There are many different types of readers in the world, from those who make it a daily habit to those who treat it as a pleasure to indulge in and everything in between. But every type of reader can agree on the best place to read a book: a vacation. Preferably, poolside or on a beach, but we can’t be too picky nowadays.
Whether you’re planning to spend the summer at home, jetting off to somewhere exotic, visiting family or anything else, let there be a book to accompany you, a story to take you even further away. I’ve rounded up eight books I think can be best enjoyed poolside, which will take you on doomed holidays, scandalous cons, alternative lives and more.
Find your book of the summer and give it the top priority in your hand luggage.
I’m going to start off strong. This is THE book I want to recommend, the entire inspiration for this article. It isn’t new by any means, in fact, the talented Emily Henry has released two novels since (Book Lovers and Happy Place, both of which I recommend). But it is my favourite Emily Henry book, and perhaps one of my favourite books of all time.
This is the perfect poolside book because it is all about travel. As a keen traveller myself, I loved getting to visit so many places with this book. The characters are vivid and complex and simply leap off the page. The first time I read this book, I read it poolside on the hottest day of the year in one massive gulp. By the end of it, I was still starving for more.
“Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart—she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown—but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together.
Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven't spoken since.
Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together—lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees.
Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?” - People We Meet on Vacation, Emily Henry
Even though I naturally gravitate to fiction, I recognise that not everyone does, and so I wanted to ensure there were three non-fiction options present on this list. Some people love reading non-fiction by the pool, and there is nothing wrong with that. But I want to ensure that you have something just as gripping, and so here is another book I read by the pool, two years ago in Malaga.
This book is so crazy that it feels like fiction. You’ve likely heard of Anna Delvey by now, and perhaps even watched the Netflix adaptation, Inventing Anna. I personally preferred this book to the show.
Rachel has a beautiful way of recounting events and inviting the reader past the glitz and glam, to the insecurities at the heart of the matter. I found her to be very transparent about her own role and naivety.
This is a juicy, dramatic story to be enjoyed with a cool drink, and once in a while, you can shake your sunhat-clad head when you remember it is a true story!
“Rachel DeLoache Williams’s new friend Anna Delvey, a self-proclaimed German heiress, was worldly and ambitious. She was also generous—picking up the tab for lavish dinners at Le Coucou, infrared sauna sessions at HigherDOSE, drinks at the 11 Howard Library bar, and regular workout sessions with a celebrity personal trainer.
When Anna proposed an all-expenses-paid trip to Marrakech at the five-star La Mamounia hotel, Rachel jumped at the chance. But when Anna’s credit cards mysteriously stopped working, the dream vacation quickly took a dark turn. Anna asked Rachel to begin fronting costs—first for flights, then meals and shopping, and, finally, for their $7,500-per-night private villa. Before Rachel knew it, more than $62,000 had been charged to her credit cards. Anna swore she would reimburse Rachel the moment they returned to New York.
Back in Manhattan, the repayment never materialized, and a shocking pattern of deception emerged. Rachel learned that Anna had left a trail of deceit—and unpaid bills—wherever she’d been. Mortified, Rachel contacted the district attorney, and in a stunning turn of events, found herself helping to bring down one of the city’s most notorious con artists.” - My Friend Anna, Rachel DeLoache Williams
I’ll be honest, I didn’t read this book by a pool. Despite what you might think, I don’t spend all of my time on sandy beaches or draped over a sun bed. I live in a rainy country in Europe, and I spend most of my days behind my desk writing. Sigh. So I read this book in my cosy bed with a bad case of the flu, but I definitely would like to reread it by the pool, so I urge you to live out my fantasy.
This book is cosy and personal. Even if you’re on a crowded train or beach, you’ll feel like you’re alone with the main character Casey. It is captivating, not through dramatic events, but simply at how intimately you’re allowed into Casey’s mind. You’ll be clinging on to know how her story ends.
The fact that it isn’t filled with fast-paced car chases or unforgivable betrayals means you can put this book down when you need to. Whether that’s to take a dip to cool off or to take a nap like I frequently needed to. Despite its gentle pace, you feel so connected to the character that you’re desperate to find out how her story ends.
“Blindsided by her mother’s sudden death, and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody has arrived in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan. Her mail consists of wedding invitations and final notices from debt collectors. A former child golf prodigy, she now waits tables in Harvard Square and rents a tiny, moldy room at the side of a garage where she works on the novel she’s been writing for six years.
At thirty-one, Casey is still clutching onto something nearly all her old friends have let go of: the determination to live a creative life. When she falls for two very different men at the same time, her world fractures even more. Casey’s fight to fulfill her creative ambitions and balance the conflicting demands of art and life is challenged in ways that push her to the brink.” - Writers & Lovers, Lily King
I don’t think I have a single book recommendation list that doesn’t contain at least one Marian Keyes novel. I don’t think it is even possible for such a list to exist.
This is my favourite Marian Keyes book. That’s difficult for me to admit, as I love just about anything she writes, but there is just something different about this novel.
It’s a big book which means that it’s a commitment to bring (unless you have an e-reader and can enjoy the extra luggage room), but it also means you won’t need more books. This is a blessing in disguise as nothing will compare to this novel. I read it yearly and struggle to find a follow-up.
This novel contains larger-than-life characters and has the right amount of laughs for a poolside read. It’s entertaining and fun, and you’ll feel the hours slip away as you slowly bronze - with the protection of SPF 50, of course!
“They're a glamorous family, the Caseys. Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together--birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they're a happy family. Johnny's wife, Jessie--who has the most money--insists on it.
Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much . . .
Still, everything manages to stay under control--that is, until Ed's wife, Cara, gets a concussion and can't keep her thoughts or opinions to herself. One careless remark at Johnny's birthday party, with the entire family present, and Cara starts spilling all their secrets.
As everything unravels, each of the adults finds themselves wondering if it's--finally--the time to grow up.” - Grown Ups, Marian Keyes
I promised more non-fiction, and here it is… with a twist, of course! I am a huge fan of Dolly’s work. I adored her first book, ‘Everything I Know About Love’, which I often describe as the memoir of a normal girl. She then released a fiction novel, ‘Ghosts’, which was also incredibly written. And throughout all of this, Dolly has been writing a weekly column for The SundayTimes Style, as a sort of modern-day agony aunt. This book, ‘Dear Dolly’, is a collection of some of her favourite columns so far.
This is the perfect book for someone looking for a light read on holiday. It’s small so it will leave plenty of space in your suitcase for bikinis and sandals. Each chapter is a letter and response, so you can easily put it aside in between - but you might struggle to put it down! I particularly loved the forward in which Dolly discusses her choice to become an agony aunt and the responsibility that comes with it.
I started this book as my flight took off from Amsterdam, and struggled to put it away when we landed in Lisbon.
“Since early 2020, Dolly Alderton has been sharing her wisdom, warmth and wit with the countless people who have written in to her Dear Dolly agony aunt column in The Sunday Times Style. Their questions range from the painfully—and sometimes hilariously—relatable to the occasionally bizarre. They include breakups and body issues, families, friendships, dating, divorce, the pleasures and pitfalls of social media, sex, loneliness, longing, love and everything in between.
Without judgement, and with deep empathy informed by her own, much-chronicled adventures in love, friendship and dating, Dolly leads us by the hand through the various labyrinths of life, proving that a problem shared is truly a problem halved.” - Dear Dolly, Dolly Alderton
There are a lot of great books by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Although if you’re on BookTok, you’d be misled to think she’s only written ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ and ‘Daisy Jones and the Six’. That would do a great disservice to all of her incredible novels, and I actually prefer her earlier work.
I chose ‘Maybe in Another Life’ for this list because it captures the wonder and potential you feel on holiday. I do some of my best thinking when I’m travelling, as it feels like anything is possible. Not just for while you’re away, but for when you come home. Maybe you will start jogging more, maybe you’ll take more chances with your wardrobe, maybe you’ll put yourself out there. There’s a confidence that comes with your holiday self, and I wish I could bottle that up to take home with me.
This is a book of possibilities. Or, more specifically, two possibilities. It’s a remarkable reminder that things can turn out so differently based on one decision, and that’s okay. I’m someone who struggles with a lot of existential angst, and this book felt like a salve to that chronic fear.
“At the age of 29, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence with her best friend, Gabby. Shortly after, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.
Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?
In concurrent story lines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: is anything meant to be? Is there such a thing as a soul mate? Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she’s found him.” - Maybe in Another Life, Taylor Jenkins Reid
Looking for something fun and light-hearted with a few surprises to make you gasp? Then I’ve found your ultimate poolside book.
This is a quirky novel that keeps you on your toes. It’s easy and enjoyable, and even includes a trip of its own! I loved the unique relationship between Bee and Bernadette, and how Bee seemed to be the only person who truly understood her mother. You’ll have your nose deep in this book before you’ve even boarded your plane.
“Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect; and to 15-year-old Bee, she is her best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette vanishes. It all began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle -- and people in general -- has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, and secret correspondence -- creating a compulsively readable and surprisingly touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.” - Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple
The final book, and it’s that third non-fiction book I promised!
This book was recommended by many of the authors I follow, and I was initially hesitant to get it. I thought I might not enjoy a book all about relationships when I was currently in the phase of choosing to remain single. But I gave in, and I’m so glad I did.
This is a book about love. Not just the love of a committed relationship, but every other kind of love. The love of friendship, parents, children and siblings. The love of grief, breakups and healing. It features interviews with incredible writers like Dolly Alderton and Roxanne Gay, as well as personal essays by Natasha Lunn.
Like ‘Dear Dolly’, it’s easy to read in sections throughout your trip. But it’s also captivating enough to keep your attention during a crowded ferry ride or next to shrieking children by the pool. It’s a beautiful book all about love that will help you to be aware and grateful of all of the people in your life.
“Interweaving personal essays and revealing interviews with some of the most sough-after experts on love, journalist Natasha Lunn guides us through the paradoxical heart of three key questions about love--How do we find love? How do we sustain it? And how do we survive when we lose it?--to deliver a book that is a solace, a beacon, a call to arms, a tool-kit. The real-life love stories in these pages will leave you hopeful and validated, while the insights from experts will transform the way you think about your relationships. Above all, Conversations on Love will remind you what love is: fragile, sturdy, mundane, beautiful, always worth fighting for.” - Conversations on Love, Natasha Lunn
I hope that you can find your perfect summer read in this list, whether that’s something to make you laugh, cry or think. And otherwise, you can try my list of books I’d sell my soul to read for the first time again.
Wherever you’re spending your summer, I hope you take the time to slow down and enjoy yourself. That doesn’t have to be in the same way as everyone else, as long as it’s how you like to spend your time. In my case, a good book and some salty snacks within reach!
*This article contains affiliate links.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
Would you like to receive my top monthly articles right to your inbox?
For any comments/questions/enquiries, please get in touch at:
I'd love to hear from you!