Confession: I hate the beach. It’s hot and sticky and sand gets everywhere. But I love sitting near the water with a great summer beach read, whether it’s light and frothy or a twisty thriller. This year, though, everything is upside down. Publishers are pushing back publication of summer releases, and who knows if we’ll be able to enjoy languid July days along Lake Michigan.
Instead, let these six beach reads — a mix of new releases and old faves — take you to the water. Plus, we asked some of the city’s best barkeeps to offer drink pairings for each title to further enhance the summer vibe (scroll to the bottom of this page for several of the cocktail recipes). Cheers!
Maine, by J. Courtney Sullivan (Knopf, 2011)
Join the four women of the Kelleher clan as they head to their family cottage on the Maine coast. What could go wrong? Dark secrets. Petty jealousies. Too much wine. All the elements of a great beach novel.
Pair it with: Lioco Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2018. “What better wine, with its balance of fruit, depth, and acidity, to pair with Maine’s rich, delicious seafood? Plus, I can imagine the female characters of this novel picking a California chardonnay to drink while arguing with each other,” says Ping Ho, owner and wine director of The Royce, Marrow, and Mink.
Barbarian Days, by William Finnegan (Penguin Books, 2015)
This memoir of big-wave surfing won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for biography. But it’s about more than hanging 10. It’s a coming-of-age adventure that has Finnegan trying to understand his obsession and the world.
Pair it with: The Tiny Island from Castalia at Sfumato. “This book follows an obsession that takes on new meaning with each stage of the author’s life,” says owner Kevin Peterson. “For me, pineapple and cardamom are ingredients that have taken on new meaning through the course of my life, from accessible glimpses of tropical luxury, to tools of my trades, to reminders of flavors I savored as a child.”
Creatures, by Crissy Van Meter (Algonquin Books, 2020)
This book is set on a fictional island off the coast of Los Angeles, and it washes over you like the tides. This is a father-daughter story but also a meditation on love and forgiveness. The world it inhabits is so vivid you can taste the sea air.
Pair with: Flowers of Vietnam’s fiery, rye-based Keep Going Away*. “It has something bittersweet, a slight nostalgic florality, with fire and earth to ground it,” beverage manager Marlowe Johnson says. “The kind of slow drink that changes with each sip and makes you want to try it again and again, just to figure something out.”
Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, 2009)
Nothing really happens in this novel, much like summer itself. Instead, we meet Benji on his way to becoming a man at his family’s summer cottage in New York’s Sag Harbor. Warning: May leave you nostalgic.
Pair with: Part & Parcel* from Detroit City Distillery. “Something about this classic cocktail makes me nostalgic for my adolescence,” says co-owner Michael Forsyth. “Like raiding my dad’s liquor cabinet for gin, summer flings on hot nights, and trying to figure out how to be a sophisticated young man while still being an inherently simple boy.”
Chances Are, by Richard Russo (Knopf, 2019)
The latest novel by the Pulitzer Prize winner known for flawed male characters brings us to Martha’s Vineyard. There, three friends who went to college instead of Vietnam have a reunion that sets the stage for the big mystery: What happened to Jacey Rockafellow?
Pair it with: Batch Brewing Co.’s Centennial Pils. “If you were in the Vietnam War, back there and then you’d be drinking a fizzy yellow lager. You’d also likely be eating some indigenous food featuring flavors like lemongrass and kaffir lime,” co-owner Stephen Roginson says. “This beer brings some of those bright flavors together, coincidentally perfect for beach sipping.”
Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui (Algonquin Books, 2020)
This collection of essays is about swimming, yes, but also what draws humans to the watering hole. It’s a beautiful collection by a competitive swimmer who wants to understand why we swim.
Pair with: Lost River’s fruity, effervescent Lost 75*. “Tsui talks about swimming freeing one’s mind, being an escape. This drink is crisp, refreshing — almost mind clearing,” says manager and beverage director Ariel Gosselin. “It’s like being lost at sea and then finding the perfect beach.”
Keep Going Away
1.5oz Rye Whiskey
1oz Jasmine tea (cold)
.75oz Blanc Vermouth
.25oz Demerara Sugar Syrup (2 parts demerara sugar to 1 part hot water)
5 dashes hopped grapefruit bitters
Pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a mixing vessel and stir with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a grapefruit twist
Part & Parcel
2 oz Detroit City Distillery Railroad Gin
.75 oz St-Germain
.75 oz grapefruit juice
.25 oz lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup
5 drops grapefruit bitters
Shake and serve in a chilled glass
1.5 oz gin (we use Watershed Guild Gin or Copper and Kings Gin at Lost River)
1/2 oz lemon
1/2 oz passionfruit syrup
1/2 oz blueberry grenadine
Directions for blueberry grenadine:
Use equal parts 100 percent blueberry juice and sugar. Cook until sugar has dissolved. Let cool – add half capful of orange blossom water
Directions for drink:
Shake with ice and strain. Top with 2 oz cava. Garnish with a strawberry or fruit of your choice.