What do authors of notable beach books turn to when they want to kick back? What do writers as diverse as Augusten Burroughs and Danielle Steel pick to read in a day, a weekend, or a summer? What books do they keep on hand to dip into and out of? Real Simple asked some of your favorite novelists that question; the recommendations here, in their own words, are as varied and surprising as the bold-faced names behind them.
Augusten Burroughs is the author of A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father ($14, amazon.com).
Jackie Collins has written more than 25 best-sellers, including her latest, Poor Little Bitch Girl ($27, amazon.com).
Nelson DeMille, the author of numerous suspense novels, is releasing his latest, The Lion, in June ($28, amazon.com).
Janet Evanovich writes romance and mystery novels, most recently Sizzling Sixteen ($28, amazon.com).
Linda Fairstein is an assistant district attorney turned novelist whose 12th legal thriller, Hell Gate ($27, amazon.com), came out in March.
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote Eat, Pray, Love, among other books ($15, amazon.com).
Philippa Gregory writes historical fiction. The Other Queen ($16, amazon.com) is now in paperback.
Sophie Kinsella is the author of Twenties Girl ($15, amazon.com), now out in paperback.
Debbie Macomber is the author of numerous novels, including Hannah’s List ($25, amazon.com), published in April.
James Patterson writes prolifically for both adults and children. Fang: A Maximum Ride Novel ($18, amazon.com) came out in March.
Jodi Picoult is the author of 18 novels. Her latest is House Rules ($28, amazon.com).
Danielle Steel has published almost 80 novels for adults, plus a series of books for young readers. Big Girl ($28, amazon.com) came out in February.
2 of 7James Baigrie
Burroughs:The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers ($8, amazon.com). A slender 163 pages, but it inhales all the light, matter, and gravity in the vicinity. Stunningly evocative and gorgeously written, this truly magnificent book will replace your entire life for one perfect day.
Collins:Whacked, by Jules Asner ($15, amazon.com). Shes a first-time author, married to director Steven Soderbergh, and this delicious tale of revenge—set in L.A.—rocks!
DeMille:The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli ($17, amazon.com). Its, well Machiavellian. A great help if youre dealing with a summer landlord or a difficult au pair.
Evanovich:The Concrete Blonde, by Michael Connelly ($8, amazon.com). A classic in Connellys Harry Bosch detective seriesand one of my favorites.
Fairstein: The latest Lisa Scottoline thriller.
Gilbert:The Principles of Uncertainty, by Maira Kalman ($30, amazon.com). Gorgeous and touching. A quirky year-in-the-life as told by one of our most wonderful illustratorsshort in words, but rich in little visual pleasures.
Gregory:Dragonwyck, by Anya Seton ($16, amazon.com). A gothic novel set in 1844 America. At times its utterly ridiculous, but it is truly haunting. Think an American Jane Eyre at high speed. A great book to gulp down in a day.
Kinsella:The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon ($14, amazon.com). Its hero, an autistic 15-year-old, is one of the most poignant in contemporary literature.
Macomber:Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh ($16, amazon.com).
A book I simply love, love, love, because it is truly a treasure. Living by the sea, I appreciate the depth of wisdom in each beautifully penned chapter.
Patterson:No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy ($15, amazon.com). The only thriller I have ever read that also qualifies as art, at least in my mind.”
Picoult:The Third Angel, by Alice Hoffman ($15, amazon.com). I inhale anything Alice writes, but this stunning book is among her loveliest. Once I started it, I didnt put it down.
Steel: Anything by Jodi Picoult.
3 of 7James Baigrie
Books for a Long Weekend
Burroughs:The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton ($11, amazon.com). The only thing more delicious than spending a weekend reading The House of Mirth is reading it in the grass or on the sand. Mosquitoes will leave you alone. It will not rain. This is Edith Wharton. Nature bends.
Collins:The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald ($14, amazon.com). Jay Gatsby is so charismatic, sexy, and mysterious, and I love him. Good to share with a guy in bed!
DeMille:The Gold Coast, by Nelson DeMille ($15, amazon.com). What can I say? Read it on the beach and attract favorable comments.
Evanovich:The Two Minute Rule, by Robert Crais ($8, amazon.com). Its Crais, for crying out loud! Who would not want to spend a weekend with Robert Crais?
Fairstein:The Diana Chronicles, by Tina Brown ($16, amazon.com).
Even if you think you know everything about Princess Dianaor think you dont want to know everything.
Gilbert:The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman ($15, amazon.com). The heartbreaking true story of an immigrant Hmong childs epilepsy and the American doctors who tried to cure her (not realizing that traditional Hmong families see epilepsy as something of a blessing). A story of moral and cultural complexity.
Gregory:Lottery, by Patricia Wood ($14, amazon.com). A hugely feel-good novel that had me laughing out loud at the heros rise to happiness from absolute despair.
Kinsella:The Tenderness of Wolves, by Stef Penny ($15, amazon.com). A gripping, atmospheric murder story set in the snowy wastes of Canada, with some wonderful descriptions of an extreme landscape. I never knew I could be so riveted by snow!
Macomber:The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher ($9, amazon.com).
One of my all-time favorite books. The story touched me on several levels, but mostly because my own father was a German POW. It helped me appreciate the tremendous sacrifices made during World War II.
Patterson:Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, by Evan S. Connell (each $15, amazon.com). Astonishingly different points of view, in two books, from a wife and a husband, on the history of a familys life in Kansas City.
Picoult:Skeletons at the Feast, by Chris Bohjalian ($15, amazon.com). A Bohjalian novel is guaranteed to be rich in character and gorgeous writing. This one, based on a real journal, delves into the history of World War II.
Steel:Become a Better You, by Joel Osteen ($15, amazon.com).
4 of 7James Baigrie
Books to Savor All Summer
Burroughs: Tennessee Williams, Flannery OConnor, and Tillie Olsen. Spend the entire summer with them. It doesnt matter what you read or which order you read them in. The wisdom and heartbreak centers of your brain will be electrified. I do not have the words to tell you what a fine summer you will have and how much you will never regret it.
Collins:The Godfather, by Mario Puzo ($15, amazon.com). You can rereread it all summer and it will still seem fresh and so true. The characters jump off the page.
DeMille:Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham ($6, amazon.com). Not for the beach, but for rainy days and quiet summer nights. One of my favorites.
Evanovich:65 Years of Little Golden Books ($18, amazon.com). Pictures, smiles, happy endingsa trip back to simpler times.
Fairstein:The Eustace Diamonds, by Anthony Trollope ($11, amazon.com).
Its long and dense, and its easy to get lost in the wonderful storytelling.
Gilbert:The Treasury of Oz, by L. Frank Baum ($19.50, amazon.com). If by some miracle I had a summer to sit and read, I would treat myself to rereading the most delightful books of my childhoodthe Oz books. Baum sent plucky Dorothy back to Oz more than a dozen times after The Wizard of Oz, and her wondrous adventures just get better. If you can borrow a 10-year-old to share this experience with, all the better!
Gregory:History Play: The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe, by Rodney Bolt ($25, amazon.com). This takes you into the fictional heart of Shakespeares England, suggests a wonderfully imaginative explanation of the genius of the Bards plays, makes your head spin with possibilitiesand makes you wonder who did write all those wonderful plays.
Kinsella:Jane Austen: The Complete Novels ($25, amazon.com). Austen is a perennial delight.
Macomber:World Without End, by Ken Follett ($22, amazon.com).
Follett is an amazing storyteller, with the strength to hold my interest in a book of more than a thousand pages. Im terribly critical when reading. I simply know too much about the writing process. And when something minor is off, I find the fault glaring. Follett is such a pro that I can read and savor every single page.
Patterson:One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez ($15, amazon.com). Absolutely magnificent magical realism, and probably my favorite novel ever.
Picoult: Sadly, the only books Ill be savoring all summer are college information guides, since I have a senior in high school next year.
Steel: Danielle Steel :)
5 of 7James Baigrie
Books to Dip Into and Out Of
Burroughs:The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson ($22, amazon.com). We know Emily Dickinson lived in olden days and she was a poet and seldom left her home. But read one of her poemsany one will doand youll see the evidence of a glittering genius. You will be amazed by what one brilliant woman can accomplish alone in her bedroom without e-mail, a telephone, or a best friend.
Collins: Anything by Elmore Leonard. His books are short, smart, and hilarious.
DeMille:The Atlantic Book of British and American Poetry, edited by Edith Sitwell (find used copies online, amazon.com). Sitwell picked the best of the best in the English language. Excellent with a bottle of wine on the porch or the patio.
Evanovich:Disney Princess The Ultimate Sticker Book ($7, amazon.com). Stick Snow White and Cinderella on the pages and make up your own stories.
Fairstein: I always keep a volume of 19th-century British poetry near my bed. Its a delight to put myself to sleep with a sonnet or a love poem.
Gilbert:Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius ($11, amazon.com). I keep a copy by my bed. And the fact that the ruminations of a second-century Roman emperor bring me comfort, delight, and inspiration is a clue to how timeless this is. Even those of us who arent governing empires can benefit from these musings on courage and decency.
Gregory:Sappho: A New Translation, translated by Mary Barnard ($14, amazon.com). It sounds fearfully heavy, but it is absolutely contemporary in feel. A friend who teaches a course in Sappho sent me one poem: Dont ask me what to wear. This is a poet who lived thousands of years ago, yet her work will make a modern woman laugh with recognition.
Kinsella:The Portable Dorothy Parker, edited by Marion Meade ($18, amazon.com). I adore her wit and dark humor.
Macomber:Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis ($14, amazon.com).
A series of radio broadcasts Lewis made during World War II, which can be absorbed chapter by chapter without loss of continuity.
Patterson:Nine Horses, by Billy Collins ($15, amazon.com). Collins makes writing accessible poetry seem easy.
Picoult:The Best American Short Stories ($14, amazon.com). I am a sucker for this collection and keep a copy of the 2007 edition, edited by Stephen King, in the guest room of our lake house.
Steel: Anything religious.
6 of 7James Merrell
Good and Trashy
If a book is a runaway best seller, it cant be good, right? These four blockbusters, picked by the Real Simple staff, defy that common wisdom.
• The Carpetbaggers,by Harold Robbins ($8, amazon.com). No one merges sentimentality and sleaze better than Robbins, who drew on the life of Howard Hughes for this 1961 pulse-racer. One chapter, The Story of Nevada Smith, may be among the best Westerns ever written.
• The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty ($8, amazon.com). The 1971 occult shocker is even scarierand, thankfully, more logicalthan the movie version. Trivia: Blatty reportedly based the character Chris MacNeil, the actress mother, on his neighbor Shirley MacLaine.
• Jaws, by Peter Benchley ($17, amazon.com). True, not one of the characters is particularly appealing. But this 1974 fish tale is a lot like its man-eating villain: fast, streamlined, and relentless.
• Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann ($14, amazon.com). Young women seek success, men, pills, and marriage (not necessarily in that order) in this bicoastal roman à clef set (and first published) in the 1960s. The original sex-and-shopping novel.
Type in the name of a favorite author and youll get a map of literature”—a host of writers arrayed around your pick. The idea: The closer a name is to your favorite, the greater the likelihood that youll enjoy that authors work.
When youve turned the last page and dont quite know what to read next, go to this site, which will tell you exactly that. Type in the name of a book you enjoyed and youll get back a list of books to try.