17 beach reads for and by badass women

Traditionally, a beach read is considered fluff: Something mindless, light-hearted, and easy to read. And while we love these kinds of books very much, we think the genre is due for a little expansion. As far as we’re concerned, the only requirement for a book to be a beach read is if it’s something you can enjoy while at the beach. So we’re teaming up with Read It Forward to give you some awesome and unexpected recommendations for what to pack on your next trip — even if it’s just a staycation.

For those unfamiliar, we’re completely obsessed with Read It Forward, an awesome website totally dedicated to the love of reading. The site helps readers find their next favorite book by introducing them to new authors and pointing them in the direction of excellent literature. It’s a book lover’s dream, and it doesn’t stop there: You can now enter to win a year’s supply of books from Read It Forward right here! (Yes, that’s 52 books for you to devour, free of charge.)

In the meantime, check out some of HG and Read It Forward’s favorite beach reads by kickass women below, and let us know what you’d add to the list.

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Boiled down to the basics, Naomi Jackson’s debut novel tells the story of two sisters sent from their home in Brooklyn to live in Barbados after their mother can no longer take care of them. What transpires is a lyrical and gorgeous coming-of-age story about family, love, mortality, and so much more. You won’t be able to put it down — so don’t forget to bring the sunscreen lest you burn in the interim.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

“Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.” And so begins the brilliant and beautiful book of lyric essays/poetry from the incomparable Maggie Nelson. Most recently, Nelson came out with The Argonauts, a memoir that explores love, life, sexuality, and gender through her experience starting a family of her own — which is an absolute must-read — but Bluets was our introduction to Nelson and the book that made us fall in love. Who knew meditations on the color blue could be so compelling?

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

As far as we’re concerned, Roxane Gay is the queen of the Internet. Her voice is incomparable, and her writing (no matter the medium — and that includes Twitter) consistently leaves us reeling. Bad Feminist is equal parts smart, humorous, and devastating, and explores everything from The Hunger Games to Scrabble and the many things in between. The book weaves cultural criticism with Gay’s personal stories, and is consistently insightful and spot-on. We especially love what Gay has to say about the concept of feminism itself — but really, the whole thing is just perfect.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

Miranda July is a woman of many talents. The filmmaker, actress, writer, artist, and all-around impressive human has seemingly done it all. In her debut novel, July explores the life of a lonely, hyper-organized woman as she stumbles through work at a self-defense non-profit, takes care of her bosses’ daughter, and falls in love (but not with the person she thought she would). It is a delightfully bizarre novel — and yes, it’s very Miranda July.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

We love Mindy Kaling with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. She’s hilarious, smart, incredibly talented, and just an all-around joy of a human being — and her debut book did not disappoint. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a must-read (and a must-reread), and is filled to the brim with uproarious anecdotes and inspiring tidbits of life wisdom.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Short story collections always make for wonderful beach reads — and if those short stories just happen to be based on beloved fairy tales, all the better. Angela Carter is the queen of reimagining classic fairy tales with a dark and much more grown-up twist. In honor of what would be the author’s 75th birthday, the book even has a brand new paperback edition, too: Perfect for travel.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith’s writing is a revelation. Whether critical essays or game-changing fiction, Smith has a style all her own, and nowhere is this as apparent as in her debut novel, White Teeth. The story feels impossible to condense into simple terms, but White Teeth explores three generations of friendship and folly between two families based in London. The result is a book that is incredibly smart, compelling, and insightful, that is oftentimes as humorous as it is heartbreaking.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Everyone is talking about The Girl on the Train — and for good reason. After a woman witnesses something shocking on her daily commute, she ends up entwined in the complicated series of events that follow. The story is told from multiple perspectives, and is filled with unreliable narrators — yet the character development is wonderful and each of them help create an unbelievably compelling narrative. The book is fast-paced and impossible to put down, and the perfect psychological thriller to devour poolside.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Again, short stories make for the perfect beach reads — and while Jhumpa Lahiri’s novels are absolutely stunning in their own right, her shorter works deserve equal credit. Interpreter of Maladies is nuanced and bittersweet, and all of Lahiri’s characters are complex yet relatable. Many of the stories are about the idea of feeling like an outsider, whether in a foreign country or in your own home — and all of them are absolutely wonderful.

The Folded Clock: A Diary by Heidi Julavits

We’ve probably all kept some form of a journal in our lives, but not as well as Heidi Julavits. This book tackles our desire to preserve and chronicle daily life through Julavits’ attempt at regularly journaling for the first time since she was much younger. It’s an incredible meditation on self-perception and on the passing of time, and it’s filled to the brim with honesty and beautiful prose.

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

Janet Mock’s memoir is a profound and inspirational account of her experiences growing up as a poor, transgender, and multiracial young girl — and like Mock herself, it’s all kinds of amazing. The book is an incredibly honest exploration of the paths we take to become who we are, and a reminder of just how important self-love truly is. Mock is a master storyteller, and Redefining Realness is next-level amazing.

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

While this book is classified as a novel, it reads more like a collection of interconnected short stories. The García sisters — Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofía — are forced to flee the Dominican Republic for America; and as a result, have to adjust to a completely different life and culture. It’s an incredible book that explores ideas of assimilation, fitting in, and growing up — and has relatable moments regardless if you identify with the immigrant experience.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Chances are, you’ve probably seen the film inspired by the incredible first book in Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley series (Matt Damon makes an amazing Tom Ripley, and Jude Law the perfect Dickie Greenleaf). But this is a story that you need to enjoy on the page. Highsmith is a master of the psychological thriller: The pacing is perfect, the characters compelling, and the plot twists just that —completely twisted. Personally, we think the first book is the most iconic for a reason, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

Issa Rae, aka Awkward Black Girl, has been a tour de force for years. The writer, actress, web series maven, and super cool lady has a ton of awesome projects on the horizon (including a TV show), and it’s easy to see why. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is a hilarious account of Rae’s life to date and a field guide to learning how to love yourself — awkwardness and all.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Playing on traditional Chinese folklore, Yangsze Choo’s interpretation of the “ghost bride” is a stunning and magical story as haunting as it is beautiful. The book follows a young woman, who has been promised to marry a recently deceased son from a very wealthy family. While fantastical by nature, The Ghost Bride is also a wonderful coming-of-age story with a badass protagonist — and we couldn’t put it down.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons From the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

For those of us who might have slightly morbid sensibilities, Caitlin Doughty’s book is an absolute delight and provides an oft unexplored perspective on the funeral industry that’s as straight-forward as it is fascinating to read. At first, a book about cremation might seem like a depressing beach read, but not with Doughty at the reigns. She tackles the subject with respect, practicality, and the perfect amount of humor.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

The center of Celeste Ng’s debut novel may be an incredible tragedy, but the story itself is about so much more. Everything I Never Told You is a gorgeous account of how we deal with grief, and how our relationships grow and unravel between those who we’re supposed to be closest with. Ng’s writing is delicate, lovely, and heart-wrenching; and the book is guaranteed to hit you right in the feels in the best possible way.

Don’t forget to enter for a chance to win a year’s worth of free books from Read It Forward. For more information and to enter the contest, click here!

(Images via Shutterstock, Amazon.)