If any body is a beach body, any book is a beach read. Try on these books this summer.

Just like any body can be a beach body, any book can be a beach read.

When you’re packing a travel bag this summer and mulling over the Beach Reads! display at your local independent bookstore, stop and ask yourself: What do I really want to read? What do I enjoy reading?

The category “beach read,” as best as anyone can tell, came into fashion in the 1990s, according to The Guardian. It’s a marketing trick, not a mandate.

As a marketing term, it’s successful because it’s aspirational. We see ourselves on a beach, relaxed and lazily reading that fun book with the bright cover, one that looks nothing like spreadsheets or reports, a book that entertains but doesn’t ask too much.

But not everyone relaxes the same way.

Maybe you really do want to spend time with the light contemporary fiction, steamy romance, or compulsive thriller that generally gets labeled “beach read.” Totally fine. We’ve got some suggestions for you.

On the other hand, lazy days and long flights mean vacation can be a perfect time to tackle the books you’ve always meant to read. Classics, essays, literary fiction – if you’re a reader who considers heavy reading light work, we’ve got some less conventional recommendations, too.

Is it a body on the beach? Yes: Beach body. Is it a book on a beach? Yes: Beach read.

Find your next read USA TODAY's Best-selling booklist

Smart romance

"The Other Side of Disappearing," Kate Clayborn (Kensington, pp 432, out now).

"The Other Side of Disappearing," Kate Clayborn
"The Other Side of Disappearing," Kate Clayborn

What does “smart romance” mean? This book gave me a definition: a romance in which a happy-ever-after ending happens but doesn’t feel required because the characters all had emotional growth. Here, Clayborn sends a true crime podcast producer and a tough-as-nails older sister on a road trip that will change their lives.

More like this: "Summer Romance," Annabel Monaghan; "When I Think of You," Myah Ariel; "Funny Story," Emily Henry.

Literary Larks

Kaveh Akbar
Kaveh Akbar

"Martyr!" Kaveh Akbar (Penguin Random House, pp 352, out now).

Akbar is a poet, and you can see that in the lyrical writing of his debut novel. The story dips in and out of time and memory and points of view, always twisting around the idea of love. Fun and touching and a little weird, this book is made for hot summer nights.

More like this: "Help Wanted," Adelle Waldman; "Come and Get It," Kiley Reid; "Family Meal," Bryan Washington.

Literary Adventures

"James" by Percival Everett.
"James" by Percival Everett.

"James," Percival Everett (Doubleday, pp 320, out now).

Consider this retelling of "Huck Finn" your summer reading assignment. Told from the perspective of clever and compassionate Jim, the dangerous Mississippi River raft trip includes familiar stops and characters (no need to read the original), but is sharper and comes with higher stakes as our hero tries to reunite his family.

More like this: "The Vaster Wilds," Lauren Groff; "Lies & Weddings," Kevin Kwan; "Lone Women," Victor Lavalle.


"While We Were Burning" by Sara Koffi
"While We Were Burning" by Sara Koffi

"While We Were Burning," Sara Koffi (Penguin, pp 304, out now).

Unreliable narrators and blurry relationship boundaries make this story, examining race and class in Memphis, Tennessee, especially twisty.

More like this: "First Lie Wins," Ashley Elston; "A Line in the Sand," Kevin Powers; "Bright Young Women," Jessica Knoll.


"The Count of Monte Cristo," Alexander Dumas
"The Count of Monte Cristo," Alexander Dumas

"The Count of Monte Cristo," Alexander Dumas (Penguin, pp 1,276, out now).

Don’t be intimidated by size. Many classics, including this one, were written in installments, which means short chapters and built-in cliffhangers. And no matter the time period, people are the same, loving and scheming and struggling. Think of this classic revenge story like your latest binge watch.

More like this: "Their Eyes Were Watching God," Zora Neale Hurston; "Anna Karenina," Leo Tolstoy; "Jane Eyre," Charlotte Bronte.


"Bite by Bite," Aimee Nezhukumatathil (HarperCollins, pp 224, out now).

Essay collections are excellent vacation reads, able to be picked up and put down without interrupting a narrative. Each of these short essays is a perfect little bite, exploring the ways food sparks memory and meaning in our lives.

More like this: "Divine Might," Natalie Haynes; "The Comfort of Crows," Margaret Renkl; "A Praise Song for Kitchen Ghosts," Crystal Wilkinson.


"There’s Always This Year," Hanif Abdurraqib
"There’s Always This Year," Hanif Abdurraqib

"There’s Always This Year," Hanif Abdurraqib (Random House, pp 352 out now).

If you want nonfiction that requires you to go a little deeper, Abdurraqib delivers. This is a book about basketball. It’s also about belonging and grief, ambition and America. And all of it is delivered in a structure that perfectly, brilliantly mimics a basketball game. Everything comes down to the final two minutes.

More like this: "A Map of Future Ruins," Lauren Markham; "Grief Is for People," Sloane Crosley; "This Is What It Sounds Like," Susan Rogers & Ogi Ogas.

Hillary Copsey is the book adviser at The Mercantile Library in Cincinnati.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Need a summer beach read? USA TODAY's books to read this summer