectores reading series which brought Saunders to town as well as such acclaimed writers as Karen Russell and Nick Flynn for workshops and on-stage interviews (in which I was lucky to take part). The next series, June 13-20, is headlined by a double bill of writerly starpower: the amazing writer/director/actor Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know, It Chooses You) and Denis Johnson (Jesus’ Son, Train Dreams), who wasn’t able to make his originally scheduled gig at the January Lectores but will be here this time around. Plus, there’ll be the usual stellar lineup of national and local writers and a bittersweet farewell: Parker is leaving UT after this semester, headed to the University of Massachusetts. We’ll miss him. —David Warner

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