For some, a beach read means a chance to sink your teeth into that intellectual tome that’s been collecting dust by the bed all year (why hello The Luminaries, old friend). For others it means re-reading a joyful bonkbuster or the Sue Grafton alphabet books, covers ripped and sun worn, gathering dust on the bookshelf at the bach.
Whatever your type, we’re here to provide inspiration for your beach pleasure this New Zealand raumati. And because books never date (unless it’s Go Ask Alice), find some recommendations from 2021 here, and here from 2020.
Calypso by David Sedaris
Read and recommended by Chris Parker, comedian
I find anyone who can read fiction at the beach and not get distracted, or lose their place, or just totally drift out of the plot due to the calming hypnotic sound of the waves crashing on the beach has a mind too powerful to be wasted on relaxation and should immediately join the UN, local body government or at the very least a school PTA. I can appreciate at the very least a hunger to read something substantial though.
Calypso offered the best of both worlds. Sedaris’s writing is sharp, edgy and mocking, there are little musings which will have you laughing out loud but then in contrast the ways in which it looks right into the horrible almost indescribable pain that it is to lose a family member, means you walk away from this book moved and longing to be kinder to your siblings.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Read and recommended by Paula Penfold, Stuff Circuit journalist
Okay, I get that a novel based on a real-life WWI spy ring and spanning two world wars doesn’t exactly sound like beach reading bliss, but hear me out. The Alice Network is truly a page-turner.
The narrative switches between two women: Eve Gardiner is a young, shy stutterer, recruited to the network in 1915 as a spy in enemy-occupied France. Eve reports to Lili (code-name Alice, hence the title) whose character is based on the true story of Louise de Bettignies, the French secret agent who heroically ran a vast network of female secret agents.
Charlie St. Clair is a pregnant, unmarried American socialite who in 1947 is searching for her cousin, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France.
Their stories collide when Charlie seeks out Eve — who, 30 years on, is drunk and angry — and they begin an epic shared journey to find truth, and retribution.
For me, it’s escapism because it’s a well-written thriller of a novel, but the fact that much of it is based on true events gives it a captivating authenticity.
It’s a great read.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Read and recommended by Kimberley Crossman, actor
I loved Shantaram so much. It has adventure, chaos, love, passion and mystery. An additional bonus is that if you love the book like I did, you can now watch the Apple series starring Charlie Hunnam. It's a longer story too, so it will keep you engaged for a while over the break.
Grand Union by Zadie Smith
Read and recommended by Roxie Mohebbi, actor
I actually bought this book in Sydney - on my WAY to the beach (lol) because I was struggling through my current book and wanted something non-committal.
Short stories (like short films) can be so underrated and this book is a good gateway drug if you've lost motivation to read too. The collection feels like a mix of stories, musings and essays so it varies in tone and pace.
I saw a review that said something along the lines of ‘it feels like Zadie is trying on a different outfit through each story and some are thrown together and some are more carefully curated’ – which is an honest take on the collection. To summarise with some key words: funny, sharp, perfectly political and kind of sexy too.
The Passage by Justin Conin
Read and recommended by Tory Whanau, mayor of Wellington
I’m a bit of a horror fan so this book was right down my alley. It’s an enjoyable post-apocalyptic story about a much smaller society trying to survive after a vampire-like virus was unleashed on the world. There’s also a supernatural element to it and the writing provides for some detailed visuals. I could not put it down. But it’s definitely one for the sci-fi or horror nerds – no romance to be seen here!
Diners, Dudes & Diets by Emily J.H. Contois
Read and recommended by Sam Low, Masterchef winner
Ever wondered how gender and power collide in food media and culture? Then you’ll enjoy this incredible book by Dr Emily Contois, a professor of media studies at the university of Tulsa in the USA.
A large focus of her work is around food media and social constructs of the industry, more specifically around masculinity within media marketing. It’s great if you are curious about why food products are packaged more “masculine” like ‘brogurt’, black packaged protein plus yoghurt targeted towards ‘men’. Contois breaks down how and when ‘dude food’ started seeping into mainstream media, the evolution of the genre of cookbooks targeted towards men, and how industries defeminised diet culture.
This book will help inform you on how and why we make certain food choices and where that is stemmed from.
The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
Read and recommended by Emma Lewisham, founder Emma Lewisham
Heller's debut follows Elle Bishop as she contemplates the status of her marriage after a brief moment of passion with a former lover while on holiday at her family's lakeside home in Cape Cod.
In describing a series of decisive moments in Elle's life, Heller constructs a portrait of her and her dilemma as the story moves between the present day and the past. Heller's compelling prose and emotional insight vividly depict the complexity and frailty of love and marriage.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Read and recommended by Erana James, actor
It may seem like an obvious choice, being so famous, but I just spent a week laying the sun with this book and it was perfect. It challenges your morals in moments and then evokes deep nostalgia the next. You get lulled into the storyteller's rhythm so easily it kind of whisks you away. I wish I could read it for the first time again.
The Palace Papers by Tina Brown and Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Read and recommended by Rebecca Wadey, Ensemble co-founder
My favourite genre of holiday read is an airport novel. The book you buy at the departure gate and read on a tropical beach before offloading at the hotel lobby for the next traveller to read.
These books are always fun page turners, but I rarely remember anything about them once finished. Which makes them hard to recommend! But I’ve barely passed through any airports in recent years which makes current recommends much easier.
I loved Tina Brown’s insightful and juicy The Diana Chronicles (2007) so was excited to read her follow up, The Palace Papers, on a recent holiday. The first part of it was rehashing a lot of the interviews from her earlier book, but there was some really interesting stuff about the Prince’s in the second half, and the terrible time William and Harry have had with the British media. It put Prince Harry’s comment to Oprah about the ‘invisible contract’ into context.
Another great holiday read from the end of last summer was Fleischman is in Trouble by my favourite magazine profile writer, Taffy Brodesser-Ackner. She’s so terrifyingly insightful and cutting that you never really know whose side you're on in this tale of a newly divorced couple.
If books are way too much for your brain to handle at the end of 2022 (I understand, I can barely type this sentence tbh), I can recommend reading through Taffy’s magazine oeuvre on your phone instead. Start with the incredible, viral interview with Gwyneth for the NY Times, then this hilarious profile on Tom Hiddleston for GQ, then perhaps this observational piece on Lorde for Dame Magazine.
“I object to Lorde’s precociousness. I object to her ability to metabolize her thoughts and manifest them into an actual art form that is then hand-delivered to the world…. I had that subdermal fire of creativity once, before I was so fucking tired.” Same Taffy, same.
A Visible Man by Edward Enninful and Anna by Amy Odell
Read and recommended by Zoe Walker Ahwa, Ensemble co-founder
I love nothing more than a gossipy biography or memoir, particularly when the weather is balmy and said book is being read at the beach, backyard or in bed. It's an easy and entertaining read and that, to me, is the definition of a 'beach read' (no thoughts, just vibes). There were a few books I read this year that fit that bill, including A Visible Man by British Vogue editor Edward Enninful, and Anna: The Biography, Amy Odell's detail-heavy biography of Anna Wintour (I interviewed Amy, one of the best fashion writers around, earlier this year).
As a magazine nerd, I obviously have an interest in the subject matter, but even those with a passing interest in fashion and media will enjoy them - if you also like glamour, celebrity name-dropping, gossip and stories of ambition.
I found Edward's to be particularly surprising – I thought I knew his story, but it offered new insight into his career, creative genius and sense of fun. I also loved how he really broke down how he approaches conceptualising and styling a shoot; good for aspiring creatives.