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12 Great beach reads that happen to be classics

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Full of humor and great dialogue, these are perfect books for a day at the beach, pool, park, or just the backyard this summer.

It’s beach season, friends. Or, at least, it’s the season where we take a few days off and hopefully set aside some time to relax with family, disconnect, and do a bit of reading. Nothing is better than sitting at the beach, in the woods, or in a quiet garden with a good book.

There are a few requirements for a good beach book. It cannot be agonizingly difficult to read, too densely written, too intellectual, or too sad. When I’m looking for a good beach book, I want a page-turner with a plot that moves along, witty dialogue, and humor.

Every summer, lists of new books to take to the beach are released. Often those lists include worthy writing, but they also contain a fair number of faddish, trendy books with little lasting value. They are here one summer and forgotten forever by the next. In my opinion, though, a good beach book doesn’t have to compromise on quality, and many books of classic literature that have stood the test of time are also eminently readable and relaxing.

Here’s a list of those kind of beach books that I couldn’t put down once I started reading..

Excellent Women  by Barbara Pym

Barbara Pym is a comedic master, and this is one of her most amusing efforts. It’s about a clergyman’s daughter and a committed, church-going single woman in 1950s England. They’re the sort of creative, capable, repressed women who are often ignored or taken for granted. When new neighbors with a colorful life move into the apartment next door, the two women find their world turned upside down.

Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Bertie Wooster is a consummate bachelor who relies on his omnipresent and omniscient butler, Jeeves, for everything. This includes extricating him from ill-considered romantic engagements to earnest women and helping him avoid his overbearing aunts. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud at the beach and not even being embarrassed about it.

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

Evelyn Waugh has a keen satirical eye. In this novel he turns his laughter towards the excesses of journalism, as over-eager journalists from around the world compete for the hottest scoop and are subsequently manipulated by a would-be dictator.

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The creativeness and sheer comic genius of Terry Pratchett is such that he really ought to be more famous. The Color of Magic is the first of a series of loosely related books about a fantasy universe called Discworld. These books aren’t about much in particular, but every detail is so amusing, every character so lively, and the plots so wonderfully written that I can’t stop reading them.

The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

Father Brown is a beloved character for a reason. His strange mixture of innocence and wisdom make for compelling reading, and Chesterton always comes up with good mysteries for the priest-detective to solve that keep the reader interested.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre

This classic cold war novel about spies is full of suspense and plot twists. A peek into an an interesting period of world history and its attendant moral quandaries, it has quickly become a classic.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

The supposedly fun thing is a trip on a cruise ship. Wallace didn’t enjoy it. Or he kind of did, but not the way other people seemed to be enjoying it? It’s complicated. This book of essays had me fascinated by subjects I never thought of before – going on a cruise, attending the Illinois State Fair, the intricacies of the sport of tennis. Wallace is a good-natured man who is a bit too insightful for his own good, and being swept away in his curiosity and confusion at totally normal human activities is both funny and thought-provoking at the same time.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

In the middle of the night, the Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by the snow. Inside, a wealthy American traveler has also come to an unexpected halt inside his luxury cabin, stabbed a dozen times. Thus begins the now-beloved mystery, which must be solved by detective Hercule Poirot. Christie is called the Queen of Mystery for a reason, and even if you’ve already watched the television or film adaptations, the book is still rewarding reading.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I’ve read this book several times now and always marvel at how good Austen is at building suspense by showing how misunderstandings and under-examined motives cause human drama. This book is like a soap opera that’s actually well-plotted and inhabited by sympathetic characters.

The Right Stuff  by Tom Wolfe

This book about the early days of the space program is full of hotshot pilots and stories about the colorful and brave souls who first flew the experimental aircraft that eventually launched humankind into space. These days, the space program is back in the news, encouraging us to dream big and reach for the stars.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy

A Confederacy of Dunces is a monumental comedic effort that introduces us to Ignatius J. Reilly, one of the most memorable characters in all of fiction. Ignatius is an over-educated mixture of unrealistic, idealistic philosophy and numerous, vaguely defined illnesses he’s probably made up in his own head. His attempts to come to terms with the world bring much-needed levity to the search for our place in a society that is often befuddling.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

This autobiographical book by Hemingway is about his early, starving-artist years in 1920s Paris. The memoir is jam-packed with cameo appearances from famous writers and artists. As always, his prose is captivating, as befits a writer at the height of his craft.

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