Blaze Through Your Beach Reading

Lit Chick
My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands, by Chelsea Handler (Bloomsbury)
Who needs a summer fling when you can have a whole season’s worth of one-night stands? Stand-up comedienne and Girls Behaving Badly star Chelsea Handler has had more than most women care to admit, fueled by an extroverted personality, a healthy libido, and cringe-inducing quantities of alcohol, and she’s packaged her exploits as a not-so-cautionary tale that will make even the most jaded beach reader blush through her spray tan. With giddy, self-sabotaging wit, Handler works her slatternly charm at weddings, reunions, and the local dive bar, not to mention the Vineyard and the Jersey Shore. The endings of these sordid episodes couldn’t be less predictable (for starters, Handler’s not one to worry about whether the guy will call the next day), and the supporting characters—her 28-year-old-virgin roommate, her coke-addled male friend, and her politically incorrect dad, plus a host of wingwomen—keep things outrageous. Less smug than the typical naughty-girl confessional, raunchier than Bridget Jones, My Horizontal Life is chick lit that refreshingly swaps marriage momentum for mojo.

Also in Your Beach Bag
Kiss & Tango: Looking for Love in Buenos Aires, by Marina Palmer (William Morrow)
A former Manhattan ad exec abandons the Upper East Side for the tango halls of Buenos Aires.
Breakfast With Tiffany, by Edwin John Wintle (Miramax)
A heartwarming memoir by a gay Greenwich Village bachelor who takes in his troubled teenage niece.
10 Men, by Alexandra Gray (Atlantic Monthly Press)
A variety pack of adventures in singlehood, via a wry, thoughtful British narrator.
The J.A.P. Chronicles, by Isabel Rose (Doubleday)
A sharper-than-it-has-to-be guilty pleasure about thirtysomething Jewish American Princesses.

Fantasy Traveler
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova (Little, Brown)
Sure, this 656-page vampire thriller will weigh down your beach bag, but look at it this way: It might be the only book you’ll need. Never was a ghost story so casually erudite, nor a historical travelogue such gripping entertainment. Kostova’s novel tracks three generations of a family in search of the tomb of Vlad the Impaler (a.k.a. Dracula), chasing down documents in Eastern Europe while the undead chase them in turn. The pages brim with exotic locales—Budapest, Utrecht, Slovenia, the Pyrénées, Romanian fortresses, Bulgarian villages, and the Tuscan hills. But it’s the layered storytelling that really takes you places. At points, the revelations come thick and fast; then they give way to musings on a brand of human cruelty rare even on the Jitney.

Also in Your Beach Bag
Finding George Orwell in Burma, by Emma Larkin (Penguin)
A pseudonymous journalist tracks Orwell’s influence.
The Almond, by Nedjma (Grove)
Semi-autobiographical erotic adventures of a Muslim rebel.
Bangkok Tattoo, by John Burdett (Knopf)
A Thai cop-thriller sequel as evocative as Burdett’s first, Bangkok 8.

Fact Fanatic
One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey “The Kid” Ungar, the World’s Greatest Poker Player, by Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson (Atria)
If you secretly prefer Atlantic City casinos to the Atlantic itself, check out One of a Kind, a standout among this year’s bumper crop of poker books. At its center is an irresistible figure: Stuey Ungar, a hyperkinetic savant who couldn’t sit still, maintain adult relationships, or do much of anything constructive—except count cards and read opponents like no one else. These skills took him from the Lower East Side to Las Vegas, where a fierce drug habit took hold. Because this book originated as Ungar’s autobiography, the authors have an unmatched resource in Stuey’s own anecdotes. They paint a picture of Ungar, who died broke in 1998, as poker’s John Belushi, a talented mess whose friends tried desperately to straighten him out.

Also in Your Beach Bag
The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century, by Steven Watts (Knopf)
Portrait of an engineering genius who built an empire despite a taste for crackpot ideas (and that pesky Hitler flirtation).
Forging Genius: The Making of Casey Stengel, by Steven Goldman (Potomac Books)
Catnip for the baseball scholar, this bio reveals that the Yankees manager—often written off as a figurehead—was anything but.
The Glorious Deception, by Jim Steinmeyer (Carroll & Graf)
The strange tale of Chung Ling Soo, vaudeville’s “Marvelous Chinese Conjurer,” famous for catching bullets—until one night when the trick went wrong.
Fourth of July, Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land, by Daniel Wolff (Bloomsbury)
In Wolff’s telling, the town that begat Bruce is perpetually ready for a comeback that never quite arrives.

Fiction Aficionado
Willful Creatures, by Aimee Bender (Doubleday)
A man buys a miniature technology consultant as a pet. A child with an iron for a head is born to a family of pumpkinheads. A man takes pride in bedding single moms, including a movie star whose acting improves as a result. Not all of Bender’s stories are quite this magical or bizarre, but all of them have the feel of carefully constructed parables. They tend to be cynical and not very kind, but their crisp wit—and their brevity—make them perfect for between-swim beach sessions. Experimental in the best sense, these stories are at once risky and self-assured and—most important on a baking day in the Hamptons—bitterly funny.

Also in Your Beach Bag
Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis (Knopf)
Going the Philip Roth route, Ellis is the seriously flawed narrator in his new novel.
No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf)
A resourceful Texas hunter flees rival drug gangs in a spare, exhilarating adventure.
Until I Find You, by John Irving (Random House)
The Garp-like son of a quirky tattoo-artist mother becomes a Hollywood actor but still feels lost.

Gossip Hound
Playground: A Childhood Lost Inside the Playboy Mansion, by Jennifer Saginor (HarperEntertainment)
A trashy beach read with soul, this tale of growing up in the Playboy Mansion is packed full of the kind of deplorable depravity you can’t tear your eyes away from. Courtesy of her father’s status as Hugh Hefner’s—and, by extension, all of L.A.’s—Doctor Feel Good, Jennifer Saginor had her own bedroom in the mansion. Her first exposure to sex, at age 6, was the sight of John Belushi having his way with a Playmate in a secret grotto—enough to scar anyone for life. From there, she graduated to high-school partying, a tragic love affair with Hefner’s girlfriend, and a twisted role as her father’s wingman. Dad is a monstrous figure (Hef, on the other hand, is curiously benevolent), and the heart of the story is Saginor’s pain at being abandoned. But the therapy-speak is leavened by an appealingly tough side: The mansion messed her up, but it’s also where she felt most at home, and the book serves as a 25-year history of a quintessentially American fantasyland.

Also in Your Beach Bag
The Perfect Manhattan, by Leanne Shear and Tracey Toomey (Broadway Books)
Class warfare with a twist: the chick-lit-ized confessions of two Hamptons bartenders.
Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs & Classical Music, by Blair Tindall (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Who knew oboists could be so bitter and so lusty?
Bliss: A Novel, by Danyel Smith (Crown)
A diva’s-eye view of the music industry from the former editor-in-chief of Vibe.

Illustrations by James Taylor.

Blaze Through Your Beach Reading